With a win March 18 and a loss March 21, the Marquette women’s soccer team has moved to 4-2 on the season, 2-2 in BIG EAST play.
One of the main reasons for this hot start is the team’s ability thus far to capitalize on their chances on net.
Marquette has not been dominant against opponents this year in terms of shots or shots on-goal, though.
In their first six games, they have had 73 total shots, which averages out to just over 12 shots a game.
Their opponents have had 74 total shots, which gives Marquette opponents an almost identical shots-per-game average.
The Golden Eagles have led their opponents in shots on-goal, but it is an incredibly thin margin. Marquette has had 34 of their 73 shots on goal, while their opponents have had 33 of their 74 shots on goal. That gives Marquette a shots-on-goal percentage of around 47%, while their opponents are at 45%.
Marquette has had big performances from their goalkeepers too, specifically a shutout game from first-year goalie Lauren Schill against DePaul March 7.
However, Marquette has not had many more saves than their opponents, as Marquette sits at 26 saves while their opponents have 19 saves.
The main difference setting the Golden Eagles apart has been in the goals category. Marquette has 13 goals on the season while their opponents have only seven.
Head coach Frank Pelaez talked about some of the drills and mindsets that have helped his team to net so many of their shots.
“It starts from the very first day we were able to touch a ball. We practiced going to goal every day. I want everyone to do different exercises when it comes to putting the ball in the back of the net,” Pelaez said. “That way, they all feel comfortable at any point in time to have a shot and put it in the back of the net.”
Marquette has had considerable scoring from all over the field this year. Although their top two goal scorers, Kylie Sprecher and Elsi Twombly, are forwards, the team has had production across the board.
The seven goals not scored by Sprecher or Twombly have come from Marquette midfielders or their forward/midfielder combo players.
Excluding exhibition games, the Golden Eagles were able to net 10 goals in their first four games, a feat which has not been done since the 2010 and 2012 seasons.
Both of those years, Marquette had major success in the NCAA Tournament and the BIG EAST Tournament. Marquette also won the BIG EAST Tournament in 2012.
Although the first few games are usually a warmup for conference opponents, former defender Ally Miller talked about the mindset her teams entered the season with each year. She was with the team from 2009 to 2012.
“We knew our talent and we had the right players so I think that gave us confidence that we were going to be successful that year,” Miller said. “The previous year, we had a good team and we did really well and the next year, you see who’s around you and you say, ‘OK, we’ve got a really good shot at doing well this year.’”
Miller was a major part of the team, starting every game in 2010 and winning BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year and BIG EAST Most Outstanding Defensive Player of the Tournament in 2012. In those two years, Marquette went further in the NCAA Tournament than any other year, making it to the Sweet 16 round. Miller spoke about how the goal was always the BIG EAST Tournament, but they felt they had a real chance in the NCAA Tournament.
“The BIG EAST Tournament was something that was more attainable for us. I had confidence that we were going to make the NCAA tournament every year; that wasn’t a question that I had,” Miller said. “But I think that last year (2012), we thought we could go even further than the Sweet Sixteen. I wouldn’t have been surprised if we made it to the Final Four.”
While the normal season continues on for a few more months, this season is unlike any other. The Golden Eagles have four more conference games before the BIG EAST Championship starts in mid-April.
The BIG EAST championship game will take place April 17. According to the NCAA website, the women’s soccer tournament begins the selection process just one day after the BIG EAST Tournament concludes.
Steve Bode, Marquette’s assistant coach, talked about what kind of challenges the different tournaments bring.
“For the BIG EAST Tournament, in a common year, normally, you’ve played them once or twice before you get there so there’s a familiarity. In the NCAA Tournament, you could go anywhere,” Bode said. “You can literally see anyone in any region, whether it’s a Midwest-based team or East or West Coast, which I think is one of the biggest things.”
Miller also mentioned the NCAA randomness when they lost in the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
The team travelled to Brigham Young University and the altitude was a problematic experience for the team. The team had not played in Utah all season and Miller talked about how the air there was much different than in Milwaukee.
With every tournament being a major moment for Marquette, Miller talked about her favorite between the two.
“The last year was super memorable being in the BIG EAST Tournament and winning. That’s definitely in the top of my memories from Marquette,” Miller said. “We beat Notre Dame in the semifinals and Georgetown in the final so those are some of the best memories.”
As the current team will continue to face BIG EAST opponents, Miller said taking it one game at a time, but playing with confidence each game is super important.
“I think keeping a winning mindset and belief is important,” Miller said. “If you don’t have confidence going into it, you’re going to play nervous and of course, you’re going to make more mistakes. You have to go in with confidence that you can win each game.”
Pelaez has kept the mindset of one game at a time throughout the season. The head coach has mentioned the mantra every step of the way this year.
“When we were playing DePaul, I said, ‘hey, let’s not forget where we came from. Let’s take advantage of today because we might not have a tomorrow,’ and that’s real stuff. I’m looking at one game and that next game is the most important game and hopefully, we get to play another one,” Pelaez said.
This story was written by Bryan Geenen. He can be reached at Bryan.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BryanGeenen.