July 24, 1997
1997 Men's Soccer Outlook
The 1997 edition of the Michigan State men's soccer team looks to continue the success of the past couple of years using a combination of tested veterans along with an influx of young, talented performers.
A total of 15 letterwinners, including six starters, return from last year's team that posted an overall record of 12-5-2 which included a 3-2 slate in the Big Ten, good for second place. While the Spartans do have veteran experience throughout the lineup, they do have to find replacements for some exceptional performers who helped the program to a mark of 24-8-5 during the 1995 & 1996 campaigns, the most wins by the Green and White in back-to-back years since 1986 and '87 (25).
"It will be an interesting year for us in that we graduated five senior starters and two others who played considerably," stated Head Coach Joe Baum, who enters his 21st year at the helm of the Spartan program. "One the one hand, it appears to be a rebuilding year, but yet we had a number of young players step up in a big way towards the end of last season and play exceptionally well. So, we're hoping that we are not so much rebuilding as we are reloading, and we think that with the returning starters, combined with the reserves who saw considerable action, that we are ready to continue to stay on a successful track."
Balance, always a characteristic of MSU men's soccer, should continue in full force with the team returning nine players who registered goals and 12 who notched points. It is this ability on the offensive end of the field, along with steady defensive play, that will be a key factor in MSU meeting is goals for 1997.
"Our No. 1 goal, of course, is to have a winning season," said Baum, who guided the program to a No. 4 ranking in the Great Lakes Region last season. "Secondly, we hope to be very competitive once again in the Big Ten. Last year, we took second during the regular season and in the Big Ten Tournament, and we are hoping that we can continue to stay among the upper echelon in the league. Lastly, we are hoping to get some good wins in the non-conference portion of the schedule against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year. If we are able to do that, then that could put us in the hunt for the ultimate goal, a berth to the NCAA Tournament."
The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 1997 Spartan squad.
All eyes will be on the goalkeeping position as the Spartans' most pressing need is to try to fill the void left by the graduation of Reid Friedrichs, the 1996 Big Ten Player of the Year.
Three players, all talented but untested, will wage a spirited battle for the starting nod. Juniors Matt Shumlas, who played in three games last season, and Craig Myers both turned in solid efforts during spring drills while redshirt freshman Tim Lieckfelt eagerly awaits his first season of competition.
"We were very pleased with the way Matt and Craig performed during the spring and we are optimistic about those two," said Baum. "Tim Lieckfelt came out of high school with very impressive credentials and we are looking forward to seeing what he can do.
"What we want the new keeper to be is solid and reliable. We don't expect him to do the magical things that Reid was able to accomplish because he was a fifth-year senior and these are younger players."
Friedrichs left an indelible mark on the MSU program including 61 career starts, 22.5 shutouts and a goals-against average of 0.89. Those contributions will be missed according to Baum.
"Reid was the finest goalkeeper that we have ever had at MSU," stated Baum. "The key thing you knew about him was that he was always going to keep you in the game and that was a confidence builder for the team. We are hoping that one of these new keepers can achieve that same confidence for us."
Being able to field a strong, solid defensive unit has always been a belief of Baum's and this year's corps of backliners promise to make good scoring chances for opponents a rare occurrence.
While MSU graduated Craig Arbaham, a second-team choice on both the All-Big Ten and All-Mideast Teams last year, the Green and White do return three starters among the backs.
Senior Jason Wolff is a returning starter at a center stopper position, and is coming off a fine '96 season that saw him pick up 10 points (4-2) while garnering second-team status on the All-Big Ten Team.
Junior Jason Jaroch, a starter in 12 of 17 games last season as a marking back, was moved to sweeper during the spring to fill Abraham's spot and performed well.
Holding down the other starting spot will be dependable fifth-year senior Jim Van Huysen. A starter over the past two years, Van Huysen is steady player who sees the field well while making few mistakes.
Senior Steve Shebuski, a three-time letterwinner, along with redshirt freshman Jon Benoist, are strong candidates to nail down the other starting spot. Other hopefuls looming in the background include Ryan Wells and Sean Noble. Sophomore Keith Gordon, a redshirt last season after transferring from Cincinnati, and Craig Przygoda, a transfer from Detroit, could also land minutes in the backfield.
"What we would like our backs to do is keep opponent breakaways and point-blank shots to a minimum," said Baum. "We are expecting more out of our backfield this season to help alleviate stress on our new goalkeepers."
MIDFIELD MSU will possess an experienced midfield that, if some players emerge as consistent contributors, could develop into a dangerous and productive unit.
Damon Rensing, a first-team honoree to the All-Big Ten Team last season, and Cullen Brown, the team's top point producer (6-3--15) in '96, have graduated, but the cupboard is hardly bare with a stable of players to call upon both as starters and reserves.
Fifth-year senior Jeremy Guenther (1-3--5), the captain of the '97 team, moves from a wide midfield slot to a central position this year. A heady player, Baum looks for him to run the Spartan attack and score some goals.
Junior James Whitmore (3-0--6) is back after starting 16 of 17 games last season and capturing second-team All-Big Ten recognition. A solid, all-around performer, Whitmore will be counted upon to provide steady performances.
Sophomore Steve Williford (2-1--5) returns to the fold at a wide left midfield post after enjoying a fine rookie campaign that saw him start six of 18 contests. Starting on the opposite flank will likely be junior Jeff Fliss who totaled six points on two goals and two assists last season, starting 14 of the 17 games he saw action in.
A group of vets who have played as reserves in the past will make a serious push for minutes include sophomores Rihiko Oshio and Hal Howell along with juniors Matt Phillips and Bill Hensley.
Three incoming freshmen who look to make an impact at midfield will be Patrick Mahoney, a member of the U-18 National Team, Shervin Motaghi, an East Lansing native, who earned all-state honors as a senior, and Paul Vance, another all-stater from Flint Central.
"Out of this group of players, we believe that there is good depth along with some hungry players who have been on the bench waiting to play more," said Baum. "I think that we will be solid at this position."
The combination of Brad Dennis and Brad Snyder has graduated, so the Spartan coaching staff will turn to junior Chris Slosar and sophomore Brady Demling to generate and finish off scoring chances.
Slosar appeared in 13 contests last season and finished off in strong fashion scoring two goals each in games against Oral Roberts and Wisconsin. He finished tied for second on the club in markers with five and continued to display his offensive punch during spring drills.
Demling, a hard worker, saw starting duty as a freshman, finishing with five points, and is another player coming off a productive spring.
"We think that Chris and Brady will form a dangerous pair with the ability to make the most of their scoring chances," said Baum.
Fifth-year senior Ryan Townsend, who has made key contributions as a reserve, will add depth to the strikers and will challenge for his share of playing time. Baum is also open to the idea of moving Steve Williford from the midfield if the situation demands it.
Baum believes that freshmen Ryan Ferguson (St. Louis, MO) and Brian Spitzkeit (Overland Park, KS) are potentially explosive offensive players who could help immediately.