EAST LANSING – It seems that only once in a blue moon does Rutgers come to East Lansing as the favorite to knock off Michigan State in any sporting event. Ever since Rutgers was moved into the Big Ten in 2014, power schools such as Michigan State have been able to pummel the Scarlet Knight visitors with relative ease.
As such, watching a contest on Sunday morning that featured a ranked Rutgers club and an unranked Michigan State club was quite a unique sight. Sunday featured the scarlet knights, who are ranked No. 18 in the nation, against winless in conference Michigan State.
For a team like the Spartans, who are currently 0-6 against ranked opponents and 0-5 in conference play, Sunday at home served as a golden opportunity for Michigan State to collect a much needed marquee victory on the season. Unfortunately for the team, two Rutgers goals off of corner opportunities proved to be too much to overcome for the young Spartans, as they fell by a final score of 3-2.
“We can’t give away sloppy goals,” goalie Jade Arundell said. “The first goal was my fault and I didn’t see the second goal. The stroke was ridiculous. Nothing you can do about it now.”
The first period featured a lack of offensive rhythm for both clubs. Rutgers was able to collect two early corner chances, but strong defense from Arundell and the Spartan defensive rotation prevented the Scarlet Knights from drawing first blood. MSU struggled to maintain possession on its side of the field, as the ball was skipping over quite a few sticks. At the end of one, neither team had managed to punch a goal in. Both teams combined for only three shots on goal at the end of one.
“We started to slow and I said that to the girls in the postgame,” head coach Helen Knull said. “I’m proud of them for fighting their way through, but it was too little too late at the end. Especially in the first period, we were pretty sleepy coming out.”
The floodgates would open a bit in the second period for Rutgers, as they were able to draw sustained offensive momentum against the Spartan defense for the first time all game long. After whiffing on their first two corner opportunities, it was sophomore midfielder Milena Redlingshoefer who wore the crown on the third try and struck a hard slapshot that eluded the outstretched Arundell.
Despite playing an all-around effective half, it was the little mistakes that once again put the host team in an early hole at the half.
In a development that surprised absolutely no one, the Spartans struggled to clamp down and prevent Rutgers from continuing to accumulate corner chances. Rutgers would receive two corner chances within the first three minutes of the third period. Senior Alanna Gollotto would make MSU pay with the second corner goal of the game for Rutgers.
Redlingshoefer would continue her strong day as well, as she received credit for an assist on the Gollotto score. The Scarlet Knights would have their lead cut in half with eight and a half minutes left in the third, when junior midfielder Cara Bonshak collected her first goal of the season off of an entry rebound.
Arundell would swat away a barrage of Scarlet Knight shots as the period wound down to keep the Spartan deficit at one as the final period began. Bonshak credited her midseason position change from fullback to midfielder with allowing her to break through in the scoring column.
“One thing that I focused on this week was attacking more as a midfielder, since I was one back in the first half of the season,” Bonshak said. “My big focus was to push up and get in the circle more for those rebounding shots.”
A penalty stroke goal for the Scarlet Knights and Austyn Cuneo early in the fourth would create quite the hole for the Spartans to dig out of. A Nienke Bloemsaat corner goal would make things interesting late, however the school from Piscataway was content to play keep away in the waning moments of the fourth, in order to preserve their eighth overall win of the season.
In spite of the loss, Knull was encouraged from a process and maturation standpoint.
“We didn’t get the outcomes that we wanted, but from a process of play standpoint, we improved and that’s something we have to build off of,” Knull said.
With the loss, MSU remains winless in conference and falls to 6-9 on the season. The Spartans will be looking to launch a colossal upset this coming Friday, when they face off against the second-ranked team in the land, Maryland. Bonshak mentioned how Maryland’s offensive staple is pushing the issue.
“We really have to key in on our defense,” Bonshak said. “They are a big attacking team, so we are going to have a little bit more of a defensive focus, but we still need those outcomes in the circle.”
The opportunity to play spoiler and collect a monumental program defining victory is something that coach Knull touched on in the postgame as well.
“I told the girls that Friday is an opportunity on the road to play the No. 2-ranked team in the nation,” Knull said. “We are going to have to be disciplined in our defensive structure and play. If we only get two shots in the game or five shots in the game, we’ve got to score goals off of the options that we have.”
The Terrapins currently sport an elite 14-2 mark on the season to go along with a 6-1 record in conference play.
Contact Nathan Stearns at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @NathanStearns11.