Aug. 29, 2007
Entering the 2007 campaign aiming for a third trip to the NCAA Tournament in six years, the Spartans have knocked on the door to being one of the nation's elite women's soccer programs. Now MSU wants to kick that door down.
After six straight seasons with 10 or more wins, Michigan State finished last season 8-9-1, narrowly missing a berth into the Big Ten Tournament.
"I think this team has the hunger to win, especially among the core veterans. They have tasted the NCAA Tournament, they have tasted a top-three Big Ten finish and they came away from last year, as we all did, dissatisfied," said head coach Tom Saxton. "I think if you talk to our core veterans, you can see they are ready to go."
MSU, while still relatively young with 16 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, returns 10 starters from last year's squad. In all, the Spartans return 14 players who started at least five matches. Senior goalkeeper Nicole Galas, who played every second in the net last season, and the team's top four scorers highlight the returnees.
The Spartans should have an explosive scoring attack, as 93 percent of the team's scoring returns. Sophomores Lauren Hill and Lauren Sinacola combined to score 13 of the team's 19 goals last season, and assist leaders Kristi Timar and Maureen Pawlak will lead the way on offense.
"We should be a very prolific offensive team," Saxton said. "I would like to see us win with shutouts, but I think we could be involved in some high-scoring matches just as easily."
Hill headlines the group after leading MSU in scoring as a freshman. Hill, who tallied 18 points (8g, 2a) en route to Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors, is a quick and explosive player who will see significant playing time up front.
"There is no question that Lauren Hill is our go-to attacking player," Saxton said. "She had a great freshman year and she has a chance to be the Big Ten scoring leader for years to come."
Seniors Breana Ballard and Heather Riley will also compete for playing time at forward. Ballard saw action in 16 matches in 2006, totaling three assists, while Riley has overcome a series of injuries to work her way back into the rotation.
Also capable of scoring in bunches is freshman Cara Freeman. The 2006 Illinois Girls Soccer Player of the Year scored 96 goals in her prep career and will immediately compete for playing time on the Spartan front line.
"Cara is one of our best recruiting situations ever," Saxton said. "She is a classic target player with a great knack to finish."
"Lauren is a great setup player for our forward line. I expect her to attack from the middle, but we could even play her at forward if we had to," Saxton said. "Midfield is her natural position and she has the potential to be an All-Big Ten performer."
Senior co-captain Maureen Pawlak, who was fourth on the team with six points last season, will also be counted on in the midfield. Pawlak is a versatile and athletic player who can also contribute offensively.
Junior Kristi Timar started all 18 matches last season at forward, but has moved to midfield and will be one of the top candidates for playing time at the position. Timar led the Spartans with five assists in 2006.
Senior Lauren Astry and sophomore Megan Brown will also compete for minutes at midfield. Astry started all 18 matches last year while Brown is coming off a great spring season.
"We are at our best with Erin Doan and Kelly Hannon inside," Saxton said. "Kelly had some injury problems last year and didn't have a complete year. Doan has an unbelievable longevity streak going. She is our leader and a great center defender, but she knows she has to be better for our defense to be better."
The remaining positions on defense will be up for grabs between juniors Kelley Amormino and Michelle Telebar and sophomores Katie Tehor and Marshett Clarke.
"I have high expectations of Nicole in her fifth year," Saxton said. "She should lay claim to her legacy as on of the great keepers here. I expect her to step up and play solid. She is capable of being an All-Big Ten keeper."
MSU starts the rugged schedule with a home contest against BYU, which was ranked 17th in the NSCAA/adidas poll at the end of the regular season. Purdue (Oct. 5) and Illinois (Oct. 28) visit East Lansing during Big Ten play while the Spartans will take on NCAA qualifiers Penn State (Oct. 12), Loyola-Chicago (Oct. 25) and Michigan (Nov. 2) on the road.
After opening versus BYU, the Spartans play seven-straight non-conference matches, highlighted by home contests against Syracuse, Detroit, Eastern Michigan and Bowling Green. Michigan State travels to Central Michigan on Sept. 23.