Michigan State Peaking At Perfect Time
When the scores came in two weeks ago, it was a result that jumped off the page: Michigan State 11, Davenport 1.
Nobody holds the Panthers to one goal. While Davenport is susceptible to giving up goals, occasionally in large quantities, they always manage to score their fair share. Prior to playing the Spartans, DU had been held below double-digits just once – a 15-9 loss to current No. 4 Arizona State – and had racked up large bills against solid defensive teams like Arizona (14), Buffalo (13) and Virginia Tech (13).
But when the dust settled against Sparty, there was that solitary goal, and just a lonely assists for Jordan Richtsmeier, the nation's leader in points (92).
"We take pride in every win, but holding Davenport to one goal and a Top 5 point-scorer in the nation to one assist? It's incredible," said Brandon Schwind, Michigan State's first-year head coach. "We had a week to prepare, so there was a lot of focus on their offense. I knew our offense would be able to score, so holding the ball – not playing stall ball – but being very conservative on our offensive end helped lead to that defensive effort."
Schwind is a self-admitted defensive guy, as is his assistant, Mike Sanderson, so when he was hired last year to take over the Spartan program, his initial goal was clear. He felt the State players were spending too much time focusing on one-on-one match-ups and not concentrating enough on team concepts.
"We spent of time changing the way we play defense," Schwind said. "I watched a lot of film of Michigan State when I got hired. I knew the offense was there, so my whole focus was on defense because it kind of reminded me of the NBA: who could score more? They were losing games 17-16, and I was like 'How was a team scoring 16 goals on us?' It didn't make sense to me."
Led by senior Seth Clickner, who always draws the opponent's top gun, including Richtsmeier, is the anchor of the backline and is joined by classmate Gabe Spiers and junior Mike Klaus on close defense. Senior Brad Crimmins is the top long-stick middie while sophomore goalie Matt Allemang has benefited from all of the talent in front of him, as he's currently ranked third (71.3%) in the nation in save percentage.
"They all have different attributes that make them great," Schwind said.
Schwind admits that there were some growing pains early on his tenure when he took over for Dwayne Hicks, and a couple of players left the team – "That happens everywhere in my experience," he said – but Sparty raced out to a 5-1 start to the season, with the only loss coming against defending national champion Colorado State, 9-3.
And then came the Simon Fraser game. The Clansmen scored eight second-half goals on Michigan State to take a 10-9 victory. It's still the only time an opponent has reached double-digits on the Spartans this spring, and it came at a perfect time as far as Schwind's concerned.
"To me, a game is won a couple of days before the actual whistle blows," he said. "You've got to have that pregame focus, the pregame determination to study your scouting report and to know your opponent. Up until that point, we were not doing a good job covering those bases. That loss to Simon Fraser was almost a blessing because it gave us an opportunity to examine what we were doing wrong before we actually got to the game. The kids kind of had a cocky attitude thinking 'We lost to Colorado State, we're the second best team in the nation.' Then we got taken down a peg by Simon Fraser. The work ethic after that has been incredible."
Since the Fraser game, MSU has won six straight, allowing an average of five goals per game in that span, and head into this weekend's CCLA tournament as the top seed. They'll play Western Michigan – a team Sparty drilled by 16 during the regular season – and then face either Pitt or Davenport, which are both ranked in the Top 25.
Schwind isn't surprised his team is on the cusp of an MCLA bid, and has been pleased with how his first year has gone in East Lansing.
"We knew we had the talent, I just think we needed to make the talent work a little harder," he said. "It's cocky, but I did think we'd be in this position right now. But we haven't won anything yet. Obviously, we'll have to go through Pitt or Davenport, and playing one of those two teams twice in a season, that's not comfortable for me. Like I said, I have high expectations for myself and high expectations for the boys. They've met every challenge so far."