July 12, 2011
East Lansing, Mich. - Michigan State men's soccer coach Damon Rensing believes that a challenging regular-season schedule prepares his team for the rigors of a postseason run. With his Spartans reaching the NCAA round of 16 in 2010 - the furthest into the NCAA Tournament MSU had gone since an NCAA championship in 1968 - there's no reason to believe that his theory does not hold water. As a result, the schedule he has assembled for his 2011 squad is once again filled with some of the top competition in the country, including defending National Champion Akron and seven other teams which appeared in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
MSU faces an 18-game slate featuring four Big East squads, three each from the Mid-American Conference and the Horizon League, and one each from Conference USA and America East in addition to it's six Big Ten games. In all, eight of its 18 games will be played against teams which finished the 2010 season in the top 20 of the RPI. MSU was ninth in that final ranking, second in the Big Ten to College Cup semifinalist Michigan.
"I think we're playing one of the toughest schedules in the country," admitted Rensing, who is about to start his third season as the head coach at his alma mater. "our non-conference schedule features several NCAA Tournament teams and the defending national champions. Year in and year out, the Big Ten is one of the best conferences in the country and I expect it to be no different this fall."
The 2011 slate begins with a pair of exhibition games. On Aug. 18, the Spartans will play at Oakland in a rematch of last year's NCAA first-round game. From there, the Spartans will once again participate in the Shindigz National Soccer Festival in Fort Wayne, Indiana; MSU will take on Northern Illinois.
MSU's home opener will come on Saturday, Aug. 27 when it hosts Detroit. The Spartans will travel east again this season, and will play at Connecticut (Sept. 1) and New Hampshire (Sept. 4) before returning home for a weekend set against Georgetown (Sept. 9) and Marshall (Sept. 11). Both games that weekend will be part of doubleheaders with the women's team at DeMartin Stadium.
"I think that we will have a good idea where we are as a team in our first three weekends," noted Rensing. "We'll play an in-state rival (Detroit), a game at historic Joe Marrone Stadium at UConn, and against an NCAA Tournament team from a year ago in New Hampshire. Georgetown was in the NCAA Tournament last season as well, so it will be a challenge for us right out of the gates."
MSU will once again participate in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge this season, playing at Marquette (Sept. 16) before hosting Notre Dame on Sunday, Sept. 18. Big Ten play begins for MSU the following weekend, when the Spartans play at Northwestern in a night game. MSU hosts Illinios-Chicago on Sept. 27 to round out the month of action.
October has a steady stream of midweek non-conference tilts balanced by Big Ten competition on the weekend. The Spartans start the month with conference games against Ohio State (Oct. 2) and Penn State (Oct. 9) sandwiched around a non-conference tilt against Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Oct. 4), all at home. The Spartans play their next two conference games on the road at Wisconsin (Oct. 16) and Indiana (Oct. 23), with home games against MAC entries Bowling Green (Oct. 19) and Western Michigan (Oct. 26) at DeMartin Stadium. A showdown with archrival Michigan once again closes out MSU's conference slate, with that game scheduled for Oct. 30 at 1 p.m.; the Spartans close their schedule with a hefty challenge in defending National Champion Akron on the road. MSU fell to the Zips last year, 1-0, with Akron getting the game-winner in the second half.
The Big Ten Tournament will be hosted down the road at Michigan this season, with action kicking off on Thursday, Nov. 10.