Spartans Bring High-Octance Offense Into 2007 Season
Aug. 17, 2007
Entering the 2007 campaign aiming for a third trip to the NCAA Tournament in six years, the Spartans have knocked on the door to being one of the nation's elite women's soccer programs. Now MSU wants to kick that door down.
After six straight seasons with 10 or more wins,
"I think this team has the hunger to win, especially among the core veterans. They have tasted the NCAA Tournament, they have tasted a top-three Big Ten finish and they came away from last year - as we all did - dissatisfied," said head coach Tom Saxton. "I think if you talk to our core veterans, you can see they are ready to go."
MSU, while still relatively young with 16 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, returns 10 starters from last year's squad. In all, the Spartans return 14 players who started at least five matches. Senior goalkeeper Nicole Galas, who played every second in the net last season, and the team's top four scorers from 2006 highlight the returnees.
The Spartans should have an explosive scoring attack, as 93 percent (56 of 60 points) of the team's scoring returns. Sophomores Lauren Hill and Lauren Sinacola combined to score 13 of the team's 19 goals last season and assist leaders Kristi Timar and Maureen Pawlak will lead the way on offense.
"We should be a very prolific offensive team," Saxton said. "I would like to see us win with shutouts, but I think we could be involved in some high-scoring matches just as easily.
"I feel really good about the nucleus of this team. We have good people, so the leadership should be there. I think that the younger kids are excited and they will bring us into a new era as a program."
The forward position may be the strongest on the field for the Spartans.
Sophomore Lauren Hill headlines the group after leading MSU in scoring as a freshman. Hill, who tallied 18 points (8g, 2a) en route to Big Ten All-Freshman Team honors, is a quick and explosive player who will see significant playing time up front.
"There is no question that Lauren Hill is our go-to attacking player," Saxton said. "She had a great freshman year and she has a chance to be the Big Ten scoring leader for years to come."
Seniors Breana Ballard and Heather Riley will also compete for playing time at forward. Ballard saw action in 16 matches in 2006, totaling three assists, while Riley has overcome a series of injuries to work her way back into the rotation.
"Breana Ballard had a great spring season and she has made big plays for us before," Saxton said. "She is a great server of the ball and she is more confident in her game than ever before.
"And Heather looks like she is healthy and that will be a boost for us because she is a very good player."
Junior Lauren Carter appeared in seven matches last season and will also see a lot of time at forward.
Another player capable of scoring in bunches is freshman Cara Freeman. The 2006 Illinois Girls Soccer Player of the Year, Freeman scored 96 goals in her prep career and will immediately compete for playing time on the Spartan front line.
"Cara is one of our best recruits ever," Saxton said. "She is a classic target player with a great knack to finish. With Cara combining with Lauren Hill, we should be as dangerous offensively as we have ever been."
Freshman Megan Farhat could also move up from the midfield to provide depth.
The MSU midfield may be just as strong as the forwards unit, and the competition for playing time is fierce. The unit is very deep as the Spartans return three starters in the midfield, led by sophomore All-Big Ten Freshman honoree Lauren Sinacola, who ranked second on the team in goals (5) and points (13) last season.
"Lauren is a great setup player for our forward line. I expect her to attack from the middle, but we could even play her at forward if we had to," Saxton said. "Midfield is her natural position and she has the potential to be an All-Big Ten performer."
Senior co-captain Maureen Pawlak, who was fourth on the team with six points last season, will also be counted on in the midfield. Pawlak is a versatile and athletic player who can also contribute offensively.
"She is such a great shooter and she's really good in the air," Saxton said. "If the rest of our midfielders give us that luxury, that would be a huge positive."
Junior Kristi Timar started all 18 matches last season at forward, but has moved to midfield and will be one of the top candidates for playing time at the position. Timar sets the table for MSU, as she led the Spartans with five assists a year ago.
"Like Sinacola, Timar is a very good setup player and a good passer," Saxton said. "She will give us a lot of support as a midfielder."
Senior Lauren Astry and sophomore Megan Brown will also compete for playing time in the midfield. Astry started all 18 matches last year while Brown is riding the momentum of having a great spring season.
Juniors Kelley Amormino and Michelle Telebar, who usually play in the back, could also see time in the midfield depending on the situation. Senior Callie McCarthy will use her high soccer IQ to be part of the rotation.
Additionally, freshman Courtney Shegos will also be in the mix, while Katie Rehor could also move up from defense. Junior Hannah Ferenchick and freshmen Kelsey Tait and Megan Farhat will provide depth at the position.
"There are a lot of good players fighting for those spots," Saxton said. "You could almost see us shifting our starting lineup from Friday to Sunday sometimes, just to capitalize on fresh legs and take advantage of the depth we have in the midfield."
The defensive side of the field is MSU's biggest question mark. Answering those questions in 2007 will be senior co-captain Erin Doan and fellow senior Kelly Hannon. Doan has started MSU's last 61 matches and is the team's primary leader on the field. Hannon, who drew a starting assignment 23 times in 2005, started three of the four contests in which she played before injuries ended her season.
"We are at our best with Erin Doan and Kelly Hannon inside," Saxton said. "Kelly had some injury problems last year and didn't have a complete year. Doan has an unbelievable longevity streak going. She is our leader and a great center defender, but she knows she has to be better for our defense to be better."
Lee played in 23 games in 2005, but an injury forced her to miss all but six contests last season. When healthy, she is a strong forse in the defense. Amormino is the most experienced, having started all 18 contests in 2006. Telebar saw action in all 18 matches last season, drawing 10 starting assignments. She scored one goal last season.
Fifth-year senior Nicole Galas has started the 41 games in goal and will enter the season as MSU's primary netminder. Galas heads into her final campaign fourth on
"I have high expectations of Nicole in her fifth year," Saxton said. "She should lay claim to her legacy as one of the great keepers here. I expect her to step up and play solid. She is capable of being an All-Big Ten keeper."
There are four goalkeepers, all of them third-year sophomores, behind Galas on the roster. Lindsey Wrege, Demi Bruck, Ashley Crandall and Danielle Petri will all compete for playing time, while also battling for the starting keeper position in the seasons beyond 2007.
"The goalkeepers are a great group," Saxton said. "Their job is to compete day in and day out. I have seen improvement out of every single one of them over the last couple of years. I have total confidence in the folks lined up behind Galas."
The Spartans will test their dangerous offense and improving defense against a 19-match regular season slate that includes six teams that played in the 2006 Women's College Cup.
MSU starts the rugged schedule with a home contest against BYU, which was ranked 17th in the NSCAA/adidas poll at the end of the regular season. College Cup qualifiers Purdue (Oct. 5) and Illinois (Oct. 28) visit East Lansing during Big Ten play while the Spartans will take on qualifiers Penn State (Oct. 12), Loyola-Chicago (Oct. 25) and Michigan (Nov. 2) on the road.
The Spartans open with eight straight non-conference matches, highlighted by home contests against BYU,
"I think the Big Ten will be extremely tough," said Saxton. "Last year, we technically finished in ninth place, but we were just one game out of fifth. That just shows you how tough and hard-fought the conference is. I think as this season goes, we absolutely have the talent to be in the top half or top third of the conference. We just have to get it done on the field."
The top eight finishers in the Big Ten regular season standings advance to the Big Ten Championship, which runs from Nov. 8-11 at Elizabeth Robbie Stadium on the campus of the
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