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Oct. 23, 2023

Women's soccer wins second consecutive Big Ten Championship

No. 14 Michigan State women's soccer dominated Iowa, 3-0, Sunday afternoon at DeMartin Stadium en route to the program's second-straight Big Ten title. 

The Michigan State women's soccer team poses with a sign that reads B1G Champions
Photo by Matthew Mitchell

With the win, MSU shares the conference title with Nebraska, who defeated Illinois Sunday afternoon to match the Spartans' 23 points. By virtue of a tiebreaker, MSU earns the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament in back-to-back seasons and will face eighth-seeded Iowa on Sunday, Oct. 29 at DeMartin in the tournament quarterfinals. Sunday's quarterfinal match will start at 1 p.m. and stream on B1G+.

The Spartans move to 12-3-3 overall with Sunday's victory and complete the conference season at 7-1-2, MSU's second-best conference record in program history only behind 2022's 9-0-1 record. Iowa drops to 9-4-4 (3-4-3 B1G).  

MSU is the first women's soccer program to earn back-to-back Big Ten titles since Penn State in the 2015 and 2016 seasons, and joins Penn State, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Ohio State as one of five teams to win multiple titles. The title is the second for MSU head coach Jeff Hosler, who since taking over the program in 2021 has recorded the highest number of Big Ten wins (21) among all head coaches in the league over the last three seasons. 

"It's pretty amazing. I mean, everybody's got to play 10 games, we all play 10 games, we all play a tough, competitive schedule in the Big Ten and to be on top of it says a lot about the quality of soccer we're playing," said Hosler. "The grit and toughness this group has, the resilience they had to bounce back from an earlier tough result, I just couldn't be more proud of this group." 

Sophomore defender Maggie Illig, freshman midfielder Bella Najera and graduate defender Celia Gaynor scored goals in Sunday's win, while senior midfielder Justina Gaynor, sophomore midfielder Emerson Sargeant and senior forward MJ Andrus added assists. Despite Iowa leading the shot (9-5) and corner kick count (3-2), the Spartan defense, alongside a seventh clean sheet from MSU goalkeeper Kaitlyn Parks, kept the Hawkeyes off the board. 

MSU got off to a strong start, recording a pair of corner kicks in the first three minutes of the match. On the Spartans' second corner, Illig found the back of the net for the first time this season, sending the ball high to the left of the goal after receiving the ball from Sargeant, who collected Justina Gaynor's corner kick for the early 1-0 Spartan lead. 

Sargeant forced an Iowa save in the ninth minute before the Hawkeyes began to find an offensive rhythm of their own, forcing a save from Parks in the 16th minute on their first shot of the game. MSU responded, threatening a second goal off a Celia Gaynor header in the 20th minute that was corralled by the Iowa goalkeeper. 

The teams battled back-and-forth over the following 20 minutes, the only action from either side coming in the form of free kicks and a yellow card on the Spartans. Iowa once again threatened with a pair of chances in the last 10 minutes of the half but was unable to generate anything on-target, as the Spartans held the 1-0 lead heading into the break. 

Najera scored her team-leading seventh goal of the season in the 53rd minute to double the Spartan lead after a dominating start to the half. Justina Gaynor passed to Andrus inside the box, who found Najera just outside the box. Najera sent a one-touch flying shot to the left of the goal to score. 

The Hawkeye attack came alive following the second Spartan goal, recording four shots in the final 30 minutes while holding MSU without a shot for the remainder of the game. A Hawkeye foul inside the penalty area in the 74th minute awarded the Spartans their second penalty kick in as many games. A successful kick from Celia Gaynor capped off the scoring for the afternoon, giving the Spartans a 3-0 lead with less than 20 minutes remaining. 

Iowa's final chance of the game came in the 80th minute with a shot from Sofia Bush, but Parks made her fourth save of the game to keep the Hawkeyes scoreless as the 3-0 Spartan lead held through the final 10 minutes. 

Parks earned her 12th win of the season in goal, tying for fourth all-time in single-season wins at MSU.

The Spartans and Hawkeyes will meet again in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Sunday, Oct. 29 at DeMartin. MSU advanced to the championship game of last year's tournament before falling to Penn State.

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