EAST LANSING, Mich. - With a pair of exhibition games on the horizon, head coach Damon Rensing previews the 2014 season with the announcement of captains and review of preseason polls.
At a Glance
Rensing enters his sixth season with the Spartans this year, having compiled a career record of 57-39-21 as head coach. The previous five years have included two Big Ten Championships and three NCAA Tournament runs. The Spartans compiled a 14-6-3 record in 2013 and concluded with a loss to eventual champion Notre Dame in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
"I tell our guys that I expect us to win every single game," said Rensing. "Obviously, that doesn't mean that we're going to be 18-0 in the regular season, but I feel when I look at the schedule, if the coaches are prepared, the players train well leading up to the game and then we're able to execute during any given game, then there's no game I don't feel like we can't win. I expect us to win every single one - that's one of our goals I tell our guys every year.
"Secondly, it's about challenging for the Big Ten title. You need to put yourself in the position to do so. The Big Ten is one of the best soccer conferences in the country, certainly with adding Rutgers and Maryland. Ultimately, the goal is to win the Big Ten, but you can't do that until you've put yourself into position. If you put yourself in the position to at least challenge for the title, you're putting yourself in a good position for the NCAA Tournament."
The 2014 season will see the return of 19 letterwinners, including eight starters. The squad will also add eight new members following the loss of four starters, including All-American Kevin Cope.
Keywords and Key Players
Rensing and associate head coach Kylie Stannard broke down the squad position-by-position following their first week of training.
This season will be the second as captain for Montague. Montague was second-team All-Big Ten and finished the season tied for first in the conference in game-winning goals (4). Alashe was named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team and earned National Player of the Week recognition from TopDrawerSoccer.com. Keener rounds out the team leadership. Keener was an integral part of the defense that held opponents to the least number of goals in the Big Ten.
In the Polls
Michigan State men's soccer received the No. 10 spot on the Division I NSCAA/Continental Tire Preseason Rankings, named by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America.
The Spartans will enter the 2014 season off an NCAA Tournament run that brought them to the Elite Eight and 14-6-3 on the year. The squad ended the season ranked No. 7 in the nation.
"I think this really reflects the record we've been able to compile the past few years," said Rensing. "When I look at some of the other programs that have withstood that, like Maryland or Notre Dame, these preseason rankings are based on some body work. This won't reflect our outcome in the 2014 season. What it does say is that we have a pretty good group of guys that will hopefully put us into a position to have a good year."
Michigan State is the highest of four Big Ten teams to receive NSCAA recognition and is one of two in the top ten along with conference newcomer Maryland. The Spartans will face nine opponents ranked in the preseason poll, including road games to No. 1 Notre Dame (Oct. 29) and No. 2 Maryland (Sept. 19).
The Spartans were also ranked No. 11 by College Soccer News. They are one of three Big Ten teams in the ranking, along with No. 3 Maryland and No. 22 Penn State.
Midfielder Jay Chapman was named to the Top Drawer Soccer Preseason Best XI Second Team and was also recognized for the second-team preseason All-American list by College Soccer News. Chapman earned NSCAA All-Region Second Team and All-Big Ten First team honors last season.
In the conference, Michigan State was ranked No. 2 in the Big Ten Soccer Preseason Coaches' Poll. Alashe, Montague and Chapman all received Big Ten Men's Soccer Preseason Players to Watch recognition.
The Spartans finished third in the Big Ten standings last season after compiling a record of 3-2-1.
Headed into the Airwaves
Spartan soccer will air on the Big Ten Network for two games this season. The first will air Sept. 19 at 8 p.m. when Michigan State plays at Maryland. The annual fight for the Big Bear Trophy against Michigan will go down in East Lansing this year and airs live, Nov. 2 at 1 p.m.
In addition to the games shown on the network, three home games will stream online on BTN+. Those games are on Sept. 14 against Loyola-Chicago, Oct. 11 against Wisconsin and Oct. 26 against Northwestern.
Additional video coverage will appear on MSUSpartans.com when available.
The Spartans will play two exhibition games this weekend. The first will be Thurs., Aug. 21 at 6 p.m. when the Spartans take on Washington.
"There are several things I look for in these exhibitions," Rensing said. "We put a lot of time into thinking about how we were going to schedule this. Washington is another Top-10 preseason team. They went to the Elite Eight and they're very well-coached. They're a talented team.
"That will give us a good idea of where we're at because it will feel a little bit more like a regular season game. You'll still play a lot of guys and get a good idea of where we're at and which players are ready to play in big games. There will be a great crowd against Washington for the Shindigs Soccer Festival, which is the premier preseason event in the country."
Washington is currently ranked sixth in the NSCAA Preseason Poll after closing out 2013 with a 16-2-4 record. Last season, Washington earned the No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament after winning the Pac-12 title.
The team will get the first chance to play in DeMartin Stadium this season when they play Stevens Institute on Sun., Aug. 24 at noon.
"The other thing is that we come back and play three days later," said Rensing. "There might not be the same crowd or the same feeling, but you still have to come back and win games. When we play Stevens Institute, it's either going to be how we're bouncing back from a good win or tough loss and then play.
Stevens Institute made the Division III NCAA Tournament for the 11th straight year and won their eighth consecutive Empire 8 championship last season under the direction of Rensing's brother, Devin.
"It's never about who you're playing," Rensing said. "It's about what you're doing on the field. Regardless of whether you're playing a preseason Top-10 team in Division I or a team that will be ranked nationally in Division III, we have to worry about ourselves and have the same mentality."
The Spartans will open the regular season against SMU on Aug. 29 at 5 p.m. The game will be the second part of a doubleheader with the Spartan women playing at 2 p.m. against Eastern Michigan.