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Sep 17, 2009

Keeper's scoreless streak buoys Spartans

The next goal scored on Michigan State goalkeeper Avery Steinlage will be the first -- well, at least the first in a very long time.

It's been 1,165 minutes, eight seconds and counting since Steinlage allowed a goal. Steinlage set the NCAA record for scoreless minutes in the Spartans' 0-0 draw with the University of Illinois-Chicago on Sept. 6, and the redshirt junior kept the streak going with a pair of shutouts over Lipscomb and Wright State.

"It's a pretty amazing record when you think of all the quality teams and goalkeepers that have gone through Division I soccer," Michigan State coach Damon Rensing said.

In all, Steinlage has a 12-game scoreless streak, dating back to Oct. 15, 2008.

As exceptional as the keeper's play has been, the record also is a testament to the Spartans' impressive defense -- which Steinlage will be the first to point out, citing the fact that he has had to make only nine saves in four games this season.

But Steinlage doesn't get to pass on all the credit.

"Defense has been a real focus at Michigan State," Rensing said. "I think we do kind of view this as a team award, because there's definitely been some games where Avery wasn't tested because our other players did such a good job. But then some games, he's had to come up really big."

In what could have been a transition year, Michigan State, is off to a strong start. The team lost six starters from last year's Big Ten championship squad as Rensing made the move from assistant to head coach, with Joe Baum handing over the reins after 32 seasons at the helm. But if the record (3-0-1) is any indication, the 18th-ranked Spartans seem to have picked up where they left off without missing a beat.

Even so, Steinlage said he believes the team is just beginning to scratch the surface of its potential -- good news with Big Ten play still on the horizon. Games against Loyola Marymount and San Diego in California this weekend should help the team along in its development.

"It's a long season, and we know we're obviously not going to go the whole season not being scored on," Steinlage said. "We're just focusing on the next game. Defense drives our team. Our goal is not to get scored on every game, and that's what we've done so far."

Seems to be working.

Legendary coach passes away

Bill Shellenberger may have spent his college coaching career at a small school, but he had a big impact on the game. The pioneering coach passed away Sept. 7 at age 88.

As coach at Division III Lynchburg (Va.) College from 1954-89, Shellenberger was the first collegiate coach to reach 300 wins, finishing his career with a 371-167-48 record. More than two decades after his retirement, he was still among the top 30 collegiate coaches in wins.

Shellenberger asked the Lynchburg athletic department for permission to start a soccer program, and in 1954, with $600 funding for his program, a new era dawned for Hornets athletics. His team was one of just four college soccer programs in Virginia at the time. Finishing over .500 in 1956, the team had the first of 31 consecutive winning seasons under Shellenberger.

The soccer world took notice. Shellenberger's success garnered the coach and his program national attention and numerous accolades. He was inducted into eight athletic halls of fame, including the National Soccer Hall of Fame.

Around the rankings

Apparently, No. 14 Boston University is a team that can make or break a program. Last week, Harvard (4-0) jumped into the national rankings at No. 13, aided by a 1-0 win over BU on Sept. 11.

Meanwhile, No. 15 St. John's saw its stock plummet, dropping from the No. 4 spot after a week in which the Red Storm (1-1-2) played Stony Brook to a scoreless tie and fell to the Terriers 1-0. However, given St. John's strength of schedule -- the team opened the season holding Indiana scoreless in Bloomington, Ind., and beating Notre Dame 2-0 -- the Red Storm haven't fallen as far as the rankings might lead one to believe.

It will be interesting to see how things start shaking out once ACC play really gets under way. Wake Forest, North Carolina and Maryland hold down the Nos. 2, 3 and 4 rankings, respectively . None of the three meet each other until Sept. 25, when the Tar Heels and Terrapins face off in Maryland. However, UNC will play one of the bigger games in the nation this weekend when it takes on No. 11 Duke. In last year's College Cup national title game, Maryland defeated UNC 1-0. Maria Burns Ortiz covers college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She can be reached at mariamburns@gmail.com.

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