We have reached a pivotal point in the season for Marquette women’s soccer.
There’s the natural pivot point of the season, as Thursday’s road trip to New Jersey will be the halfway mark of Big East play. After Thursday, five of the 10 matches of the conference slate will be gone with just five more left to go. Heading into Thursday, Marquette sits in a five-way tie for third place in the Big East standings with six points. However, because of the results so far this season, MU is at best in fifth place in the standings due to head-to-head losses. With just six teams qualifying for the conference tournament and that five-way tie extending out to seventh place, that’s not a comfortable place for the Golden Eagles at the moment. There’s the second pivot point, as MU can make a big statement about what direction they’re going in this year with a win.
The third pivot points comes as a result of the Golden Eagles dropping their last two matches. After opening up Big East play with wins over DePaul and Butler, both on the road, the Golden Eagles have followed that great start up with back-to-back home losses to Creighton and Connecticut. It’s not what you want, especially a shutout loss to the Bluejays, which was MU’s fourth shutout of the season. As we’ll get into in a second, Marquette should be favored to win on Thursday evening, and quite honestly, teams that think they are going to qualify for the top six spots in the conference beat teams like Thursday night’s opponent. Can MU figure out what went wrong over the past 180 minutes and correct that to get to the win?
There’s one final pivot point for the Golden Eagles, and that comes by way of what the injury report for Thursday is going to look like. Isabella Cook, Josie Kelderman, Katie Koker, and Mikki Easter all left Sunday’s contest due to injury one way or another, and all four started that contest against UConn. Those injuries can’t be the reason why they lost, as the game winning goal came long before the Koker and Easter injuries happened, but they all have the possibility of affecting the rest of the season for Marquette. Of the four, Cook, who is third on the team in minutes played, is the most likely to return based on how Sunday shook out, as she suffered her injury in the first half and tried to keep going in the second half. Kelderman, Koker and Easter all left and did not return, and all three appeared to be in rough shape at the time of the injury. Easter’s injury may have the biggest immediate impact on the team, because if she is unavailable, that leaves Chloe Olson as Marquette’s only available keeper on the roster. How is all of this going to impact Marquette, both on the field as well as mentally if they’re going to be down four starters from Sunday’s match?
Big East Match #5: at Seton Hall Pirates (4-6-2, 0-4-0 Big East)
Marquette is 9-1-1 all time against Seton Hall. The Golden Eagles are currently riding a five match winning streak against the Pirates and are 10 seconds away from holding SHU without a goal for 400 minutes of play. Last year’s meeting in Milwaukee was won on a 69th minute goal by Hailey Block.
Yeah, so, uh, Seton Hall’s not good. Purely by record, they’re not the worst team in the Big East, because they have four total wins and there are three teams in the league that can’t say that right now. They aren’t even the worst RPI team, because that award goes to Villanova who managed to go 1-3-2 against a non-con RPI rank of 320. However, the Pirates are 0-4-0 in Big East action, and even worse for them, they haven’t scored a single goal against a conference opponent. Four straight shutouts, two at home, two on the road. They’re the only scoreless team in the conference since league play started, and only Villanova (7 goals vs 8 by SHU) has scored fewer goals overall this season so far.
With that in mind, Grace Gordon has clearly been Seton Hall’s best player so far this season. The 5’10” keeper from Pennsylvania is averaging five saves per game this season, and that goes up to 5.3 per match if you wipe out her two save effort in relief against NJIT. Even while the Pirates are getting outshot by nearly four shots a match, 12.2 to 8.4, Gordon still has a goals-against average of just 0.76 in nearly 950 minutes of action and she’s stopping 87% of shots on goal. She’s great, no doubt about it, and figuring out how to get the ball past her — not to her, that seems easy enough — will be the biggest challenge of the game for Marquette.
Sophomore Natalie Tavana is going to be the player that Marquette’s defense focuses on the most in this match. While Seton Hall’s offense has been tepid at best this season, Tavana does lead the team in shots, so she’s clearly the primary option here. She also leads the team in points with seven as she has a team high three assists — no one else has more than one — and she’s in a three-way tie for the team lead in goals with two. Abbie Roberts and Emma Sheehan are the other two women with a pair of strikes this season, and Marquette’s going to have to keep their head on a swivel with Sheehan. She’s only started in seven of SHU’s 12 contests, and only got six minutes in relief last time out for the Pirates.