EAST LANSING, Mich. – The resume is growing: one Big Ten Tournament title. Two Elite Eights. And five NCAA tournament appearances.
All have been achieved in Damon Rensing’s tenure at Michigan State. Rensing, a former Spartan soccer great, took the coaching reins in 2009 and has helped build a winning culture for the MSU men’s soccer team.
Under Rensing, the Spartans have a plus-0.500 winning percentage, including a top-25 rank and 7-2-0 (3-1-0 in the Big Ten) record to start to this 2016 season. The Spartans defeated Ohio State, 1-0, on Saturday.
“Winning games in college soccer is not easy,” Rensing said. “I think we’ve had an extremely good start so far. Our two losses have been games that we actually played pretty well so we haven’t had a game yet where we’ve been playing terrible. Eight games into the season now and we’re in good form, just got to keep going.”
The roots can be traced back to 2012, as the start of the breakout for Rensing and the Spartans with a Big Ten Tournament win and NCAA tournament appearance.
Then came 2013 and 2014, consecutive years of mixing in solid recruiting classes with already successful cores of players.
This year’s upperclassmen were a part of those recruiting classes and were able to play a role in the team’s back-to-back Elite Eight runs. After missing out on the NCAA Tournament last season and losing three-year starting goalkeeper Zach Bennett, Michigan State needed to find its identity.
Their 2016 roster features only one true senior, with one redshirt senior, four redshirt juniors, four true juniors, and three redshirt sophomores.
Two milestone games this season have shown the Spartans how good they could be. On Sept. 19, MSU faced Michigan in East Lansing, a showdown that has been dominated by the Wolverines.
Every player that was not in the 2013 recruiting class had been beaten by the Wolverines, and they wanted to change that. An early goal from junior defender Brad Centala was enough to secure a 1-0 win and earn the team’s second Big Ten win.
It was also the first 2-0 Big Ten start in school history.
"I have been a part of every one of these rivalry games since its inception. It's tough…it's two great teams,” Rensing said. “Getting that early goal really got us going.”
Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Jimmy Hague earned his third straight shutout and his first career win versus the Wolverines.
"I have been waiting a while to get the Big Bear back, and this is my first game playing [for the trophy], so it's just great,” Hague said. “Every time that we play Michigan we know that it is going to be really emotional. We just have to go with our heads straight. I thought that we did a really good job with that. "I am really happy for Jimmy (Hague) and Brad (Centala) getting their first wins against Michigan. Jimmy has put his time in with the program, and he was really special today.
“He was a big-time goalkeeper. Centala has been playing well he just doesn't get rewarded with goals or assists. I was happy for the team."
This team’s next test was on Sept. 23, against the No. 1 team in the country, Maryland, on the road. The Terrapins won, 2-0, but MSU proved it was capable of being quite competitive against elite competition.
“I was really proud of our guys…we had a chance to cut it to 2-1. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it. All in all, when I look and evaluate the team, it was a really solid performance against the No. 1 team in the country,” Rensing said. “We don’t like to lose. That is not acceptable in our program, but when you look at how we played for 90 minutes in one of the toughest environments against one of the best teams. I think that you have a lot of positives.”