Men's Soccer Ready for 2011 Season
Aug. 24, 2011
For any program losing eight seniors - including five starters - from a team that advanced to the NCAA Round of 16, a bit of apprehension would be understandable. However, with nine seniors leading his squad this season and a stable of talented underclassmen, Michigan State head coach Damon Rensing is quite optimistic about his team's fortunes for the 2011 season. Now in his third year as head coach and his 13th consecutive on the Spartan sidelines, Rensing has been a part of building this program which has now made four consecutive NCAA appearances for the first time in school history and made it to the third round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since sharing the NCAA title in 1968.
In all, there were only three players who appeared in all 22 games last season, and the injury bug which ravaged the team's lineup during late October perhaps took its biggest toll in the win-loss column. A year later, the silver lining is the playing time it created for other players on the team. "I really feel good about our depth and experience," said Rensing this week, between two-a-day practice sessions which will prepare his team for the Aug. 27 season-opener against Detroit. "We have a lot of guys who have gotten in and played valuable minutes for us last year when we had some injuries. I feel like we have guys who can step in without much falloff at any position on the field."
As always, the Spartans will face a challenging slate, with eight teams on their schedule who were in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, and the always-competitive Big Ten schedule looming. Rensing admits that the "murderers row" he assembles for the regular season is by design, and that it prepares his team for the post-season. It's difficult to argue with that reasoning, as the Spartans battled through a tough 2-4-1 stretch with several injured players at the end of the Big Ten season in 2010, but came back to advance to the Round of 16, dispatching fifth-ranked Butler on the road in the second round before falling to North Carolina, 5-4 on penalty kicks.
"One of the terms I would use to describe our team the last few years is resilient," says Rensing. "We play tough teams, and even when we had two or three guys out of our lineup, our team learned to battle through it. That's hopefully going to be an asset for us again this season - that we are resilient and battle through whatever adversity we face."
Rensing's team has some adversity to begin the season - senior forward Domenic Barone (Grand Rapids, Mich.), expected to be one of the offensive sparks for the Spartans up front - was lost for the season due to injury at the start of pre-season camp. Barone's a talent, and a finisher- he led the team with 10 goals and 23 points last season, and has a knack for the big, important goals needed late in games. The offense, however, returns its second and fourth leading goal scorers from last season, seniors Brent Rosendall (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Rubin Bega (Harper Woods, Mich.). Rosendall, a transfer from Louisville after his sophomore season, recorded eight goals and 19 points a year ago, second on the squad in both categories. At 6-1, he is a large body with a great fitness level in this year's preseason camp. Bega's offensive production dipped a bit as a junior (he had five goals after 10 as a sophomore), and Rensing feels that Bega's approach and training have him in a great position to finish his career with a strong season.
Newcomers Adam Montague (Sylvania, Ohio) and Blake Skamiera (Oxford, Mich.) have both impressed the coaching staff in the preseason as well. Montague is a highly-regarded recruit who is athletic and good in the air, and Rensing feels that he will challenge for a starting role before much of the season is gone. Skamiera is another talented freshman who will challenge to get on the field from the time the season starts.
The midfield lost co-captain Spencer Thompson and Jeff Ricondo to graduation. Thompson led the 2010 team in assists, and Ricondo played the role of Spartan hero in the NCAA game against Butler, returning from a monthlong layoff from a broken collarbone to play the final 10 minutes against the Bulldogs and net the game's lone goal. Rensing returns a pair of starters in senior Cyrus Saydee (Lansing, Mich.) and Josh Barens (Diamondale, Mich.). Saydee has explosive speed and quickness on the wing, and was the team's third-leading scorer a year ago with four goals and seven assists; two of his goals were game-winners. Barens, who started 21 games as a freshman and had two assists last year) will play in the middle. Seniors Garret Back (Grand Rapids, Mich.) and Joe Paljaj (Sterling Heights, Mich.) are seniors who are poised to make an impact on the lineup, along with returning junior Nick Wilson (Fort Wayne, Ind.) and redshirt freshman Cody Henderson (Bloomfield Hills, Mich.). Sophomore Tim Kreutz (Zurich, Ill.) will likely be out for the season with injury, and there are opportunities for true freshmen Kyle Rutz (Commerce Twp, Mich.), Fatai Alashe (Northville, Mich.) and Asa Miller (Louisville, Ky.) to earn playing time .
The team's leadership group is stationed in the back, as junior centerback Kevin Cope (Canton, Mich.) is a returning All-Big Ten selection and one of the team's co-captains, along with fifth-year senior goalkeeper Jeremy Clark (Sterling Heights, Mich.). Clark has shown he was a capable keeper despite limited minutes behind Avery Steinlage the last three seasons; he appeared in four games last season with just one goal allowed. Junior Bryce Dobbins (Troy, Mich.) and Quinn McAnaney (Northbrook, Ill) provide depth at keeper for Rensing's squad.
Cope, the 2009 Big Ten Freshman of the Year and a second team All-Big Ten pick a year ago, anchors the defensive effort. Cope, Rensing believes, is a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate, and he is coming off a summer season where he earned All-Central Conference honors in the USL's Premire Development League (PDL) while playing for the Chicago Fire. The other returning starters are senior Mark Barone (Grand Rapids, Mich) and sophomore Wesley Curtis (McKinney, Texas), Barone started 15 games a year ago, and missed five games with injury. He will likely get an audition in the center after he has primarily played on the wing. Curtis, who posseses great speed and quickness, will likely play on the right side; Curtis started 12 games last year and played in only 19 due to injury. Opportunities in the back will certainly be there for several other players, including senior Stephen Lucianek (LaGrange, Ill.), redshirt sophomore Ryan Thelen (Mason, Mich.), who missed 2010 due to an injury, and redshirt freshman Ryan Keener (Grand Blanc, Mich.) Newcomer Tyler White (Louisville, Ky.) will also add depth on the back line for the Spartans.
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