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Michigan State Women’s Soccer: Season Recap, Coach Tom Saxton Retires

MSU Athletic Communications

Women’s Soccer 2020-2021

The Michigan State Spartans women’s soccer team wrapped up its shortened season with a Big Ten Tournament double-overtime loss to Rutgers. MSU had a rocky season to say the least, finishing 1-10-1 overall and then saw head coach Tom Saxton retire after 30 seasons at the helm.

Tom Saxton Retires

Michigan State’s head women’s soccer coach Tom Saxton announced his retirement on Thursday, April 15. He had just finished his 30th season at the helm and was the longest tenured women’s soccer coach in the Big Ten. Associate head coach Tammy Farnum will serve as the interim head women’s soccer coach.

Per Michigan State Athletics:

“A life-long Spartan, Saxton earned three letters as a player before returning to campus in 1986 to assist legendary Spartan soccer coach Joe Baum with both the men’s and the new women’s program. Saxton was named the second head coach in the history of the women’s soccer program on June 1, 1991. In 30 seasons, Saxton’s career record stands at 274-252-56.

Spartan players have collected a total of 42 All-Big Ten honors, including MSU’s first Conference Player of the Year, Karen Winslow in 1994, and Laura Heyboer, the 2008 Offensive Player of the Year.

Under Saxton’s guidance, the Spartans have always found success in the classroom as well, receiving 375 Academic All-Big Ten honors since women’s soccer was incorporated into the Big Ten in 1994. In 2021, Saxton’s team had 21 players who were awarded Academic All-Big Ten honors. In 2016, captain Sarah Kovan was named MSU’s 17th Rhodes Scholar.”

A two-time Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, Saxton, earned his 150th victory in the opening-round of the 2006 NCAA Tournament. It was MSU’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win. Saxton’s Spartans posted a 12-6-5 record in 2005, their sixth-straight season with double-digit wins. He attained his 200th victory against DePaul in the 2011 opener.

MSU Vice President and Athletic Director Bill Beekman offered the following praise for Saxton following the announcement of his retirement:

“Tom Saxton’s name is synonymous with Spartan women’s soccer as he has been a part of the program since its first season in 1986, including serving as head coach for the last 30 seasons. He’s impacted the lives of so many women in a positive manner during that time, helping them excel athletically and academically, while preparing them for a successful life once they leave Michigan State. Spartan soccer truly is a family environment, and Tom’s stability and continuity have played a large role in creating that culture. What he’s accomplished as a player, an assistant coach and a head coach have left an indelible mark in the history of Spartan soccer. It will certainly feel different next year without him on the sidelines, but we all wish Tom, his wife Sue, and the entire Saxton family happiness as he enters retirement.”

Season Results

Game One: Michigan State 1-Maryland 1, 2OT

The Spartans opened up the soccer season with an overtime tie at Maryland on Feb. 20. The game was moved from the grass of Ludwig Field to Maryland Stadium’s artificial turf due to inclement weather. The game was moved from the grass of Ludwig Field to Maryland Stadium’s artificial turf due to inclement weather. The changed venue offered the women’s soccer team an opportunity to play where COVID-19 prevented the Michigan State football from competing this past season. The game also marked the second time in three seasons MSU has opened the season with a tie, matching the 2018 season start against Purdue.

Junior forward Gia Wahlberg put the Spartans on the board first in the 63rd minute with an exciting kick. Sophomore forward Paige Webber started the play with a cross that was deflected off a Terp defender. Wahlberg got to the deflection and fired it past both a defender and the Maryland goalkeeper Nicole Kwoczka to give MSU the 1-0 advantage.

Then Maryland tied it up in the 89th minute as Mikalya Dayes’ deep shot from the right side deflected off a MSU defender and past MSU goalkeeper Lauren Kozal for the tie. The game ended in a tie following two overtimes. In the second overtime, Kozal came off her line in the 104th minute for a save off another dangerous shot by Dayes. Wahlberg followed on offense for MSU in the 105th minute with a deep shot that sailed wide.

