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Three Questions For Marquette Women's Soccer

We wrap up our preview series for the nationally ranked women's soccer team by identifying three questions about the squad in 2014.

How wil Amanda Engel fare with the least experienced back line that she's had since coming to Marquette?
How wil Amanda Engel fare with the least experienced back line that she's had since coming to Marquette?
Maggie Bean/

1) Can they repeat?

Yep, it's the same question as last year.  Hey, when the team has won five consecutive regular season titles and two straight Big East tournaments, sometimes it's easy to figure out the first question to ask.

I would have thrown more doubt into this answer based on how much Marquette lost to graduation last season had I asked it back in May or June.  But this is late August, and the Big East coaches unanimously picked MU to win the Big East this season, and both the NSCAA and Top Drawer Soccer have ranked the Golden Eagles ahead of Georgetown in their respective preseason Top 25.  These things are put together by people who know way more about soccer than I do, so it seems that not only is MU capable of winning the league again this season, but they're also the favorite.

For Marquette to win a third straight Big East tournament, they won't have the advantage they had last year.  The 2013 tournament was in Milwaukee, but in 2014, the semifinals and finals will be at Belson Stadium as St. John's has been designated as the host.  MU went undefeated in 11 matches against Big East foes last season, so coming away with wins away from the Valley isn't the most daunting task the team has ever faced.

2) How do they replace Maegan Kelly?

Kelly wrote her name into the Marquette record books in 2013 when she helped out on a Mary Luba goal to become MU's all time assists leader.  The Kansas City native finished her Marquette career with 39 goals and 37 assists and was a threat to either score or dish for a score any time she touched the ball in the final third.

The starting place is Mady Vicker and Mary Luba.  The pair combined for 14 goals and six assists in 2013 and will provide a powerful 1-2 punch with Vicker on top of MU's formation and Luba creating chances in the midfield.  The most likely candidates to get a boost to their statistical output following Kelly's departure are Liz Bartels and Ashley Handwork.  The sophomore duo racked up eight goals and three assists last year, and it was Handwork who ended up giving Kelly a breather when needed.

3) How will Amanda Engel fare in net?

Or, I suppose more accurately, how will Engel fare at commanding her back line?  Her freshmen year, she played behind a back four of 2012 Big East Defensive Player of the Year Ally Miller, fellow senior Megan Jaskowiak, and a pair of juniors, Emily Jacobson and Katie Hishmeh.  That defensive corps propelled MU to a Sweet 16 appearance in the NCAA tournament and a Big East tournament title.  Last year, Jacobson and Hishmeh anchored a back line with junior Haley Fritzlen and freshman Morgan Proffitt, and Jacobson was blatantly robbed of the 2013 Defensive Player of the Year trophy.  This year, Fritzlen and Proffitt return, but based on the exhibition match against Wisconsin, it's going to be sophomore Erin Holland and junior Jacie Jermier on the back line with them, with Jermier shifting backwards in the formation from a more attacking posture when she was on the field in 2013.

A senior who played more games in 2013 than she did in her first two seasons combined, a junior learning a new position, a sophomore with a full season of experience, and a sophomore with just seven games of collegiate experience.  Engel's had two seasons to get comfortable with her skills and talents at the collegiate level.  Her organization coming out of the back of the field will have more of an impact this year, and Marquette will need her best possible season to contend for another Big East crown.