EAST LANSING, Mich. – Head coach Damon Rensing and his No. 17 Spartans may have the most difficult last four games to play in the country, but that has not phased him and his team.“I am excited. I mean I am nervous before every game, but I am excited because I think it’s opportunity and challenges,” Resning said. “This team has risen to most of the challenges and taken advantage of the opportunities they have had this year.”
Rensing is not the only one who is excited about the last four games of the season. Redshirt senior and team captain, Kevin Cope, is taking in the challenge and turning it into a positive.
“I don’t know if there is pressure, I think it is something that we need to embrace,” Cope said. “The last couple of years we have always been the underdog and we have done fairly well at that, and we need to show that experience and maturity when we have the target on our back.”
The embracing of the moment for the Spartans will start Sunday against a talented Wisconsin team, who leads the Big Ten in goals with 28 through 14 games this season.
“This won’t be like the old Wisconsin teams, where I think that if you came out and played well and had good energy you might be able to overcome some things,” Rensing said. “This will be a very tough game and there is not a whole lot you can go on from last year. (Tomislav) Zadro, who is kind of their playmaker, didn’t play last year, so it will be a very tough game.”
Zadro, who has played in 10 of Wisconsin’s 14 games this season, is 10th in the Big Ten in shots with 21, tied for 10th with three goals and tied for third in the assists with six.
After the Badgers, the Spartans travel to Bloomington, Ind. on November 1 to face the defending national champs, who are sixth in the Big Ten standings.
The Hoosiers may be sitting in sixth place in the league, but Rensing is not turning his cheek to a team who leads the Big Ten in shots with 243 through 15 games and are second in goals with 25 through 15 games.
“They are very tough and I have talked to a lot of coaches around the country and the Big Ten, and that attacking core at Indiana is just as good as you will find,” Rensing said.
After the Hoosiers, the Spartans come home to DeMartin Stadium to finish their final two games of the regular season against a Notre Dame team that could possibly come in undefeated and a Michigan team that is currently second in the Big Ten standings.
The Irish rank first in the ACC in shots with 237 through 13 games and they are tied for first with the University of North Carolina in goals allowed with eight.
“I have a lot of respect for Notre Dame and their program and for (Notre Dame Head Coach) Bobby Clark,” Rensing said. “I would think if they beat Wake (Forest) and Virginia they would come in as a consensus number one.”
As far as the Michigan game goes, Rensing said that game could be the biggest game on the schedule because of the rivalry between the two schools.
“If we play timid that is going to show on the scoreline, but if we play confident that can also show on the scoreline,” Cope said. “It is a big opportunity for us and I know everybody is excited… for these last four games. Let’s finish strong and get a run going for the tournaments.”
Brooks Laimbeer is a multimedia journalist for Corner Kick
Photo: David Defever