The Spartans trailed in shots (13-10) and Shots on Goal (five-to-three), and also picked up 18 fouls to Maryland’s five. Kozal notched four saves, though.

Game Two: Nebraska 0-Michigan State 2

How about a shutout for game two against those Huskers? Michigan State did just as much in game two as what would normally have been a home season opener. This one was instead played at St. Joe’s Sports Dome in Livonia, Michigan on Feb. 25.

Despite a strong start to control possession early in the game by Nebraska, the Spartans were the ones to find the back of the net first in the 44th minute. Junior forward Miranda Hart scored her first career goal off a well made pass from senior midfielder Danielle Stephan. Hart took the pass from the left side and snuck it past Husker goalkeeper Makinzie Short. The Spartans held the lead through the remainder of the first half despite Nebraska leading in shots with 10 compared to MSU’s two.

Michigan State took over in the second half, despite Nebraska holding a narrow shot advantage (five-to-four). In the 66th minute, MSU doubled its lead with junior Abby Gardiner’s first career goal. The ball again came from Stephan on the left side and Gardiner chipped it in from seven yards out. Michigan State moved to 1-0-1 on the season.

Game Three: Minnesota 1-Michigan State 0

Back at the St. Joe’s Sports Dome, the Spartans fell to the Golden Gophers on a late first half goal. Minnesota held possession for much of the half, and struck home in the 42nd minute for the game-winning goal. Overall, Minnesota was more aggressive with 16 shots to Michigan State, five and eight shots on goal compared to MSU’s two, while Lauren Kozal grabbed six saves overall. The Spartans also committed less fouls (six) than the Gophers (10).

Game Four: Michigan State 1-Rutgers 3

The game at Rutgers on March 4 started what was slated as a five-game road swing that would only be broken up by a COVID-19 postponement. The Spartans had a tale of two halves in this one, falling by a final score of 3-1.

The Spartans got on the board at the 40:03 mark, but it wasn’t enough. Rutgers went on to tie it up in the second half in the 49th minute, then took the lead in the 74th minute and extend it in the 77th. The Spartans moved to 1-2-1 with the loss.

Game Five: Michigan State 1-Penn State 3

The Spartans continued the brutal road stretch on March 7 with a trip to Penn State and suffered yet another 3-1 loss. MSU had injury issues in the backline in this one as well, and Penn State took a quick advantage.

In just the eighth minute, Ally Schlegel received a pass from Rachel Wasserman and sent it into the lower right corner for a 1-0 lead. Then Michigan State tied it up in the 27th minute. Junior forward Gia Wahlberg scored her second goal of the season from nine yards out. Dribbling down field all by herself, Wahlberg beat Nittany Lion goalkeeper Katie Evans with a blast in the middle of the goal to tie the score.

Penn State retook the lead in the 35th minute and stretched it further in the second half with a score in the 74th minute. MSU was vastly outnumbered in the box score as the Lady Lions had a 16-to-three shots advantage and nine-to-two shots on goal margin.

Game Six: Michigan State 3-Michigan 7

Losing to Michigan sucks. This one was incredibly lopsided. Let’s not dwell on it. Muck Fichigan.

Game Seven: Indiana-Michigan State POSTPONED

The game against Indiana was postponed due to COVID-19 issues within the Michigan State program.

Game Seven: Michigan State 0-Purdue 1

The Spartans visited West Lafayette, Indiana after the pause for a March 21 tilt against the Boilermakers. MSU held strong against Purdue in the first half despite being outshot 12-one. Even in the second half, Michigan State started strong with Junior forward Gia Wahlberg and junior midfielder Sam Sklarski both fired off shots in the first 10 minutes of the period.

However, Purdue broke the stalemate for the game’s only goal in the 67th minute. Michigan State finished the second half more evenly in shots, six-to-five, but couldn’t get any through to tie it up or take the lead. Michigan State’s goalkeeper Lauren Kozal came up with a big save in the 83rd minute to prevent a larger margin of victory, though.

Game Eight: Northwestern 1-Michigan State 0

Michigan State’s first home game at DeMartin Stadium didn’t come until the regular season was 80 percent of the way over with a visit by Northwestern in what should have been game nine on March 25.

