It’s head coach Frank Pelaez’s first full real season in charge, and he’s bringing back a boatload of players from the spring.
As you read this opening paragraph on Monday, August 16th, we are just three days away from the start of the Marquette women’s soccer season. We’d better do a thing or three to preview this coming campaign, huh? We’ll start with taking a look at the returning players from MU’s 10 game spring season that doubled as the 2020 fall season in the eyes of the NCAA. Remember, this fall’s 18 game slate will be the first full season in charge for head coach Frank Pelaez. He was hired to replace the retiring Markus Roeders in December of 2019, but the pandemic tossed what would have been his first full year in charge in the fall into the shortened 10 game season in the spring.
Okay, let’s dive in, shall we? We’ll walk through the returning players, starting with the forwards and moving our way backwards through the field formation.
Would you believe that Marquette has just three returning players on the roster that are only listed as forwards? There’s a bunch of midfielder/forwards and even a forward/midfielder, but only three true forwards. We’ll start with that trio, and specifically with Kylie Sprecher. Believe it or not, even with as upside down and sideways the spring season was, Sprecher had her most productive season as a Golden Eagle. In just 10 games, she posted three goals, matching her career high, and added an assist to give her the best points per game mark of her career. Sprecher’s production is a little on the surprising side considering how much she got involved. She took just seven shots all season, and three of them went in. That’s a little bit on the extremely lucky side of things….. but then again, six of her seven shots were on frame, too. I doubt she’ll be able to replicate that kind of accuracy as MU nearly doubles the number of games they’re playing, but if she can approach it, well, that would be pretty great, huh?
Alyssa Bombacino started in nine of Marquette’s 10 matches in the spring, and considering that only four women started all 10, that’s pretty good. She tallied just one goal all season, but it came at a pretty great spot: It was the game-winner in a 1-0 defeat of DePaul. The third and final true forward on the roster is Alexa Maletis, who got her first taste of college soccer in the spring. She played just 207 minutes while appearing in seven matches, including a start against DePaul. Still, even with an average of less than 30 minutes per game and a season high of just 49 minutes, which came in that match against the Blue Demons, Maletis still managed to make an impact while getting her feet wet. She contributed two assists to the season, which put her in a three-way tie for the team lead and accounted for a full one-seventh of the team’s helpers for the season.
We’ll turn our attention next to the midfielder/forwards on the roster, because honestly, it’s been too deep into this discussion to avoid talking about Elsi Twombly any longer. Like Maletis, she was getting her first college soccer experience in the spring. Pelaez had Twombly out there in all 10 matches, and right out the gate, she made an impact right away. Twombly scored in her first three collegiate matches, which ended up tying her with Sprecher for the team lead in goals at the end of the year. She added two assists as the year went on, which made her part of that three-way tie with Bombacino for the team lead there. The combination of the two meant that Twombly beat out Sprecher — 8-7 — for the team lead in points at the end of the season. Twombly’s lack of putting it in the net didn’t have a lot to do with teams focusing on her defensively, as she still ended up with the team lead in shots after 10 matches. The thing to watch with her this fall is how Pelaez deploys her. Twombly only started twice in the spring and only crossed the 70 minute threshold twice.
Moving on brings us to our first player to start in all 10 games for Marquette in the spring. Rachel Johnson racked up 850 minutes in those 10 contests while adding a goal and an assist to the stat sheet. The redshirt junior from Omaha clearly has the trust of the coaching staff if she played nearly every single minute last season, so expect more of the same from her in the fall. Elaina Eckert played in all 10 matches and earned nine starts, so she figures to have a notable role again. Pelaez only got 602 minutes out of her in the spring, but it remains to be seen if that was tactical, looking to get more people minutes, or fitness reasons. I’d lean towards those being the reasons in that order of probability, particularly since Eckert is a grad student now. She had a goal and an assist in the spring as the Golden Eagles did a good job spreading around the offense.
Alex Campana and Mae Sinclair provided occasional bench roles last season. Campana’s second season at MU can probably be qualified as something of a disappointment as she played in eight matches and started five after appearing in 18 and starting five as a freshman in 2019 and registering two goals and an assist. She ended up playing more and more minutes as the season went on, which sounds like Campana might be trending towards a bounce back third year as a Golden Eagle. Sinclair played 109 minutes off the bench in seven appearances in the spring, which was her first experience with college soccer. We’ll have to wait and see how much playing time she gets in the fall. This leaves us with just Macey Shock, MU’s lone forward/midfielder on the roster. She played just 45 minutes with all of that coming in Marquette’s first two contests of the spring. With 24 appearances in her first two years on campus, I’d wager that there is a reason beyond “doesn’t fit the coaching plan” as to why, so we’ll see if Shock can play a bigger role as a redshirt senior this fall.
