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Last season was only a glimpse of what this team can be in 2015. With superstars at several positions, Michigan State has elevated itself into the championship conversation. This is part of an ongoing series during which we will focus on one of the MCLA’s top teams each day, counting down till Christmas to the true “cream of the crop.”
Postseason finish: MCLA Tournament Second Round
Quick season recap: The Spartans had one of the country’s toughest schedules during early March, with games against BYU and both Colorado schools. After dropping both the BYU and Colorado State games (each by one goal), the team was in danger of falling to 2-3 with a game against the to-be-champion Colorado Buffaloes. Instead of succumbing to the favorite, Michigan State snagged a tough road win and secured itself in the national conversation. It was the start of a seven-game win streak that would extend into early April, until the Spartans fell at the hands of Davenport in the regular season meeting between the two teams. It was MSU with the last laugh, though, after defeating the Panthers in the CCLA’s title game to punch its ticket into the MCLA Tournament with the conference’s automatic qualifier. Once in the field, the 7-seed Spartans staved off the Texas Longhorns to line up a rematch with Colorado. This time around, MSU would fall to the Buffaloes in a 13-6 rout. CU would go on to win the national championship.
Roster losses: Attackman Mitchell Hall will be missed offensively, as the key cog in the Spartans’ attack. His career wraps up with an impressive two appearances as an MCLA All-American and a three-time All-CCLA representative. His 44 goals in 2014 were by far his career high and will require other players on this offense to step up and fill that goal-scoring role. Another quality goal-scorer and All-CCLA player will be gone, as midfielder Charles Dever (24 goals last season) has also graduated. Defensively, it’s the play of Matt Klaus that will be missed. His talent as a defenseman earned him All-American honors in 2014, leaving this defense in need of some younger names to step up. Beyond those three, there is only one player whose eligibility has been all used up, defenseman Daniel Berkompas, and while that could hurt slightly in defensive depth, it’s unlikely that it will impact the team’s on-field performance much, as he wasn’t able to find his way onto the field at all last season. However, with minimal losses in numbers, expect roster size and experience to be a big edge for the Spartans in 2015.
Who to watch for: Joe Mikkelsen, senior face-off specialist
Mikkelsen has become a staple at the FOS position over the course of his career with the Spartans. Last season he notched his third All-American award in as many years, behind the offensive production providing him with the largest workload he’s ever taken on (307 face-offs taken in 2014 compared with his previous career-high of 180). Here’s a stat: never in Mikkelsen’s three-year career has he ever been outplayed in the face-off X – not once has he lost more draws than he’s won. Last year, he snagged over 80 percent of the face-offs he took, breaking his previous career high of 77.7 percent. If he continues to progress and play the way that he did last season against the toughest of MSU’s opponents (posting a cool 75 percent against the early-season gauntlet of three consecutive RMLC foes, and a stellar 85 percent in the Spartans’ two tournament games), this team is going to have no trouble going on runs.
They’re dangerous if the key stars across the board continue their excellence. The loss of Hall on the offensive side will hurt, but don’t forget Mackenzie Ensley, whose 52 points earned him a spot on the All-CCLA First Team attack. Defensively, it’s senior goalie Matt Allemang that will have the attention of the entire country. After notching a First Team All-American nod with a fantastic junior season (6.37 GAA, 12.2 saves per game, .657 save percentage), he’ll be looking to improve upon that and continue his ascent among the top tier of MCLA goalies. “I’m expecting the very best (from Allemang),” head coach Brandon Schwind said. “He’s incredibly solid.” Another key factor in this team’s play is short-stick defender Joe Schmitz, who was an All-American during his first year at MSU in 2014. Any way you cut it, though, this will be a team effort. “This is the most talented roster we’ve ever had at Michigan State,” Schwind said. “We’ve got senior leadership and solid talent throughout the roster.
Achilles’ heel: Defensive inexperience. Two freshmen will be taking starting roles as defensemen on an otherwise very experienced roster, and they will need to immediately make the adjustment with some tough early-season opponents with an appearance in the Lax Coaches Vs. Cancer Classic awaiting the Spartans in early March. Expect Allemang to face some high shot counts early in the season if this defense isn’t prepared for the explosive offenses that await. There’s a tough schedule throughout the season (Colorado, Colorado State, BYU, GCU, Chapman, Virginia Tech, Liberty, Boston College) that will pit them against offenses that are capable of exploiting unprepared defensive units. However, these players are not defined by their class, according to Schwind. “They are freshmen, but they’re incredible players,” Schwind said. If the defensive unit retains its solid 7.1 goals-allowed-per-game mark from last year, there’s a very good chance that the Spartans will be among the front-runners for the national title.
Trey Lanthier is a lacrosse reporter and editor at WCSN, as well as a contributor for Inside Lacrosse. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter, @TreyLanthier.