Oct. 28, 2010
This story, written by Athletic Communications assistant Brittany McCormick '12, originally appeared in Sunday's game program for the MSU-Indiana men's soccer game.
When it comes right down to it, comraderie is the key component to this year's Michigan State men's soccer team's senior class.
Besides being a part of the 2008 Big Ten Championship team and living together off campus, this group of seniors has the chance to be a part of something special yet again- they could be the first class in MSU soccer history to to reach the NCAA tournament in each of their four years of varsity competition. With eleven wins already under their belts, a current RPI ranking of No. 9, and a challenging schedule that has, week-in and week-out had the team playing some of the nation's best sides ... there's a better than average chance that the Spartans will be playing games in the national tournament.
The Class of 2010 owns a four-year record of 46-22-8 - and with 11 victories already this season, has a chance to break the school record for wins in a season: the record is 13, set in 1985 and equalled in 1986 and 2001, and again in the Big Ten championship season of 2008. This class also has a shot at becoming the winningest class in MSU history - a distinction that currently belongs to the group from 2001-04, which compiled a 48-25-4 overall mark.
Along with the rest of their classmates, senior captains Spencer Thompson and Jeff Ricando have helped lead the No. 16 men's soccer team to an 11-3-0 record so far this season. The beginning of the end begins today for the seven seniors as they step out onto the field at DeMartian Stadium for their final home Big Ten contest.
Thompson will graduate from Michigan State with a pretty impressive soccer resume. The midfielder, who hails from Shelbytown, Mich., was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team and has started in the Green and White's midfield for 55 consecutive games.
"Spencer is one of the most honest players I"ve ever coached," said head coach Damon Rensing. "Ever since he was a freshman, he has shown up everyday to work and you know exactly what you're going to get from him every single day. He never takes a play off, and is a great example of a student-athlete."
Thompson has a career total of nine goals and 19 assists, with three of those goals and seven of his assist's coming in the 2010 campaign. Thompson had the opportunity to train Toronto FC of Major League Soccer (MLS) this past summer alongside classmate Colin Givens.
Thompson's co-captain is midfielder Jeff Ricondo, who too is a player who embodies the term "student-athlete." Ricondo is an Academic All-America candidate, boasting a 3.7 GPA as a marketing major. The classroom is not the only place which Ricondo excels. "One of the unsung hero on this team, even though he is a captain, is Jeff Ricondo," said Rensing. "He does so much of the work on the field, and always comes in fit - he just really goes about his everyday thing really well both on and off the field. We've been very fortunate to have a guy like Jeff on the field for the Spartans."
Ricondo, a midfielder from Wheaton, Ill., has been an asset for the Spartans since the beginning of his collegiate career. This season, Ricondo has scored three goals and tallied four assists. Prior to his senior season, he recorded nine goals and 11 helpers. Ricondo has started every game since his sophomore season and once he graduates, will leave a mark on MSU men's soccer history both in and out of the record books.
Another MSU senior that will be leaving behind his name in Spartan soccer lore is goalkeeper Avery Steinlage. Described as the jokester of the team, the Grand Haven, Mich. native, currently owns the NCAA consecutive shutout minutes record (1,318:26) and led the nation with a 0.925 saver percentage his junior season. Steinlage was named to the Big Ten All-First Team for the past two years and has the potential to receive the honor for a third year in a row. He is also on the watch list for the Hermann Trophy, given annually to the nation's finest soccer player.
"Avery is a great guy to be around," said Rensing. "He is a great team guy and on top of all his individual accolades, he has been a tremendous team player."
Joe Gregus, a goalkeeper from Flint, Mich., has unfortunately not seen much time in goal for the Spartans in a deep crop of keepers, but according to the coaching staff, has given much more to the Spartan soccer program than he has received. Described as a hard worker and natural leader, Gregus will leave behind a great mark on the MSU soccer team. "He is a huge presence on the bench and is a really a good leader behind this scenes for this team," commented Rensing. "He's excited to be a Spartan - those are the things we are going to miss the most about him and how important he is to our soccer family."
Colin Givens originally did not begin his collegiate soccer career at Michigan State. He played his freshman year at Virginia before transferring back to his home state of Michigan to play for the Green and White - and his addition to the squad was a bolster to the Spartan defense. The Troy, Mich. native was an All-Great Lakes region selection last year, and Rensing believes that his center back is one of the best defenders in the Big Ten Conference. However, the on-field play is not the only place Rensing feels Givens has made his mark.
"Colin is extremely athletic, and he's got a very good temperament." remarked the head coach. "He shows up everyday to train and even off the field, I think he has his head on right on a lot of things. Colin really is, overall, just a really good person."
The emotional leader of the team, Nosa Iyoha is a senior midfielder from Ann Arbor, Mich. who has had an impact on the field since he arrived on campus his freshman year. A member of the Big Ten All-Freshman Team and has recorded numerous starts in his career. During his time at MSU, Iyoha had to battle numerous injuries but as the coaching staff notes, he has given his heart and soul to Michigan State soccer.
"I know that both the older and younger players look up to Nosa and respect him not just for how he carries himself on the soccer field but how he is as a person," commented Rensing. "We are going to miss that about him."
As a back for Michigan State, Jake Fullerton has also made a statement on offense his senior season. Fullerton, who is from, Naperville, Ill., has added an offensive touch, scoring his first two career goals in 2010. A starter for the Green and White, the coaches say that Fullerton is both a serious soccer player and a fun guy to be around off the field.
"Jake is a great guy. The one thing about Jake - you know you are going to get one-hundred percent when he steps out onto the field - and he's an fiery competitor when the whistle blows."
From breaking NCAA records to winning the Big Ten title and tournament in 2008, the 2010 men's soccer team's senior class has had the chance to experience some incredible accomplishments. But their final season in the Green and White is not over yet, and all of the seniors are looking forward to making the most of the time they have left as Spartans.
"All of them are really true Spartans and they all bring their unique impressions to the program and they will be missed after they play their final games." noted their coach, who recruited them as an assistant and will coach the group through their final stretch in Spartan uniforms.
"We'll enjoy having this group back for future alumni games," said Rensing. "But before the alumni talk, there's plenty of challenges ahead for tthem in this stretch run in the regular season, Big Ten Tournament, and hopefully the NCAA's. We are proud of them for being Spartans, and we are going to enjoy working hard with them and for them during the time they have left in our program."