We have four returning true midfielders to talk about here, and we’ll mix in three midfielder/defenders, too. We can probably start with Katrina Wetherell, who was an all-Big East Second Team honoree in the spring. She played in all 10 matches with eight starts and ultimately ended up sixth on the team in minutes played. She had an assist in the opener and two goals in Big East action along the way to finish with five points. That may not sound like much, but she only had six points in both her freshman and sophomore seasons, both across 18 games. If Wetherell can start putting it in the net more often — two goals matches her career high for a season — then that can help drive the whole team to better performances.
Hailey Block is the other big scoring midfielder, as she matched Wetherell in goals and assists. All of her points came in Big East action and when you consider that the two games she missed came in league play, that makes it a little bit more impressive. Block, who hails from Grafton and had transferred to MU from Southeast Missouri State after one year, only racked up 458 minutes of action in the spring, and you’d like to think that she can add to those scoring numbers if she can get more field time.
Maddie Tabor and Sammi Bugay provide the depth in the midfield. Tabor played in five matches with a start in the spring and scored a goal against Chicago State in the opener. She only logged 241 minutes in her five appearances, but hey, it was also her first college season. Bugay appeared for 56 minutes across the first two matches of the year and then did not play again even though she started in match #2. That was nearly three times as many minutes as she played as a freshman in 2019, so it’ll be interesting to see what the coaching staff sees in her this season.
Turning our attention to the midfielder/defenders, we have two very notable names to discuss. Madison Burrier started every single match in the spring and averaged 88 minutes a contest. She would have done better than that but she was lifted after 53 minutes in the opener in a match that MU won 5-0. The Ohio native logged her second career assist in the second match of the year, and it’s clear that Pelaez is depending on her in MU’s defensive third. Same goes for Josie Kelderman, who appeared in eight matches with seven starts in the spring. The Milwaukee area product was a reliable force in six of her eight appearances, as she cleared over 75 minutes. She also generated two assists on the season, and will likely get the nod in the starting 11 when the season gets going. Grace Allen got 20 minutes of burn across three matches as a freshman in the spring. I don’t think this says anything in particular about what the coaching staff thinks about the New York native other than they like to let their defenders stay out on the field for the full 90 minutes and thus there’s not a lot of playing time for anyone else in reserve.
To that last point about the coaches liking their defenders to play: Maddie Monticello logged a team high 905 minutes on the back line in the spring and it would have been higher if she played more than 78 minutes in the blowout against Chicago State. Monticello may be the most experienced player on the roster, as this fall will be her fifth season of competition thanks to the NCAA waiver for a bonus season. She started 10 matches as a freshman and has just been racking up minutes since then. She has a goal and two assists in her MU career, but that’s obviously not her forte.
Bonnie Lacey cuts against the “let the defenders play” motif as she started all 10 matches but only logged 580 minutes. Still, the redshirt sophomore from Sheboygan Falls played more minutes in her second season than she did in her first, so we’ll count it as a win all around and expect her to play a big role in the defensive corps again.
Emma Tabor is the only other pure defender listed on the roster, but we can fold in defender/midfielders Caitlin Cunningham and Aeryn Kennedy here as well. The trio played in two, four, and one match respectively in the spring, so it’s safe to say that none of them had crucial roles for the Golden Eagles. Nothing wrong with that, as all three were freshmen last school year. Cunningham gets the bragging rights for the group, as she did register an assist in her 15 minutes of action against DePaul on March 7th.
Mikki Easter and Lauren Schill split time in net last season for Marquette, so your guess is as good as mine as to how things are going to go this fall. Easter, who is now in her third season at MU but thanks to a 2019 redshirt and NCAA relief is listed as a redshirt freshman, got the start out of the gate last year for the first two contests. Schill, who was a true freshman last spring, then played every minute of the next four matches, at which point they started flipping back and forth over the next three with Easter getting two of them. Easter started the finale as well, but Schill took over at halftime.
Schill had the better save percentage, wrapping up 83% of shots on goal vs 78% for Easter. Things went the other way on goals-against average, with Easter allowing 0.91 per 90 minutes against 1.04 for Schill. We’re talking about fractional differences here, although I should point out that Schill played 521 minutes vs just 394 for Easter, so to a certain extent that makes Easter’s GAA a little bit more impressive since she had the edge in fewer minutes played. It’s entirely possible that we see another rotation this fall, so don’t get too comfortable with any one particular keeper too quickly. If you like your keepers with height, then the 5’9” Schill has the advantage on the 5’8” Easter.