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Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Michigan State University Season Preview

Michigan State reached new heights as a club program last year, earning the #9 seed in the National Tournament. However, reaching the tournament is only the first step, and the Spartans fell to BYU in the first round.

In their third year under coach Dwayne Hicks, the Spartans look to take the next step by securing a top-half tournament seed, and advancing out of the opening round.


(All-Americans here, All-Conference here)


Key Returners: Tony Maccio, Atwood Smith.

Key Losses: Dean Hall (1st All-Am, 1st All-CCLA)

I saw Dean Hall play in person a few times last year, and every postseason honor he received was well-deserved. Replacing him will be a tall task for the Spartans. Tony Maccio got more playing time than fellow backup Smith Atwood last season, and he should step into the starting role - but still be a step down from Hall.


Key Returners: Brendan Hunt (2nd All-CCLA), MIke Schneider (HM All-CCLA)

Key Losses: Matt LaCasse (2nd All-Am, 1st All-CCLA)

Matt LaCasse was the most-celebrated member of MSU's defense last year, in addition to proudly rocking some epic flow. The Spartans have a couple other players who received postseason honors, so they have a nice core to their... corps. WORDPLAY. Still, some younger players are going to have to step up for the Spartans. Brendan Hunt and Mike Schneider have been named team captains, and should lead a strong defense.


Key Returners: Connor Bush (1st All-CCLA), Alex Gage (HM All-CCLA), LSM Ben Daiek

Key Losses: Justin Ward (2nd All-CCLA), LSM Brad Crimmins

The Spartans should be really strong in the midfield, despite the loss of Justin Ward and long-stick Brad Crimmins. They return a 1st-Team All-Conference selection in Connor Bush, who will serve as a team captain this year - though he's listed at attack on MSU's official roster. That's a curious decision, because as you'll see, they lose way more in the midfield than they do in the attack unit.


Key Returners: Pat Nemes (3rd All-Am, 1st All-CCLA), Michael Baily (3rd All-CCLA), Connor Bush, Dan Witt

Key Losses: None.

As mentioned above, the Spartans' attack unit doesn't lose anyone who was a serious contributor last year, and may add Connor Bush, depending on how he's deployed by Coach Dwayne Hicks. Patrick Nemes was the best player on Michigan State's team not named Dean Hall, and it could be a high-scoring year in East Lansing.


Key Returners: Scott Wisniewski

Key Losses: Derek Baynton

I'm having a hard time figuring out whether Baynton or Wisniewski was MSU's starter at the faceoff X last year, but Wisniewski is listed as taking more draws per the MCLA's incomplete stats. Either way, the Spartans will probably be a good-not-great team on draws.


Michigan State opens up with Florida at Ultimate Soccer in Pontiac on Sunday, before going on a road trip to the Pacific Northwest to play Simon Fraser, Sonoma State, and Oregon.

Following that, they have a homestand (opening in Ultimate Soccer again) against BYU, UC-Santa Barbara, Boston College, Colorado State, Arizona State, and Minnesota-Duluth.

They then travel to Urbana, Illinois to take on the University of Illinois (side note - great interview with their head coach in two parts here and here) and then host Central Michigan in East Lansing.

The following game gets its own paragraph, because it's by far the most important game on Michigan State's schedule each and every year. In the Great Lakes Lacrosse Classic, they'll take on rival University of Michigan, this year at Birmingham Seaholm High School. Michigan has won the past seven contests, and even regularly beat the Spartans when MSU was fielding a D-1 varsity squad.

They close out their regular season schedule at Western Michigan and home against Ball State, before likely facing Michigan in the CCLA tournament finals. If they put together a strong enough regular season schedule (or, god forbid, beat Michigan in the conference tournament), they'll finish the year at the MCAL Tournament in Denver.

The Projection

Michigan State should be able to make the MCLA Tournament again this year, but under Coach Hicks, that's no longer the goal. They're aiming for a top-half seed, and at least one win in Denver. I think they should be able to do that, barring any upsets. They should be favored in most games except those against Michigan, Minnesota Duluth, and maybe another one or two.

Michigan State is on an upward trajectory, especially since Hicks is the coach of one of the premier high school club teams in the state. If they're looking to break through to the next level, this should be the year.

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