Lady Spartans Can Compete in Big Ten, Consistency is the Key

Coming into the 2014 season, the Michigan State women’s soccer team have some kinks that need to be fixed, but signs of improvement were seen in their exhibition game against the University of Virginia.

In 2013, the Spartans played 19 games. In four of those games, the team failed to score a goal. They also gave up the first goal 11 times and in those 11 games, Michigan State was 1-8-2.

Against the Cavaliers, the Spartans came out firing and put away the first goal in the third minute off a corner kick delivered by senior Paige Wester, in which freshman Jamie Cheslik found the loose ball and put it in the back of the net.

Another issue MSU had last year was defending as a unit and head coach Tom Saxton stressed team defense last spring and in the 2014 preseason.

The Spartans gave up 26 goals last year, which was tied for fifth in the conference in 2013. In 2012, Michigan State only gave up 24 goals and in 2011, the Spartans only allowed 17 goals.

Last season Courtney Clem and Gabby Gauruder shared time in goal for Michigan State. Clem played and started in 12 games and Gauruder played in 10 games and started in seven.

Gauruder had the better record last season going 5-3-0 and let in 10 goals on 142 shots and had 54 saves. Clem’s record was 4-5-2 and the then redshirt junior let in 16 goals on 155 shots and had 54 saves.

A two goalie system is not the way to go as it is not easy as a field player to adjust to a new goalie after playing with one that has played on a regular basis.

My feeling is that coach Saxton will stick with the veteran Clem who played well against Virginia and kept her defense in order by always communicating with her defenders. She did give up a goal, but there was nothing she could do about a great volley hit from the middle of the 18-yard box.

The two greatest areas of concern for the Spartans are their midfield and striker positions.

Michigan State has a talented midfield and a young team, but consistency wins you games. Lapses are expected in exhibition games because you are playing a variety of players who have never played together before, but things need to be straightened out on the trip to California.

Allyson Krause, Rachel Van Poppelen and Jessica White were among the top leading goal scorers for the green and white last season, but the leading goal scorer on the team was defender Mary Kathryn Fiebernitz (above) with six goals.

Fiebernitz is a great player who plays the game physically and puts her body on the line on every play, but if you want to be a successful team you need more production from the striker position.

Michigan State did suffer a few injuries at the striker position last year to be fair, so they were never 100 percent, but this year someone needs to take the lead. Wester needs to fill that leadership role and she understands that as a senior, but the pros to having a large team is depth and there are two players that really stood out in the exhibition game.

Freshman strikers Kristelle Yewah and Cheslik looked comfortable on the ball and contributed to the game. Out of the two though, Yewah will be the one who can really make an impact because of her size and strength, something that the Spartans need up top.

Competing for a spot in the Big Ten Tournament should not be a problem for the Spartans this season. Their record last year did not reflect what kind of team they were and could potentially be, and any team with a lot of injuries to their starting players is going to take a hit. The key though is consistent play for a full 90 minutes and setting the tempo from the first second.

Brooks Laimbeer is the host of Corner Kick for Impact Sports.

Photo: Jonathan Yales/Impact Sports