University of Wisconsin Badgers
To open up conference play, the Spartans will play the Badgers who have had their way with Michigan State. Wisconsin is 25-4-2 overall and 6-1-0 in their last seven meetings against Michigan State.
In those last six wins, Wisconsin has scored first before the 30th minute. In Michigan State’s home win in 2007, the Spartans held the Badgers scoreless in the first half and scored first in the 65th minute to get the 2-1 win.
This past spring, head coach Tom Saxton and his staff have really emphasized defending as a unit – something that is a must if they want to not only beat the Badgers this season, but do well.
The Badgers missed out on the NCAA Tournament last season, but will open up 2014 with an exhibition game against Marquette University, who finished No. 6 in the country last season. They will then play four straight home games against non-conference opponents, before heading out west to play the University of Washington and the University of Portland. This leads up to beginning Big Ten play in East Lansing.
Leading goal scorer, senior forward, Cara Walls, returns for the Badgers in 2014. Walls scored nine goals last season.
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers
Opening up Big Ten play with a team that the Spartans have struggled against to playing a team that Michigan State has gone 11-2-1 against since 2000 is something for MSU to look forward to.
The Golden Gophers have been outscored by the Spartans 8-22 in those 14 games and haven’t won in East Lansing since 1998 when they beat Michigan State 4-1.
Since 1993, Minnesota has finished in first place during the Big Ten regular season three times: 1995, 1997 and 2008. The Golden Gophers have also made the NCAA Tournament eight times since 1993, with one of the eight coming in 2013.
Senior midfielder, Katie Thyken, returns for Minnesota in 2014. Thyken led the team last season in scoring with seven goals.
Before the Golden Gophers open Big Ten play, they will have six non-conference games. Three of the games will be against teams that made the NCAA Tournament last season: Florida State University, Marquette University and the University of Mississippi. Florida State lost to UCLA in the National Championship game last year.
Rutgers University Scarlet Knights
New Brunswick, N.J.
The Spartans and Scarlet Knights have only met one time in program history, and that regular season game in 2004 ended in a 2-1 win for Rutgers.
Despite going 13-4-5 in 2013, the Scarlet Knights missed making the NCAA tournament.
The Scarlet Knights come to the Big Ten from the American Athletic Conference. Before the AAC, Rutgers was a part of the Big East, and prior to joining the Big East they played in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
In the ECAC the Scarlet Knights won three conference championship titles and in their program history, they have made the NCAA Tournament seven times, most recently in 2012.
Rutgers is without forward Stefanie Scholz this season, after she graduated last spring. Scholz led the team in scoring with 10 goals last season.
University of Maryland Terrapins
College Park, Md.
Two days after the Spartans play the Scarlet Knights, they will head to Maryland to play the Terrapins in their first meeting ever.
Maryland is coming off a 10-10-0 record in the Atlantic Coast Conference and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2013.
The Terrapins have played in the ACC since 1987, and they have never won a regular season or conference tournament title, but they did make the NCAA Tournament 13 times.
Similar to Michigan State, Maryland opens their 2014 season on the road on the west coast in Los Angeles against UCLA, the defending national champions, and then to Malibu, Calif. to play Pepperdine University. The Terrapins then come back east to play a few more non-conference games before opening their inaugural Big Ten season play at home against Rutgers and then the University of Michigan before they play the Spartans.
Forward Hayley Brock, Maryland’s top goal scorer from last season, has graduated and the Terps will be looking to replace her. Brock scored 12 goals last season.
The University of Michigan Wolverines
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Unlike the rivalry record the MSU men’s soccer team has against the Wolverines, the Lady Spartans and Wolverines have a pretty even overall record, with Michigan State leading the series 11-10-7.
The last two seasons, the Wolverines have beaten the Spartans. In 2013, an early goal in the 14th minute put Michigan State behind at home and they lost the game 2-1. In 2012, the Spartans took an early lead in the 29th minute, but failed to hold on and lost another close game, 2-1.
Last season, the Wolverines finished 18-4-1 and lost in the Elite Eight to the University of Virginia in NCAA Tourney.
Michigan will open up their 2014 season with an exhibition game against Western Michigan University, a team that knocked off a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament last year. The Wolverines will also make a trip out to California and play San Diego State University.
Forward Nkem Ezurike, the Wolverines top goal scorer from last season, has graduated. Ezurike scored 14 goals last season.
University of Iowa Hawkeyes
The last time the Spartans beat the Hawkeyes was in 2009 in Iowa City, Iowa where they won 3-2 in overtime off a headed goal from former Spartan Cara Freeman.
Since 2009, the past four meetings have resulted in the Spartans going 0-2-2, but Michigan State does lead the all-time series 8-5-5 and are 5-1-3 all-time at home against the Hawkeyes.
Since 2000, Iowa has gone 120-131-27 and has only made the NCAA Tournament one time (2013), but the records are not fooling Michigan State head coach Tom Saxton.
“Some of the other traditional powers have been a hit a little bit by graduation,” Saxton said. “I actually expect Iowa to be very good even though they picked up a new coach, a very good coach, Dave Dilanni, from Grand Valley State, is now their head coach, but I think they return one of the deepest teams in the conference.”
The Hawkeyes play a weak non-conference schedule before opening Big Ten play against the University of Illinois.
University of Nebraska Cornhuskers
Entering their fourth year in the Big Ten, the Cornhuskers have gone 33-26-3 the past three seasons, have a Big Ten Conference title (2013) and made the NCAA Tournament once out of three years.
With as much success as Nebraska has had in the Big Ten, their record against the Spartans is 2-1-0 and they have yet to win in East Lansing.
Michigan State defeated Nebraska 2-1 in East Lansing in 2012. On that day, junior forward Allyson Krause, then a freshman, scored a goal in the 25th minute to give the Spartans the early lead. In the 86th minute, former Spartan, Olivia Stander would score the game winning goal three minutes after the Cornhuskers tied the game up.
While a member of the Big 12 Conference (1996-2010), Nebraska won a league best eight Big 12 titles, advanced to the Sweet 16 eight times and made it to the Elite Eight two times.
The Cornhuskers return their leading goal scorer from 2013, sophomore forward Jaycie Johnson, who scored 17 goals. Her 17 goals tied for 13th in the country last season.
Brooks Laimbeer is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales