WE’RE ONE DAY AWAY FROM REAL SOCCER ACTION!
Marquette Golden Eagles women’s soccer starts the 2021 fall season TOMORROW, so we need to talk about the biggest questions about this fall campaign before it starts. If you missed it, we already talked about all the returning players AND all the freshmen in previous installments of our season preview.
I don’t want to give anything away in any more preamble, so let’s just get to it.
QUESTION #1 — How much should we take away from the spring season?
Let’s be honest about it: It was a weird season with weird COVID-19 protocols with six of Marquette’s 10 matches taking place in the Valley Fields seasonal bubble. All of it happened with a weird preseason training schedule, and all of that was the first preseason training/season that head coach Frank Pelaez ever ran as Marquette head coach.
So: Chuck it all in the bin and chalk it all up to preseason training for this season since nearly everyone who scored a point at all is back? Maybe? I mean, it’s hard to ignore that the Golden Eagles went 6-4-0 in 10 matches after going 10-22-4 in the previous two seasons combined. This fall’s team is essentially the same team as the one that Pelaez was expecting to have when he took over as head coach in December 2019 since almost no one of major importance has departed. It certainly seems like the Golden Eagles played better soccer than they did in the two previous years, at least by way of their record.
Maybe that’s the only real takeaway from the spring: Marquette made a coaching change and the early returns on it indicate that things are improving immediately.
QUESTION #2 — What’s going on at keeper?
As we talked about in the returning player article, Lauren Schill and Mikki Easter split time in net in the spring. Schill ended up with the higher total of minutes played as well as a majority of time played against Big East opponents. Easter had the lower goals-against average, but she benefitted from playing 78 of her 395 minutes in MU’s opener against Chicago State as the Golden Eagles won 5-0 while outshooting the Cougars 31-5. Since they went in and out of the lineup as opposed to just swapping at halftime every time out, it’s hard to say if Pelaez was basing his starting decisions on who had a better practice or if there was a larger training/fitness related issue that altered his lineup. There’s also freshman Chloe Olson in the mix here, but if you have two keepers with a little bit of experience (both Easter and Schill are redshirt freshmen now after last year “didn’t count” towards eligibility) and one keeper with zero experience, the one with no experience has to be clearly better in order to win the job.
QUESTION #3 — Can the Golden Eagles get back to the Big East tournament?
Not the NCAA tournament, just the Big East conference tournament. MU missed out in the spring on a tiebreaker, but the league took just four teams, two from each division, instead of the standard issue six teams from the entire conference lineup. In addition, last year’s miss was the third straight missed conference tournament for Marquette as going 10-22-4 tends to keep you out of the postseason. MU hasn’t played in a conference tournament game since November 2, 2017, when they lost 4-0 to Georgetown in the semifinals.
As to whether they can make it? Well, objectively, finishing third after the tiebreaker in the spring seems to indicate it’s possible, especially with the roster returning mostly intact. With a six team tournament and if you grant that Butler and Creighton return as better than MU, that would require four of the six of the East Division teams to be better than MU to keep the Golden Eagles out when you apply last year’s finishes to a six team tournament structure. That seems unlikely? Then again, the league’s coaches pegged Marquette to finish eighth this fall, and that’s clearly outside the field.
Then again, Marquette finished just four points in the polling behind sixth place St. John’s. It would seem that the Big East coaches are struggling to get a consensus on sixth place through ninth place in the 11 team league. That would seem to be good news for the Golden Eagles in terms of getting one of those top six spots.... but it also looks like a razor thin margin of error as well.
But if the spring is going to operate as a Season Zero for Pelaez as the program’s head coach, and it’s nothing but moving forward from here..... well, maybe Marquette can outperform expectations by more than two spots in the poll.