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2022 Marquette Women’s Soccer Season Preview: The Returning Players

Do the Golden Eagles have the returning pieces to improve on last year’s .500-ish finish?

Katrina Wetherell
Katrina Wetherell returns for one more go-round with the Golden Eagles.
Marquette University

Hello! By my count, we’re just days away from the start of the 2022 Marquette women’s soccer season! The Golden Eagles played a pair of exhibition matches last week to help them get ready for Thursday’s opener on the road against Notre Dame as you’re reading this, but in all honesty, all of what you’re reading was written before those matches transpired. That’s the nature of the fall preview schedule, gotta work ahead. The point of the story is that you’ll want to keep in mind anything that you might have seen in those exhibitions and grade that against what you’re seeing here. I did not get a chance to see either exhibition contest, and thanks to exhibition games been a state secret in Wisconsin, we only know that the second one against Purdue went 5-3 to the visitors. No box score on that one, and absolutely no information about the first exhibition game against the Badgers, not even from UW’s side.

In any case, what we’re doing here is running down the returning players from last year’s women’s soccer roster. We’ll go from the forwards on the team backwards down the field and wrap up with the goalkeepers. Coming up tomorrow, we’ll talk about the newcomers on the team, and at a glance, that’s going to be quite the interesting article.

But for now, we’ll talk about the returning players. Before we dig into that, we should probably brush up against who is not returning. We’ll get into it more down below, but it’s probably not a super great thing for head coach Frank Pelaez that he is losing his top two players in terms of minutes played last year and three of the top four. That’s Madison Burrier and Maddie Monticello on defense and Kylie Sprecher on offense. In fact, MU will be without four of the eight field players that logged 1,000 minutes last season (Alyssa Bombacino is added to the list here), and a fifth — Elaina Eckert — rounds out the list of Golden Eagles with more than 900 minutes played. With those five players alone — and they’re not the only departures, just the five largest ones — Marquette is losing over 38% of the team minutes possible from the 2021 campaign.

Let’s see what Pelaez and his assistants have to work with this year!

FORWARDS

This department gets a little confusing, as Marquette has three returning forwards on the roster and four midfielder/forward combo players listed. I’m just going to mash the entire group together, but keep this in mind when we get to the midfielder conversation.

We have to start with two of those M/F combo players here because in terms of total minutes played, they’re the biggest contributors in the group returning from last season. Rachel Johnson started all 17 matches last season for Marquette, and her 11 points was second best on the team. She tied for the second most goals with four and was third in assists at three. The good news for Marquette, by the way, is that the second in points and goals for Johnson last year is also her ranking amongst returning players. Johnson is the returning player who had the most minutes played a year ago, so it seems like a safe bet that Pelaez is going to keep going in that direction. On top of that, this is a bonus season of eligibility for her after going through Senior Night festivities a year ago. Safe bet that she’s being given the keys, y’know? Alex Campana is third amongst returning field players in minutes played after appearing in all 17 matches and starting 15 times last year, so get used to seeing a lot of her as well. Well, maybe not. Here’s the big question for the senior from Massachusetts: Is she going to be asked to put points on the board for the Golden Eagles? She put eight of her 16 shots on goal in 2021... but that only turned into one goal.... and that was literally her first shot of the season less than five minutes into last year’s opener against Central Michigan.

This brings us to a pair of sophomore forwards and a junior as well that have a whole bunch of questions in front of them. Let’s start with Elsi Twombly, a 5’10” midfielder/forward combo. She’s the junior in the trio here and the most productive player for Marquette last year. 13 appearances with 10 starts after she missed a couple weeks of action late in the season. She ended up with 831 minutes played on the year, but the late season absence didn’t impact her in the two games that she returned to play. Twombly finished with three goals and four assists, which had her third on the team in points and leaving her with the best returning assist total from last season. Still, that somehow came across as slightly disappointing after she had three goals and two assists in 10 matches in the time-shifted spring 2021 season. Not very disappointing, which would have been the case if she had those numbers in all 17 contests, just a teensy bit.

Kate Gibson and Maggie Starker had big impacts as freshmen last year for the Golden Eagles. Gibson played in 15 of the 17 contests with two starts, and had a goal and an assist along the way. If you’re thinking “hey, shouldn’t a forward with that much playing time be putting the ball in the net more,” well, you’re right and you’re wrong at the same time. Gibson played just 349 minutes all season, cresting with a season high 40 in early September against Utah State. Starker’s impact was much [ahem] starker, as she had four goals, tied for second most on the team, and an assist in 16 appearances with five starts. Starker was the most precise shooter on the team, posting the best shots on goal percentage amongst players with at least three shots on goal at 72.2%. Needless to say, I think Marquette’s offense would benefit from a few more minutes and a few more shots from her this season.

We round out the group with Alexa Maletis and Mae Sinclair. Maletis went backwards in minutes played from the spring to the fall, going from 207 in seven matches for her freshman season to just 132 in 13 appearances as a sophomore. With that said, she still scored two goals, one in non-conference action and one in Big East play as MU’s only marker against eventual regular season champion Xavier. Clearly the coaching staff wanted to get minutes to Gibson and Starker last fall, and Maletis’s PT was where it came from.... but maybe she’s got a talented foot and she needs some more run? Sinclair was in something of the same boat at Maletis, going from 111 minutes in the spring to just 39 in the fall, with seven matches played in both seasons. The Arizona native but Wisconsin high school product has yet to take a shot in her collegiate career, so for the time being, we’ll have to project her as a depth piece of the puzzle for the 2022 season.

