Spartans’ season ends in Big Ten tournament quarterfinals


MSU defender Zivana Labovic attempts to regain possession in the Spartans’ 1-0 loss to Iowa on Oct. 31, 2021/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Luca Melloni, Women's Soccer Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING – The Michigan State women’s soccer team suffered a 1-0 defeat against Iowa in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, ending the 2021 season for Jeff Hosler’s side. Iowa forward Alyssa Walker was the hero for the Hawkeyes, scoring the lone goal in the 68th minute to send her team to the semifinals. 

Sunday’s game was the first time the Spartans have hosted a tournament game at DeMartin Stadium since 2002. It was also the first tournament appearance for them since 2011.  

“Soccer can be cruel,” Hosler said. “You make one mistake at a moment where the opponent can be opportunistic, and it was the end result for us.” 

The Spartans finished in fourth place in the Big Ten standings with an impressive 5-4-1 record. In 2019 and 2020, MSU had a combined record of 2-18-2 in the conference.

In Hosler’s first year as the coach, it is safe to view the Spartans as a much-improved side.  

“I couldn’t be more proud of the seniors and the way they bought into what we’re doing,” Hosler said. “To have had the season we had was beyond their wildest dreams.” 

The Spartans started the game with their regular lineup that included forwards Ava Cook and Camryn Evans as the targets leading the team. Cook led the Spartans in goals with seven. 

MSU forward Ava Cook vies for possession control in a 3-0 home win over Eastern Michigan on Aug. 22/ Photo Credit: MSU Athletic Communications

Straight from kickoff, Walker had a long-distance shot on target, but MSU goalkeeper Lauren Kozal extended to deflect the shot out of bounds. Kozal won the Big Ten goalkeeper of the year award earlier that week. 

“I’m super proud of this group and everything we’ve accomplished,” Kozal said. “It’s hard to realize it now, but we made big jumps this season.”

One of the best chances for the Spartans came in the 21st minute when midfielder Zivana Labovic had a powerful shot to the top-right corner of the net saved by Iowa goalkeeper Macy Enneking. 

The Hawkeyes played a high-press against the Spartans, which made it difficult to pass the ball around for a long time. Sharpness in passing the ball was an important note that Hosler made during the game. 

“Postseason soccer is about details and being mistake-free,” Hosler said. “Unfortunately, we weren’t today.” 

After an uneventful first half, the Spartans went into the break scoreless, knowing that one goal would spark a difference in the second half. 

MSU outshot Iowa 7-4 in the first half, but excellent saves by both goalkeepers kept the scoreline level. 

Coming out of halftime, the Hawkeyes looked like they had more energy on their side. 

Walker and forward Hailer Rydberg continued to cause the Spartans’ defense trouble, specifically targeting senior center backs Abby Gardiner and Samantha White. 

The Hawkeyes finally capitalized after multiple opportunities on goal in the 68th minute when a turnover by the Spartan defense left Walker a clear lane to goal. Walker was left one-on-one with Kozal, and she calmly slotted it past the veteran goalkeeper to put the Hawkeyes up 1-0. 

“The goal favors the attacking player in a 1v1 moment like that,” Hosler said. 

It would not be the end of a busy afternoon for Kozal, as she made back-to-back saves in the 72nd minute, keeping the chance of overtime alive for her team. 

MSU goaltender Lauren Kozal winds up for a goal kick in the Spartans’ 1-0 home loss to Wisconsin on Sept. 24, 2021/ Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

The Spartans nearly had the equalizer in the 75th minute when freshman forward Jordyn Wickes dribbled through the right side of the box and shot it at Enneking with a tight angle at goal. Enneking came up with an important save for the Hawkeyes. 

After battling out the last 15 minutes, the Spartans could not find another clear opportunity on goal, and the game ended at 1-0 after 90 minutes. 

Some players left the pitch in tears after the game, and it reflected how hard they trained and bought into Hosler’s tactics. 

“As we reflect back on it [the season], there’s a lot to be proud of,” Hosler said. “Most importantly, we set a new standard for the women’s soccer program [at MSU], and we’re excited to see where it’s going to go.” 

The Spartans reached the end of their 2021 season with an impressive 10-5-3 record in all competitions. With an RPI ranking of 55, MSU will not be seeded in the NCAA DI tournament and will look to improve on the strong foundation set this season next fall.