EAST LANSING, Mich. – The Spartans welcomed last season’s NCAA national runners-up, No. 9 Penn State, to DeMartin Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Michigan State (9-7-2, 3-7-0) looked to play well in hopes of giving the team’s only senior, Kelsey Mullen (above), a positive going away present. However, the offense struggled and one of the better teams in the Big Ten controlled the ball for the majority of play.
The Nittany Lions (12-5-1, 6-4-0) were awarded an early opportunity when granted a penalty kick in the 10th minute. The highest-scoring team in the Big Ten took advantage of their opportunity when Costa Rican sophomore Raquel Rodriguez scored her sixth goal of the season, placing the ball to the left of a diving Courtney Clem.
“I thought we came out a little sluggish,” head coach Tom Saxton said. “There’s a lot of hype that comes around Penn State being the defending national runners-up, and they do have some good, strong offensive players as you could see.”
The Spartans continued to battle after the first goal of the game was scored and the MSU bench played a major role in allowing Michigan State to make it into the half only down 1-0.
“I was disappointed that we didn’t transition to offense very well in the first twenty minutes,” Saxton said. “Once again, the bench came on in the first half and kind of got us back into the flow of the game, and I thought at 1-0 at halftime I really believed we could get back into the game.”
The play at the beginning of the second half was quite even until the 53rd minute, when Penn State’s leading scorer found the back of the net. Senior Maya Hayes ripped a shot from the top of the arc that whistled into the lower left corner of the MSU goal for the forward’s 18th goal of the season.
“Credit to Penn State,” Saxton said. “They took advantage of a bad pass out of our end and converted it to make it 2-0, and it got tough after that with the way they keep possession.”
Fifteen minutes later Hayes would put the game out of reach as she tallied her 19th goal of the season in the 68th minute off a rebound close to the Michigan State net.
“It was again nice to see players that came off the bench give us a boost,” Saxton said. “All-in-all the best team won today and it’s a credit to Penn State.”
The only senior on Michigan State’s squad, midfielder/defender Kelsey Mullen, saw 10 minutes of action due to an injury suffered weeks earlier.
“You know it was a bittersweet day as far as that goes,” Saxton said. “Kelsey’s been one of the great Spartans ever. It was nice to at least be able to put her on the field after the disappointing injury three weeks ago. We would have liked, I think, as a team, all of us to perform a little bit better for her.”
In this 2013 season, Kelsey Mullen played in 15 games and started 14. In 2012, Kelsey was one of only five Spartans to start every game for Michigan State that season. In her sophomore season in 2011, Kelsey played in 19 games and started in 18. Freshmen year, Mullen again started in all 19 MSU matches. The Okemos native played a total of 72 games out of a possible 78 in her career. Mullen tallied two goals, five assists and 17 shots on goal in her career as a Spartan.
– Penn State has won at least a share of the Big Ten Conference Championship every season for the past 15 seasons.
– Since 1998, Penn State women’s soccer had went 133-12-6 against Big Ten competition.
– The 2013 Nittany Lions finished third in the Big Ten Conference with a record of 7-4-0, PSU’s worst finish and most losses in school history.
Jonathan Yales is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports.
Photo: Jonathan Yales