Aug. 25, 2005
2004 was a great year for the Michigan State soccer team as it reached some uncharted territory. The Spartans won the Big Ten Tournament championship for the first time in school history, knocking off national champion Indiana in the process. The victory propelled MSU into the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four seasons.
The Spartans have now recorded five straight double-digit victory seasons for just the second time in school history and the first time since the 1964-68 seasons. The consistency and accomplishments of the Spartans has created an atmosphere in which success is expected, yet not taken for granted.
"The one thing this team learned last year is that if they all play with a lot of intensity and a lot of focus, they can be a very good team," said 29th-year head coach Joe Baum. "They tasted success last year and they loved it. Anytime you experience something that's enjoyable, you want to go back.
"This year the players are talking about contending for the Big Ten championship and going to the NCAA Tournament. I don't have to sell any goals to these players because they already believe. They've won before and they want to win again."
One of the Spartans' biggest questions entering the season is how they are going to replace the dynamic scoring duo of Jordan Gruber and John Minagawa-Webster. The two combined for 21 goals and 59 points, and are both now playing professional soccer. If Michigan State can get consistent play from some young attackers, the Spartans could be in line for another great season.
Sophomore Kenzo Webster has the most experience among the forwards, having appeared in 18 games last season, ranking fourth on the squad with three goals and eight points.
"Kenzo might be the hardest working player we've had in this program," said Baum. "He's going to create a lot of damage."
Joining Webster as a starter will be redshirt freshman Doug DeMartin. "Doug has great vision and he's very good technically," said Baum.
True freshman Louis Stephens III will see significant minutes in a reserve role. The Spartans will also get contributions from senior Joe Fourre and redshirt freshman Karl Trost. Both are capable of playing in the midfield or at forward and at least one of them will see time as a reserve in the attack.
The situation is much steadier in the midfield, where the Spartans are led by All-Big Ten performer Ryan McMahen. He tied for the team lead with nine assists last season and ranked third in both goals (7) and points (23). A physically gifted player, McMahen is in the best shape of his career and is hungry to end his MSU days on a high note.
McMahen has the support of his teammates as evidenced by his being voted co-captain unanimously. He's a great striker of dead balls and can shoot the ball as well as any player Baum has ever coached, but it's his mental approach that sets him apart as a special player.
With McMahen spearheading the Spartan offense from the attack midfield position, senior John Kaczmarek and sophomore Ryan Dick will likely open the year as the starting wide midfielders. Both players have started games in the past and bring veteran experience to the position.
Junior Matt Kreikemeier started last year at left midfield, but was moved to defensive midfield in the spring and performed quite nicely.
Leading the group of reserves is sophomore Ben Pirmann, who appeared in 16 games as a true freshman. Other talented reserves include senior Mike Thomson, sophomore transfer Dave Hertel, freshman Zac Scaffidi and the aforementioned Trost and Fourre.
The Michigan State defense features four players with returning starting experience. With the Spartans featuring a young group at forward, the defense will be counted on, especially early in the season, to shut down opponents.
Senior co-captain Steve Doster is making the switch from defensive midfielder to sweeper, taking the place of All-Big Ten performer Kellen Kalso. The position change returns Doster to the position he played throughout the club and ODP levels.
"Steve brings so much experience to the team," said Baum of the fifth-year senior. "He doesn't get excited and he doesn't get down. He's a good workmanlike player that's going to direct the team."
Sophomores Rauwshan McKenzie and Ryan Gochneaur will start at fullback with McKenzie on the right and Gochneaur on the left. Both gained starting jobs last year as true freshmen. McKenzie is an athletic player, while Gochneaur is very steady. Junior Greg Janicki is poised for a breakout season at stopper. Although he started every game last year, Coach Baum sees even greater things in his future.
"I think Greg doesn't realize just how good he can be," said Baum. "With his size and his skill he is an All-Big Ten player. He is truly unstoppable in the air, and yet he has the ball skills of a smaller player."
Michigan State also features several experienced reserves. Junior Greg Doster is a reserve at left fullback after starting for a year and a half. Senior Chris Dahlin has starting experience at right fullback. Sophomores John Pizanis and John Folino had good springs and are ready to contribute.
The Spartans have also added youth to the defense with freshmen Josh Rogers and David Brogan.
The Spartans are in good shape in goal with returning starter Jason Tillman. The junior earned Defensive Player MVP honors in the Big Ten Tournament. For the season, he posted a 1.12 goals-against average, recording five shutouts and combining on three others. A former goalie himself, Baum sees that Tillman has the right mental approach to the game.
"He's very reliable and he's got a great head on his shoulders," said Baum. "He never gets excited and he never gets down. "
Sophomore Chris Austin appeared in six games last season, starting one. He combined with Tillman on three shutouts. Redshirt freshman Todd Henderson will also provide depth.