The Big Ten was one of the premier conferences in men’s soccer this season, and so perhaps it’s fitting that two of the league’s titans will meet deep in the NCAA Tournament.
There’s a drawback to that, though, too.
Only one can win and advance, and it’ll be either No. 7 Michigan State or No. 2 seeded Indiana. The teams square off in the Elite Eight at 7 Friday in Bloomington, Ind.
“It was the second-best conference this year, and always prepares us. Part of the reasons we’ve been able to be successful in the NCAA Tournament is because we play in the Big Ten,” Michigan State soccer coach Damon Rensing said this week. “It’s kind of bittersweet playing Indiana. You really respect them, you know you’re going to get one Big Ten team in the College Cup.
“But at the same time, two of us are playing and one of the Big Ten teams has gotta lose.”
The matchup is a battle of two of the best defenses in the country, with Indiana (17-0-5) easily No. 1, having allowed an average of 0.213 goals per game. The Hoosiers have given up five goals.
Michigan State (13-3-3), meanwhile, is 10th in the nation at 0.607 goals a game. The Spartans have given up 12 goals.
Each gave up one goal in their Sweet 16 victories, Michigan State a 2-1 winner over Western Michigan, Indiana a 2-1 winner over New Hampshire.
No surprise, the earlier meeting between the teams was a defensive struggle, with Indiana dominating the first half, and Michigan State the second. The end result was a 1-1 tie last month in Bloomington.
Rensing expects a similar battle Friday night, with Michigan State searching for its seventh Final Four appearance, and first since 1968. The Spartans are in the Elite Eight for the third time in five years.
Indiana is an eight-time national champion, most recently in 2012.
“When you’ve got two good teams, nobody’s gonna come in and dominate for 90 minutes,” Rensing said. “There are going to be some ebbs and flows.
“There’s some mental test there you go through. You’re not going to get 10 (scoring) chances. You’re going to get one, two, three chances.
“And you have to make the most of it.”
Indiana is led by a pair of freshmen, Mason Toye (10 goals, 22 points) and goalkeeper Trey Muse (17 shutouts).
Michigan State is led by a pair of juniors, Ryan Sierakowski and DeJaun Jones (19 points each), as well as red-shirt junior goalkeeper Jimmy Hague (11 shutouts).
NCAA SOCCER TOURNAMENT
No. 7 seed Michigan State at No. 2 seed Indiana
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Bill Armstrong Stadium, Bloomington, Ind.
Records: Michigan State 13-3-3, Indiana 17-0-5
Last meeting: The teams tied, 1-1, in double-OT on Oct. 29 in Bloomington
At stake: A spot in the NCAA Tournaments Final Four, against either No. 3 seed North Carolina or unseeded Fordham
SET FOR POSTSEASON
The NCAA Volleyball Tournament got under way Thursday, and opening matches continue Friday with two teams from the state in the mix.
Michigan State (21-8) plays Missouri State (28-5) at 5 p.m. Friday in Omaha, Neb., and Michigan (21-11) plays Colorado State (28-3) at 7:30 Friday in Stanford, Calif.
Michigan State, ranked No. 12 in the nation, is a favorite, despite the records. It played a tougher schedule this season. The Big Ten teams sent eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Michigan is just outside the top 25, while Colorado State is No. 23.
The Spartans are led by seniors Autumn Bailey, an offense and defense star, and Alyssa Garvelink, an outstanding blocker. Michigan State’s entire starting lineup is made up of seniors. The Wolverines are led by junior Carly Skjodt, who paces the offensive attack with a team-best 416 kills this season.
With a win, Michigan would play Stanford, a top seed, or Cal-State Bakersfield on Saturday. Michigan State would next play Creighton or Coastal Carolina on Saturday.
Another first for Western Michigan men’s soccer. It earned its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory this season, before falling in the thriller at Michigan State last week.
Now, the Broncos have their first-ever semifinalist for the prestigious Hermann Trophy, awarded annually since 1967 to the top senior performance.
Brandon Bye, a midfielder from Portage, is among 15 semifinalists for the men’s award. There also are 15 semifinalists for the women’s award. He’s the only player from Michigan up for the honor, with the winner set to be announced Jan. 5. The fields will be cut to three finalists in an announcement Dec. 8.
Bye was Western Michigan’s first-ever Mid-American Conference player of the year, finishing with 12 goals and seven assists. He led the Broncos as high as the No. 4 ranking in the nation.
“His work ethic and drive to want to be the best is beyond impressive,” Western Michigan coach Chad Wiseman said. “Brandon was one of the most dominating attacking players in the country this season.”