Aug. 22, 2006
For the second time in four years, Michigan State reached the NCAA Tournament in 2005, recording the first tournament win in school history. Along the way, the Spartans won 12 games for the fifth time in six seasons, and recorded their sixth-straight double-figure win season. It's all evidence that Michigan State women's soccer is a program on the rise.
"As a program, we've made it to a certain level, and the players' expectations have been raised," Michigan State head coach Tom Saxton said. "We have a great core of key players that did so well for us last fall that have returned and are hungry to build off last year's success."
The 2006 Spartans will have to replace some key components off last year's squad, including four starters. But despite losing 74 percent of its goal scoring and 72 percent of its total offensive production from a year ago, Michigan State returns nearly its entire defensive unit that allowed a meager 0.91 goals per game and shut out its opponents a school-record 12 times. That same commitment to team defense should once again be the driving force for the Green and White, as the Spartans gun for a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Spartan attack lost two starters to graduation, but Michigan State has some talented players to plug into their spots.
Senior Jenee Witherspoon is a likely starter at forward. Last season, she scored a goal and tallied five assists, starting all 23 contests at midfield. She moved to forward in the spring and turned in a strong off-season. A versatile player, Witherspoon could be moved to defense to solidify that position. Where ever she plays though, she will find a way to have an impact on each contest.
Sophomore Kristi Timar appeared in every game last season as a reserve midfielder, but has also been moved to forward. The game experience she gained last year will be valuable as she develops into one of MSU's go-to attackers and playmakers.
Junior Heather Riley gained experience as a freshman in 2003, scoring two goals, but has since been hampered by injuries, including taking a medical redshirt in 2004. After appearing in 11 contests last season, she is healthy and ready to vie for a starting spot and a prominent role in the playing rotation.
Sophomore Lauren Carter appeared in 10 games last season as a reserve. While she will certainly challenge for a starting spot, her great speed also suits her perfectly as a substitute adding fire to the attack.
Freshman Lauren Hill will be expected to contribute immediately. The Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year, she is one of the best freshman forwards in the country. A small, but very skilled player, her ability to make the transition to the physical college game will determine the degree to which she can contribute, possibly even start.
The strength of the Spartan midfield lies in the center where senior Linsey Laskowski and juniors Maureen Pawlak and Lauren Astry make up an experienced unit. Astry and Pawlak started in the spring while Laskowski recovered from a knee injury. Come fall, all three will compete for a starting spot.
The greater question marks in the midfield are on the outside. Junior Breanna Ballard will open as the starting right midfielder. With her speed and ability to serve the ball, she is very dangerous in the final third of the field. Her greatest adjustment will be the work load required to get up and down the sideline.
At left midfield, sophomore Michelle Telebar is a candidate to fill the empty slot. She has the versatility to play midfield or defense, both inside and outside. During the spring, Heather Riley also played some at left midfield. Junior Callie McCarthy has the ability to play several different positions in the midfield and will have a chance to compete for the left midfield spot.
Freshman Lauren Sinacola is expected to contribute immediately in the midfield as one of the most skilled recruits in Michigan State history. Although she is primarily a central midfielder, she also will have the opportunity to play on the outside.
Fellow freshman Katie Rehor is another star of the incoming recruiting class that could challenge for minutes as the left midfielder.
After a record-setting 2005 defensive season, the Spartans have the potential to be even stronger in 2006. Like the midfield, the strength of the unit lies in the center with juniors Erin Doan and Kelly Hannon.
Doan is the quarterback of the defense. A cerebral player, she runs the defense and is a great communicator. In addition, her positioning is incredible and she is a great 1-v-1 player.
Hannon is a fierce player who is very tough in 1-v-1 situations. A passionate competitor, she is the ultimate gamer. Because of her physical play, she is the type of player that most forwards don't enjoy competing against. With her size, she is a classic ball winner and looks to control any ball played into the box.
Sophomore Kelley Amormino is a candidate to start at right fullback. The Spartans were dealt a tough blow when they lost Taryn Lee to a knee injury last fall. If healthy, the junior would be the natural starter at left fullback. A tremendous athlete, she is as good a 1-v-1 player as has every played at Michigan State. Her earliest possible return is midseason.
In her absence, the Spartans will look to a group of talented players, including Telebar and freshmen Katie Rehor and Marshett Clarke. Both Rehor and Clarke were recruited to be the anchors of the defense in the future. However, if no one emerges at the position, the coaching staff could move Jenee Witherspoon back to left fullback.
Junior Nicole Galas turned in one of the finest seasons in Michigan State history last year. Despite entering the season with just nine minutes of collegiate experience and overcoming a career-threatening injury, Galas recorded 11 shutouts and a 0.92 goals-against average.