It’s no secret that 2023 wasn’t the easiest year for Michigan State athletics. The football team faced a coaching scandal and another bowl-less season, while other programs grappled with challenges of their own. But amidst the adversity, there were also moments of triumph, resilience, and pure joy that reminded us why we bleed green and white. Here are five of the best:
1. The Nebraska Win: A Beacon of Hope in a Tumultuous Season
The Spartans’ 23-13 victory over Nebraska in November wasn’t just a win; it was a symbol of hope. After seven straight losses and the firing of head coach Mel Tucker, the team’s morale was at rock bottom. But against all odds, they rallied behind interim coach Harlon Barnett and pulled off a stunning upset against a favored Cornhuskers squad. The victory wasn’t the prettiest, but it showed the heart and determination of the players, and it gave Spartan Nation a much-needed reason to cheer.
2. MSU Hockey’s Meteoric Rise Under Adam Nightingale
In just his second year at the helm, Coach Adam Nightingale has transformed the Spartans hockey program into a Big Ten powerhouse. Last year, he took a team that hadn’t had a winning record in years and led them to a .500 mark and their first Big Ten Tournament win since 2015. This year, the Spartans are soaring even higher, currently sitting atop the conference standings with a high-powered offense and a stingy defense. Nightingale’s impact has been nothing short of remarkable, and his team is poised for even greater things in the future.
3. Non-Revenue Sports Shine Bright
While football and basketball often steal the spotlight, 2023 was a banner year for several of MSU’s non-revenue sports programs. The women’s cross-country team captured the Big Ten title, while the women’s soccer team made the program’s first-ever Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament. On the individual side, men’s tennis players Max Sheldon and Ozan Baris won the ITA Fall National Title in doubles, and the MSU dodgeball team took home the National Collegiate Dodgeball Association championship. These accomplishments are a testament to the dedication and talent of MSU’s student-athletes across all sports.
4. Basketball’s Sweet 16 Run: Izzo’s Spartans Slay the Marquette Eagles
Tom Izzo’s Spartans entered the 2023 NCAA tournament with questions swirling around their chemistry and ability to win in March. But they silenced the doubters with a thrilling run to the Sweet 16, capped off by a dramatic 80-72 victory over the second-seeded Marquette Eagles. The win was a classic Izzo special, featuring gritty defense, clutch free throws, and the kind of never-say-die attitude that has become synonymous with Spartan basketball. It was a reminder that even in a down year, Izzo’s teams are always capable of making a magical March run.
5. Jonathan Smith: A New Era Dawns for MSU Football
The hiring of Jonathan Smith as head football coach in November was arguably the biggest sports story of the year for MSU. After an exhaustive search, the athletic department landed a proven winner with experience rebuilding programs and a deep understanding of the Big Ten. Smith’s arrival has injected a much-needed dose of optimism into Spartan Nation. He’s already made waves on the recruiting trail, landing several key commitments and keeping crucial players like quarterback AJ DiMarco in the fold. The future of MSU football is far from certain, but with Smith at the helm, there’s a palpable sense of excitement and belief that the Spartans are on the right track.
These are just a few of the many highlights that made 2023 a year to remember for Michigan State athletics. Despite the challenges, the Spartans showed their unwavering spirit and fighting determination. As we head into 2024, there’s a renewed sense of optimism in East Lansing. The future is bright for green and white, and we can’t wait to see what the next chapter holds.