Aug. 22, 2006
The Michigan State soccer team is eager for the opening of the 2006 season. Last year was a solid campaign for the Spartans. They were a very good possession team and strong defensively, but at times struggled to put the ball in the net, recording just 22 goals in 19 games. As a result, MSU posted an 8-6-5 mark, tying the school record for most ties in a season. With seven games extended into overtime, the line between success and disappointment was quite thin.
The future, however, looks bright for the Spartans. The strikers that were forced to carry a heavy offensive burden as young freshmen and sophomores all have at least one year of experience and are coming off a strong spring season.
The trio of junior Kenzo Webster and sophomores Doug DeMartin and Louis Stephens will form the Spartan attack up top. Thrown into the fire as underclassmen last year, the experience they gained in a tough situation will be invaluable this season.
"The growth they've made in the last 12 months has been incredible," said head coach Joe Baum. "They started as young, inexperienced players. Now they are a little more mature, a little more focused and a little more confident. I think the biggest growth in intercollegiate athletics comes between an athlete's first and second years and I look forward to seeing that development this season."
With two years of experience, Webster is the most seasoned member of the group and one of the hardest working members of the team. Playing alongside freshmen last season, he tried to do too much at times, but has quickly learned to play his role alongside his talented teammates.
Statistically, DeMartin had the most productive 2005 season, tying for the team lead with seven goals and ranking second on the squad with 17 points. Despite his scoring output, there were times during his freshman year when he was moving too fast. He has worked hard to play a more relaxed, controlled style.
Stephens saw action in 17 games as a true freshman last season, totaling one goal and one assist. Those numbers are expected to improve as part of the natural maturation process.
The biggest challenge in the midfield will be replacing Ryan McMahen, one of the best Spartans of the Joe Baum coaching era. Leading the way is senior Matt Kreikemeier as a defensive midfielder. He played every minute of every game last season and uses his speed and quickness to cover a tremendous amount of ground in the midfield.
Juniors Ben Pirmann and Ryan Dick are projected as the starting wide midfielders. With two years each of game experience, the duo will provide some veteran leadership.
The responsibilities of filling McMahen' void at attack midfield fall on sophomore Zac Scaffidi and junior transfer Kevin Reiman, who joins MSU after spending two seasons with 2005 NCAA Champion Maryland. Scaffidi played in 19 games last season, primarily as a forward, but will return to his natural midfield position this fall. He had knee surgery following last season, but should be ready to compete come the start of the season. Reiman is a former prep All-American who played 10 games for Maryland last season.
In reserve, sophomore Karl Trost is coming off an outstanding spring season. True freshman Andy Chun is also expected to contribute immediately.
Michigan State has to replace two starters in the defense, but will rely on third-year starters Greg Janicki and Rauwshan McKenzie to anchor the unit.
Janicki is the foundation of the Spartan defense at stopper. With a combination of tremendous size and strong ball skills, the senior can be one of the more dominating players in the conference.
McKenzie provides outstanding athleticism at right back. His combination of strength and speed allow him to mark any opposing attacker.
Sophomore Josh Rogers was one of the surprises of the spring for the Spartans. He jumped into the sweeper spot vacated by all-conference performer Steve Doster and played like a veteran, staying composed and proving to be a great distributor of the ball.
Coach Baum expects the starter at left back to emerge during preseason camp from a group of talented players. Senior Greg Doster, junior John Folino and sophomore David Hertel will all challenge for the position.
The Spartan defense will also benefit from an influx of freshman talent. Jake Fullerton, Tim Granaderos and A.W. Stanek were all outstanding high school defenders who will be ready to step in and contribute if necessary. Granaderos enrolled in Michigan State last spring and was able to get some college soccer experience. Freshman Andrew Wagley will also provide depth at defense.
Jason Tillman has started every game in goal but one over the last two seasons and will fill the position once again in 2006. The Defensive Player MVP of the 2004 Big Ten Tournament, Tillman recorded seven shutouts last season with a 0.79 goals-against average, earning Big Ten Player of the Week honors twice.
Junior Chris Austin has seen limited amounts of playing time as a reserve goalkeeper. A bigger goalkeeper than Tillman, he's ready to step in and contribute if needed.
Freshmen Joe Gregus and Avery Steinlage provide depth in the goal. Both men are good athletes who need some seasoning and experience to be able to help the Spartans down the road.
The Spartans will face a difficult schedule in 2006, featuring five 2005 NCAA Tournament teams, including NCAA runner-up New Mexico. In the non-conference slate, Notre Dame is another perennial NCAA participant, while UC Riverside and Northern Illinois were bubble teams last season. The always tough Big Ten schedule includes games against NCAA Tournament participants such as Indiana, Ohio State and Penn State. MSU will play just six home games in 2006, thanks in large part to participating in two different neutral-site tournaments.