Vince Lombardi once said "It's not whether you get knocked down; it's whether you get up." The Michigan State menâ€™s soccer team got knocked down many times this fall but picked themselves up to knockout the University of Michigan 2-1 in overtime to capture the Big Ten Tournament title. The win gives Spartan head coach Damon Rensing his first Big Ten Tournament title and the programs third overall having won the title under the legendary Joe Baum in 2004 and 2008.
Coming into the Big Ten Tournament the Spartans had a difficult fall campaign with a record of 8-9-1 which can be explained mainly by a rash of injuries to starters and valuable reserves. Even with the injuries the Spartans headed into the final weekend of the Big Ten play with a chance to snag the regular season conference title only to fall in a heart breaker in Ann Arbor to the University of Michigan 1-0. With the loss the team lost the conference championship and fell from the number one seed for the Big Ten tournament, which would have resulted in a bye the first round to the fifth seed. This meant they would have to win three games in a span of four days to win the tournament title. To sum it up, for the less knowledgeable fans of soccer, a difficult season turned into an almost impossible road to the Big Ten Tournament title with the loss in Ann Arbor.
Somehow under the leadership of Coach Damon Rensing the Spartans were not only able to pick themselves up, but also play their best soccer in the tournament. They defeated the fourth seeded Indiana Hoosiers 2-1 in the quarter finals and the number one seeded Northwestern Wildcats 3-1 in the semifinals before heading into Sundayâ€™s championship game verse the third seeded and hated Michigan Wolverines.
With a strong wind at their backs Spartans dominated the first half of the championship game verse the Wolverines out shooting them by a tally of 10-3. In the 37thminute they were able to take a 1-0 lead into halftime off a right footed blast from Adam Montague. The second half belonged to the Wolverines as they now had the wind at their backs and outshot the Spartans 10-3. Even with the wind, the Wolverines were unable to break through against the Spartans well organized defense lead by defender Kevin Cope and Ryan Keener for a majority of the second half. As a result, the Spartans were sitting under three minutes away from capturing the Big Ten Tournament title. Once again fate was not kind to the Spartans as the Wolverines were able to sneak behind the Spartan defense to flick in a shot over the arms of Spartan goalkeeper Zach Bennet to knot the score 1-1 and send the game into overtime.
Being so close to a title only to have it slip it away during the last minutes could have proved to be the final dagger for the Spartans as they headed into overtime. Instead of hanging their heads and pointing fingers, Coach Rensing was once again able to rally his boys as they carried much of the start of the first overtime. The Spartans never say die attitude paid off in the 97thminute as Sean Conerty ripped a laser into the upper right corner for the golden goal to send the Spartans into a shirtless celebration and to the Big Ten Tournament title. With the win the Spartans gathered the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and will find out their draw on Monday at 5:30.
In what can be considered a disappointing season for fall athletics at Michigan State university the Menâ€™s soccer team gave alumni and fans a reason to be proud. Not only did they make alumni and fans proud they taught a lesson on how to never abandon ship even when things are not going well. The team could have easily stopped fighting at many points in the season but refused to stop giving their all for each other and the university. They never stopped fighting and as a result will place a trophy in Jenison Fieldhouse that will stay for years to come.
I will leave you with one last phrase from the great Joe Baum:
â€œItâ€™s a great day to be a Spartanâ€