In Tuesday’s edition of the LSJ, colleague Chris Solari has a story detailing the successful year this has been for Michigan State athletics.
With that in mind, here’s a look at some of the top moments in competition from the past 10 months.
Kyler Elsworth helped make sure Michigan State’s long-awaited return to the Rose Bowl had a successful ending. Elsworth, who was filling in for suspended starting middle linebacker Max Bullough in Pasadena, flew through the air to make the key tackle late in the fourth quarter that helped seal a 24-20 Rose Bowl victory over Stanford. And that win helped the Spartans end the season No. 3 in the nation in the final polls.
COOKING UP SUCCESS
Connor Cook saved his best two passing performances of the season until the end, and played a key role in helping Michigan State come out on top in the Big Ten Championship Game and Rose Bowl. The sophomore quarterback was named the MVP of the Big Ten Championship Game after passing for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-24 win over Ohio State. He trumped that with 332 yards passing and two touchdowns in the Rose Bowl to earn offensive MVP honors.
Michigan State continued its recent success against rival Michigan on the gridiron with a dominant performance. The Spartans held the Wolverines to a program-worst minus-48 yards rushing while posting a 29-6 victory in East Lansing. MSU registered seven sacks while posting its most lopsided win over U-M since a 34-0 win in 1967.
REDEMPTION IN INDY
Twice the shorthanded Michigan State basketball team came up short against rival Michigan during the Big Ten regular season. Meeting in the conference tournament championship game for the first time, the full-strength Spartans atoned for those losses with Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Branden Dawson leading the way. It marked the second Big Ten tournament title in three seasons for MSU. Payne and the Spartans got to celebrate on the court with Lacey Holsworth, a child cancer patient that’s relationship with the MSU big man made headlines during the Spartans’ tournament run in March. Holsworth died a month later.
A pair of freshmen took on key roles for the Michigan State women’s basketball team and played key roles in the Spartans winning their second Big Ten title in four seasons. Senior captains Annalise Pickrel and Klarissa Bell helped a team that featured talented freshmen Tori Jankoska, Aerial Powers and Branndais Agee come together to help the Spartans share the regular season crown with Penn State. The two Big Ten titles in four seasons marks the best stretch in program history for the Spartans.
DELIVERING IN THE CLUTCH
In dramatic fashion, the MSU women’s golf team captured its third Big Ten title in four seasons. And it was senior Allyssa Ferrell that delivered in the clutch to help the Spartans finish tied with Ohio State for the title. Ferrell sank a 9-foot putt for birdie in the tournament’s final shot to earn a share of the title. That putt was part of a strong finish to her MSU career as Ferrell also led the Spartans by tying for 10th as an individual at the NCAA championships.
BRINGING THE PAYNE
Adreian Payne delivered one of the best NCAA tournament performances in MSU history to lead the Spartans past Delaware in a second round contest in Washington. Payne had a tournament-record 41 points to break the old mark of 34 set by Greg Kelser in 1979. The senior also set an NCAA tournament record by making 17 of 17 free throws.
Adam Montague’s goal against and goalkeeper Zach Bennett’s 16th career shutout helped the 11th seeded MSU men’s soccer team get past sixth-seeded Georgetown and reach the Elite Eight for the first time since 1968. It also gave the Spartans a program-record 14th win.
TOPPING NO. 1
The season didn’t turn out exactly as hoped for the MSU baseball team, but it did post one of the biggest wins in coach Jake Boss Jr.’s tenure in February. The Spartans scored twice in the ninth inning to overcome a one-run deficit and post a victory over then No. 1-ranked Oregon State in Arizona. It marked the highest-ranked team MSU had beaten since topping No. 6 Rice in 2008.
RUNNING TO SUCCESS
Track and field gets lost in the shuffle of the other sports, but junior Leah O’Connor has turned in a dominant season that’s included breaking a 25-year old Big Ten indoor meet record in the mile that was held by Olympian Suzy Favor Hamilton. O’Connor finished the mile in 4:34.35 at the indoor Big Ten meet to best the mark set by Favor Hamilton in 1989. O’Connor has also had a strong season on the track, taking first in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at the Big Ten outdoor championships and at the NCAA East regional last week. She also was the top performer for the MSU cross country team that finished sixth at the NCAA meet in the fall.
Other notables: Caleb Rhynard being MSU cross country’s first All-American since 1997. … MSU volleyball returning to the Sweet 16 for a second straight season. …. MSU field hockey winning the Big Ten title for first time since 2009 and upsetting No. 2 Syracuse in the NCAA tournament.