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Marquette Women’s Soccer 2017 Season Preview: Three Questions

Let’s identify three major issues that the team will need to answer during the season ahead.

Marquette women's soccer
What’s the ceiling for Caroline Fink and the Golden Eagles in 2017?
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Question #1 - When will Darian Powell reach the 21 career goals mark?

Powell is currently sitting on 18 career goals after two seasons of seven markers and then finding the back of the net four times last year. Since she’s currently just three goals away and has scored more than that in each of her three seasons of activity on the roster, it seems more than likely that she’ll get to 21 at some point this season.

Why is this a big deal? Well, getting to 21 would move Powell into a three-way tie with Rachael Sloan and Mary Luba for the 9th most goals in program history. Lanette Rossini scored 20 goals for the Golden Eagles from 1996-1999 for the 10th highest total, but thanks to ties, Rossini sits in 11th place all-time. After sitting out with injuries for her first two seasons on campus, Powell has exploded into an offensive force for the Golden Eagles, and it would be a wonderful coda to her career to see her reach the top 10 in goals scored as a reward for her perseverance.

For the record, Powell is averaging 0.31 goals per game so far in her career. At that pace, we can’t expect her to get to three goals on the season until match #10, which would be Marquette’s cross-town visit to Milwaukee on September 17th.

With nine guaranteed Big East games, that gives Marquette 19 matches scheduled this year. Powell’s career pace would put her on track for five goals this season, and if she pulls that off, that would move her past Christy Zwolski (22 goals) into 8th place all time. If Powell can get that far, you’d think that Marquette would be in line for some postseason games after that, which would give her a chance to tie Erin Morgan and Katherine Ward in 6th place with 24 goals. Taylor Madigan and Jessica Peterson would be next on the list with 27 goals, which isn’t out of the question, but it would take a career high in goals. Powell probably can’t go any higher on the list, as Maegan Kelly’s 39 career strikes is in third place. But hey, weirder things have happened, and let’s be honest: I wouldn’t be against Powell going bananas and driving Marquette into national title contention by scoring 21 goals.

Question #2 - Can Marquette improve their possession numbers?

Three years ago, Marquette was coming off a run of six straight NCAA tournament appearances. However, after eight matches that season, MU was just 2-5-1 and clearly struggling. From observation, it seemed that the Golden Eagles were having difficulty maintaining possession of the ball, particularly in comparison to the past few years. Shot percentage, or the percentage of total shots in a game that a team takes, is a method of measuring possession as, quite simply, the opponent can’t shoot if you have the ball. When MU was making the NCAA tournament on the regular, their Shot Percentage was somewhere between 61% and 72%. The first eight matches of 2014? Just 53%.

The point here, is that Marquette ended up missing the NCAA tournament in 2014 after finishing the year with a Shot Percentage of 59%. In 2016, Marquette made the NCAA tournament for the first time in three seasons..... but their overall Shot Percentage was a measly 46.5%.

Now, in MU’s defense, they got swamped 31-2 in shots by Stanford last year, so yes, that throws things a bit off for the rest of the season. However, even if you pull the Stanford game from the stats, the Shot Percentage only rises to 49.5%, and the non-conference Shot Percentage only goes from 40.1% to 44.8%. As you can probably guess, Marquette was pretty decent in Big East action at dictating the pace of games, as they ended up firing 55.2% of the shots in those nine matches while posting a record of 7-2-0 and finishing tied for the regular season title.

If Marquette has NCAA tournament dreams for this season, they can’t afford to have another season where they get outshot across the entire length of the season. That’s generally speaking not going to work out in your favor when it comes to grabbing an at-large bid to the College Cup. Whether it’s better offensive consistency that causes longer stretches in the attacking third of the field or improved defensive coherence that shuts down attacks before the opponents can even fire shots at Maddy Henry, Marquette is going to need to find a way to be on the positive side of Shot Percentage this season.

Question #3 - Is this a NCAA tournament team?

Yeah, probably.

I know, I know, I threw a lot of doubt around in that last section. Here’s the deal. It’s a safe bet that Marquette is better than seven of their nine Big East foes for certain, and I feel pretty comfortable about their chances of beating DePaul even though that game is at Wish Field in Chicago this year. It’s also a safe bet that Marquette is better than at least five of their 10 non-conference opponents based on where they’re polling in their various preseason polls and/or how they finished last season. This isn’t to say that Kentucky (picked 12th in the SEC) or Louisville (12th in the ACC) are bad teams, but you have to beat those teams if they’re going to end up scuffling around the back end of their leagues.

If MU is going to make a second straight NCAA tournament trip in 2017, then the matches against Drake, Central Michigan, Illinois State, and Milwaukee will all be critical to their hopes. ISU and Drake are picked 1-2 in the Missouri Valley this season, CMU looks to be the second best team in the MAC, and UWM is the co-favorite in the Horizon League. These are quality foes for Marquette without question, but an NCAA tournament caliber team should be able to pick up wins against all of them if you were picking on a game-by-game basis. Not for nothing, but all four of those matches will be in Milwaukee.