Wednesday afternoon’s contest in Indianapolis is the definition of a business trip for Marquette head coach Meredith Black and her squad.
The Golden Eagles sit at 3-0 in Big East play, locked into a tie for first place with Florida, who also happen to carry a #8 ranking in the latest media top 20 poll. With six games left to play, there’s a lot of possible movement in the standings. There is a four way tie at 2-1 for third place in the Big East right now, and this is particularly important to note because only the top four teams in the league qualify for the conference tournament. If that event was starting today, both Vanderbilt and Georgetown could say they finished third in the league, but they’d be sitting at home instead of playing in the semifinals. Making things even more precarious for Marquette’s position is the fact that they have yet to play three of the teams in that four-way tie for third place.
Thus, the business-like nature of Wednesday’s game. It’s vitally important for Marquette to pick up a road win in a situation that’s extremely favorable to them, as the game against Butler is. Nothing against Butler (we’ll get into their specific situation in a minute), but there’s no reason why MU should lose this game. It’s not a must-win type of game, mind you, not with five more league games coming after it. It’s the kind of game that you need to go out, get the win, and come home without suffering any sort of setback, then begin preparing for the major tests that are coming down the road.
If last year’s game against Butler is any indication, and if Butler’s results this season are any indication, Marquette should end up going pretty deep on their bench in this game. As a result, it’s possible that Grace Gabriel doesn’t end up with much of a chance to put a dent into the gap between herself and Julianna Shearer. After tallying four goals against Temple on Saturday, Gabriel now has 43 on the season, leaving her just 12 away from Shearer’s single season record of 55. In a bit of a coincidence, Gabriel is also just 12 goals away from Shearer’s all-time career record of 115, as her four goals against the Owls pushed her to 103 in her career.
Big East Game #4: at Butler Bulldogs (1-10, 0-3)
Marquette is 1-0 all time against Butler, picking up a 19-2 win over the Bulldogs last April. There’s a reason for that being the only meeting between conference foes, and that is because last season was Butler’s first year as a Division 1 team.
As you can tell from the record, after going 1-16 a year ago, year two has not gotten much better for Butler. Their lone win this season is a 16-7 road game against Howard, a team that’s only 1-5 on the year themselves, and Howard’s win isn’t against a Division 1 squad. Even with a win on the books, the Bulldogs are getting outscored by nearly 10 goals a game, 17.0 to 7.3. I’d say it’s not what you want, but this is the kind of thing that comes with being a Division 1 startup. Marquette was just 7-21 as a program through 28 contests, so these things happen, especially when you have 23 freshmen on your roster.
The bright spots for Butler’s future begin with that freshman class, as one of them, Ashley Guerra, is leading the team in goals (16), assists (7), and of course points (23). Two of the four women who are averaging at least a goal per game this season are freshmen, and a third, Christina Soderquist, is a sophomore. It’s going to take a lot of metaphorical bumps and bruises along the way, but head coach Cecil Pilson is building something here, and he appears to have a lot of young building blocks to work with on this roster.
I’m not quite sure who will get the start in net for Butler on Wednesday afternoon. Sophomore Haley Rayburn has seven starts on the season and has played a majority of the minutes. However, freshman Amanda Rumsey has appeared in eight of Butler’s games, earning a start four times, including in the last game against Denver. After allowing 10 goals in the first half, she gave way to Rayburn for the second half, though, so I don’t know where Pilson is leaning now. Rayburn has a slightly better goals-against average at 16.87, but having an extra 200 minutes played is going to help that. Rayburn’s save percentage of .408 is much better, though, so I’d wager she’ll get the nod.