MIDFIELDERS

There is no other place to start the discussion of Marquette’s midfielders other than Katrina Wetherell. After finishing last year as a Second Team All-Big East honoree, she was MU’s best bet for making the preseason all-conference squad. That’s why Wetherell gets the picture at the top of the page. She played in all 17 matches a year ago, starting in 15 of them and logging over 1,000 minutes. Her five goals led the team and Wetherell’s two assists nudged her past Rachel Johnson for the team lead in points. This is her fifth season of eligibility thanks to the NCAA’s COVID relief, so it’s reasonable to expect a little extra motivation from her to go out with a bang.

Hailey Block is, somehow, the only other notable midfielder on the roster. The Wisconsin native hasn’t quite shown the offensive explosion that she had in her freshman year at Southeast Missouri State where she had eight goals after breaking Grafton High School’s all-time scoring record. In fact, Block has mostly been a sub for Frank Pelaez, starting just four times in 24 appearances across the two seasons that were played in 2021. In just over 1,300 minutes since transferring to Marquette, Block has posted just three goals and two assists. I am curious to see how she gets used this season, given that Marquette is loaded up with talented forwards that need a place on the field.

There are five more midfielders on the roster heading into the fall of 2022, and Julia O’Neill is the closest in the group to making an impact last season. She appeared in 10 matches and earned a start against Utah State. However, she logged just 25 minutes in that one even after being on the field for first kick and wrapped up the year with just 197 minutes played. O’Neill is the only one amongst this final group of five to log over 100 minutes in 2021. Mia Haertle (72 minutes) appeared in seven matches, and Carina Murphy (39 minutes) played in six contests, both during their freshman campaigns at Marquette. Perhaps they’ll have bigger contributions this season? Sammi Bugay (2 appearances, 28 minutes in 2021) and Maddie Tabor (did not play in fall 2021, 5 career appearances in three seasons for MU) provide deep depth in the position group. It’s possible that any of these five could find their way onto the field regularly this fall if Pelaez is looking for answers in the defensive third of the field. I raise that point because.......

DEFENDERS

...... Bonnie Lacey is the only returning defender of note. You saw that coming when I mentioned the departure of Madison Burrier and Maddie Monticello, I presume. Lacey started all 17 contests in 2021, and ends up second only to Rachel Johnson amongst returning field players in terms of minutes played. As the by-default keystone of Marquette’s back line this fall, Lacey is going to be asked to do a whole heck of a lot of work back there both in terms of actual play as well as holding together the lineup that the Golden Eagles are rolling out.

While we know what we can expect from Lacey, we don’t know what to expect from who’s going to be next to her back there because we just don’t know who is going to get those spots. It’s a big question to be answered by Pelaez, as the Golden Eagles got outshot by more than two shots per game last year. In other words: Not only does Marquette need a mostly new backline, but they need that backline to be better than last year’s incredibly experienced backline.

Part of this decision may come down to the health of Josie Kelderman. The Nicolet grad played over 1,300 minutes as a freshman in 2019 and averaged over 71 minutes a match in the 2021 spring season.... but then blew her knee out in Marquette’s exhibition contest against Wisconsin before the fall season started last year. If Kelderman can play and be 80% of what she was in her first 26 matches in blue and gold, then that’s going to erase a lot of worry for the coaching staff.

If she can’t...... well. Kelderman is one of three midfielder/defender combos on the roster, and the other two — Grace Allen and Aeryn Kennedy — have combined for a grand total of 38 minutes in five matches all during the calendar year of 2021. Might one of them have a breakthrough and play a big role? Sure, maybe, but we’re not counting on it right now.

As far as pure defenders go, Marquette’s options to play next to Lacey are limited. Emma Tabor and Caroline Cline both appeared in double digit matches last season, but tallied less than 350 minutes each. That’s pretty good for Cline, who was a freshman last fall. It’s a little more notable for Tabor — yes, she’s Maddie’s twin sister — as it was a breakthrough season for her in her third year of competition. If both of them can prove that they deserve a spot on the backline, that’s probably a good sign for the Golden Eagles. If not... well, there’s at least one newcomer that should be able to contribute, but that’s for another article.

GOALKEEPERS

There are two returning goalkeepers on the roster for Marquette, but really, we’re only talking about Mikki Easter here. After not playing in her first year and splitting time with Lauren Schill in the spring 2021 season, Easter took full control of the net in the fall, starting 16 of Marquette’s 17 contests and playing all but 180 minutes worth of time. It took a couple of matches for that to happen, as Easter started the opener but gave way to Schill at halftime, played the full match against Notre Dame, and then watched Schill and Chloe Olson split the disaster at BYU. Easter would play all but 45 minutes for the rest of the season, and that came with the Golden Eagles up 3-1 at halftime while outshooting Villanova 13-5 and the lone Wildcats strike coming on an own goal. We talked already about Marquette’s defense needing to be better than they were last year, and that extends to Easter. A 1.30 goals against average and a save percentage of .730 just isn’t going to be enough to get things done. Those numbers ranked #8 and #10 in the Big East last season, and remember, that’s out of 11 teams. Could Easter benefit from better defense in front of her, or perhaps even improved offense keeping the ball on the other end of the field? Sure, that would probably help, but she has to be better as well.

The aforementioned Chloe Olson is the other returning netminder for the Golden Eagles. Her only action of her freshman year was in that BYU game where she made nine second half saves.... but also allowed four goals to the Cougars in a game that was already out of control when she stepped onto the field. She didn’t play again, which I’m not holding against her. Olson is going to need to treat every game this season as if she’s the starter even if she can’t beat Easter out..... because Chloe Olson is the only other netminder on the roster. If there is any reason that Easter can’t go — sprained ankle, abducted by space aliens, whatever — then Olson is MU’s only other option in net for this fall. With that in mind, Easter is listed on the roster as a senior and this will be her fourth year at Marquette. This job may belong solely to Olson next year, and she’s going to need to be ready.