The first half was a balanced affair with NU holding a narrow one-shot advantage (three-to-two). The Wildcats earned the first shot of the game as Hallie Pearson fired one off, but it was corralled by MSU’s Lauren Kozal in the seventh minute.

Michigan State’s first shot came from junior Gia Wahlberg in the 28th minute. Her shot to the center of the goal was grabbed by Northwestern’s Mackenzie Wood.

In the second half, the Spartans increased the pace. In the 54th minute, junior forward Camryn Evans and senior forward Michelle Herring both had shot attempts within seconds of each other, but were unable to find the back of the net. In the second half, the Wildcats out-shot the Spartans by a slight, four-to-three margin.

With neither team able to break the draw, MSU and NU went into overtime. However, Northwestern scored just 52 seconds in as Aurea Martin drove up the left side of the field. Martin delivered a great ball to Olivia Stone, who drove it past Kozal on the lower right corner for the game winner.

Game Nine: Illinois 2-Michigan State 1

With another home game at DeMartin Stadium in late March, the Spartans looked to end a six-game losing streak, but instead stretched it to seven. Despite a plus-five shot advantage (eight-to-three) over the Illini, Michigan State couldn’t find a way to get the ball into the net enough for a win.

Illinois found the back of the net on its first shot of the game in the 40th minute. A corner kick by Aleah Treiterer found teammate Eileen Murphy’s head and she snuck it past sophomore goalkeeper Lauren Kozal to put the Ililini up 1-0.

In the second half, the Spartans finally got on the board in the 80th minute. Freshman forward Zivana Labovic scored her team-leading third goal of the season to tie it up 1-1. A long free kick by junior defender Samantha White found Labovic’s head and she sent the ball into the center of the goal.

The Illini responded in the 86th minute on just their third shot of the game as Kendra Pasquale found teammate Makena Silber to give Illinois the 2-1 win.

Game 10: Michigan State 1-Indiana 2

Following the postponement earlier in the season, Michigan State hit the road down to Bloomington to take on Indiana on March 31 to wrap up the month with yet another loss, this one the fourth in a row by a one-goal margin.

On a cold and windy day, the Hoosiers scored first in the 23rd minute on a goal by Gabi Rennie. Michigan State tied it up before the half, though, in the 37th minute. Denior Danielle Stephan, team leader with four assists, found sophomore Sydney Kloosterman on a long pass from near midfield into the box to Kloosterman who kicked a left-footed zinger to the upper right corner past IU keeper Bethany Kopel. It was Kloosterman’s first goal and first points of the season, and it was also her second career goal.

Indiana came out of the locker room and almost immediately took the go-ahead goal for the win. In the 37th minute the Hoosiers scored on a penalty kick by Avery Lockwood.

Game 11: Ohio State 1-Michigan State 0

The final game of the regular season saw six seniors honored for Michigan State at DeMartin Stadium on April 3. Unfortunately, the team couldn’t send them off with a win. The Spartans kept the shot margin narrow, trailing Ohio State 12-10, but trailed six-to-three in shots on goal. Lauren Kozel had five saves on the game.

The Buckeyes struck gold early in action and rode it through to the end. In just the fifth minute, Emma Sears scored her sixth goal of the season with a close-range go to the lower left corner that slipped in for the game winner. Despite a tough effort by MSU’s offense, the Spartans were unable to even tie it up and force overtime.

Big Ten Tournament: Michigan State 0-Rutgers 1, 2OT

No. 6 seed Michigan State faced off against No. 3 seed Rutgers in Columbus on April 8, but fell in the second overtime for a sixth-straight loss by just one goal. Rutgers had a whopping 17-to-five shots advantage, and also held an eight-to-two shots on goal advantage. Lauren Kozal made a valiant effort with a season-high seven saves, all during regulation, but couldn’t overcome a lackluster performance by her teammates elsewhere on the field.

The Scarlet Knights finally got into the net and on the scoreboard in the 106th minute. Allison Lowrey made a long pass from the left side and Amirah Ali got it in past Kozal to end the game and the season for Michigan State.