Thursday, March 23 2023

Just when it looked darkest for Michigan State women’s soccer, making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2009, the Spartans turned to a sister act to top Milwaukee, 3-2, in the first round on Friday night in East Lansing.

After giving up a goal early, the Spartans stormed back with second-half goals by sisters Celia and Justina Gaynor, followed by a goal by Camryn Evans in overtime to pick up the program’s first NCAA win since 2008 (also against Milwaukee). MSU, the No. 4 seed in the Notre Dame region, will face Friday’s winner between No. 5 seed TCU and UTSA on Sunday for a spot in the Round of 16. Friday’s win was just the third ever in the NCAA tournament for the Spartans (17-3-2), who will continue a dream season that saw them go undefeated in Big Ten play for the first time.

Michigan State's Camryn Evans controls the ball against Rutgers, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in East Lansing.Michigan State's Camryn Evans controls the ball against Rutgers, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in East Lansing.
Michigan State’s Camryn Evans controls the ball against Rutgers, Sunday, Oct. 23, 2022, in East Lansing.

GRAHAM COUCH:How MSU’s women’s soccer program so quickly changed course and became Big Ten champions

But it wasn’t easy for MSU, facing a Milwaukee squad coming off back-to-back second-round NCAA tourney appearances.

The Spartans appeared to have it won until the 90th minute, when Milwaukee’s Lainey Higgins fired a free kick toward the net with 20 seconds remaining. Kayla Rollins, from Ann Arbor, leapt and spun to get a foot on the ball, sending it to the right side of the goal, past MSU goalie Lauren Kozal to send the match to overtime.

It was the second assist of the game for Higgins. In the sixth minute, she threaded a pass to Natalie Auble entering the top of the penalty box. Behind the defense, Auble juked out MSU goalie Lauren Kozal and tapped the ball into the net with her right foot for a quick 1-0 lead.

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Despite the goal, Michigan State dominated the first half; the Spartans outshot the Panthers, 16-2, and had seven shots on goal to Milwaukee’s 1. But still, MSU trailed.

The second half was a different story. The Spartans rallied in the 56th minute as Justina Gaynor took her defender from the left side of the box to the center and fired a right-footed bouncer to the right side past Milwaukee goalie Kendall Edwards to even the score.

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Nearly 22 minutes later, it was older sister Celia Gaynor’s turn. In the 77th minute, the former transfer from Butler buried a shot in the bottom center of the net to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead. That would be it for the Spartans until well into the second half of overtime.

That was when Evans took a assist from Lauren DeBeau and Jordyn Wickes in the 105th minute and buried it for the winning goal, and her seventh of the year.

Michigan State peppered the Milwakee defense throughout regulation, firing off 24 shots, with 12 on net; Edwards had 10 saves. The Panthers, meanwhile, had just six shots, and only three on net. MSU had six corner kicks — three in each half — while Milwaukee had none. It was more of the same in overtime, as MSU had six shots, three on net, while Milwaukee was blanked.

The Spartans have never advanced past the second round, losing to Notre Dame twice: 3-0 in 2005 and 1-0 in 2008. They could face the Fighting Irish again, if both teams continue to win, in the third round next weekend.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan State women’s soccer nabs first NCAA tournament win since ’08


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