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2022 Marquette Women’s Soccer Season Preview: The Newcomers

We have a rarity for this program: An equal number of transfers and freshmen starting their Golden Eagles’ career at the same time.

Katie Koker
It’s rare that we get to use a player picture when talking about newcomers, but that’s what happens when Katie Koker transfers back to Marquette.
Marquette University

Hello and welcome back to our season preview for Marquette women’s soccer! If you didn’t catch our rundown on everyone returning from last year’s squad for head coach Frank Pelaez, then scoot yourself over here and go do that. It’s important to get through that before reading this article, as we’re building off the returning players to see how the 10 newcomers on the roster this fall might fit in to what the Golden Eagles are doing on the field.

This is going to be one of our more interesting look at newcomers, as Pelaez and his staff are welcoming five freshmen to Milwaukee in addition to five transfers. Transfers in soccer are somewhat rare, most likely because most players are paying at least something to go to school wherever they are due to the NCAA’s equivalency scholarship rules. If you’re paying to go to school at College A, you have to take a good hard look at transferring to College B if it’s going to set you back in terms of losing credits you’ve already paid to take. As we’ll get into, most of these situations aren’t players taking their bonus year of eligibility due to COVID relief policies, they’re just players looking for a fresh start somewhere new.

Let’s get into it, as we have two forwards, six midfielders, and two defenders to chat about.

FORWARDS

All that discussion of transfers, and we start out with the position group that only adds two freshmen to the MU roster this fall. Go figure, huh?

Since we’re talking about forwards, I have to say that neither of MU’s newest attackers have particularly inspiring team bios hyping up their prep career accomplishments. Abby Ruhland (#12, 5’10”, Lakeville, MN) has the better of the two, noting that she had 12 goals and six assists as a senior at Lakeville North High School and ended up earning all-state honors. Neat! That’s also all that it says, even though she lettered in soccer for all four years of high school. Josie Bieda (#8, 5’9”, Downers Grove, IL) appears to have taken the somewhat common approach of not playing for her high school soccer team but instead focusing on her club team. Cool, I suppose, but when you’re a forward on the roster and your bio doesn’t say a single thing about how many points you accrued in your club career, I develop an eye twitch.

Marquette is kind of stacked up with quality returning forwards, so it might be hard for either Ruhland or Bieda to get onto the field much this season. With that said, Marquette does not have a clearly dominant offensive player, and if either of these women can show a nose for putting the ball in the net or putting it in front of someone who puts it in the net, there’s definitely a place for them on the field.

MIDFIELDERS

Let’s start with the transfers, since by default they’re the ones most likely to make an impact on the team immediately. You don’t transfer to just sit around and do nothing on game day, y’know?

We’ll lead off with Elizabeth Bueckers (#18, 5’7”, Milwaukee, WI), as she appears to have had the most productive collegiate career so far. In four seasons at IUPUI, she has tallied 19 goals and four assists while starting every single match since her sophomore year and 13 of 19 appearances in her freshman campaign, too. Bueckers was named to the Horizon League First Team in both of the seasons played in the 2021 calendar year, which is made more impressive by pointing out that the Jaguars went just 9-13-5 in that stretch. That’s how much the HL coaches liked what she brought to the table. Since this is her COVID bonus season of eligibility, I’d imagine that she’s looking to end things on a high note with the added bonus of getting to play in front of her friends and family on the regular.

Isabella Cook (#15, 5’3”, Elmhurst, IL) presents an interesting conundrum for figuring out what she’s going to be at Marquette. Coming into Tennessee, she was hailed as one of the top players in the country, ranking #24 amongst midfielders and #49 nationally in a top 150 recruiting list that IMG Academy put together. On top of that, Cook was part of Top Drawer Soccer’s Preseason All-Freshman Team. Things started out well, as she scored three goals and posted two assists while starting in 13 of the 18 matches she played. More of the same playing time followed in her sophomore year, although she logged just one assists. The 2021 fall season had Cook coming off the bench for all 14 of her appearances, and she was on the field for the Vols for just under 400 minutes total for the entire year. Curious, obviously, and so we wonder how she fits in to what Frank Pelaez wants to do.

Aislinn Boyle (#9, 5’6”, Burlington, Ontario) and Molly Keiper (#3, 5’5”, Whitefish Bay, WI) aren’t quite exactly in the same boat as each other, but they’re pretty close to that. Keiper went from the north Milwaukee suburbs to Villanova for her first year of college soccer, where she appeared in 15 matches and made four starts....but played less than 700 minutes for the Wildcats. When you record 51 goals and 31 assists and win a state title in high school and then can’t get on the field regularly for a 7-11-0 Villanova team AND THEN your coach resigns, yeah, you can see how maybe you want to transfer back home. Boyle ended up at Nebraska for her freshman year of college, and didn’t play a single second for the Cornhuskers as the team went 7-9-2. She doesn’t have the kind of prep credentials that Keiper does, perhaps merely because Canada’s prep soccer scene is wildly different that the one in the US, but you can get the idea as to why she was looking for a change of scenery.

Marquette isn’t particularly deep in experienced midfielders, at least not ones experienced at playing for Pelaez, so there’s likely to be quality opportunities to grab hold of playing time this season. That’s probably good news for the four transferring midfielders, but maybe not so much for the two freshmen. Neither Adrianna Alberts (#13, 5’9”, Brookfield, WI) nor Cate Downs (#17, 5’7”, Geneva, IL) have knock you over type information in their official Marquette bios, which could mean one of two things. The first is that they’re scoring midfielders who just didn’t actually do a lot of scoring in high school and on the club circuit... which would be not great. The other is much more optimistic, which is that they’re possession minded or perhaps even defensive midfielders, and thus the lack of eye-popping prep stats. As we talked about with the returning players, taking up a defensive role on the field could be a quick path to playing time for both Alberts and Downs if they’re up to the challenge.

DEFENDERS

And now we come to the most fascinating part of our tale today, as we have to talk about Katie Koker (#20, 5’5”, Racine, WI) and her pathway back to Wisconsin. I don’t just mean that because she’s a graduate of The Prairie School and is transferring to Marquette from Minnesota. No, the astute minded amongst you will be remembering Koker from her time with the Golden Eagles in 2018. She played in every match that season for then-head coach Markus Roeders, earning a spot in the starting lineup for 14 of them. Koker ended up seventh on the team amongst field players in minutes played and tallied a goal and an assist along the way. My memory of her is that while she didn’t quite fit into the physical template for a Roeders defender at just 5’5”, Koker was an active defender and more than up to what was being asked of her on the field. I’m not sure what prompted her transfer to Minnesota, but I’d imagine that MU’s 4-11-3 record in 2018 didn’t help. With the Gophers, she appeared in 24 contests and started 11 times across the 2019 and timeshifted 2020 season.... and then did not appear on the Minnesota roster in the fall of 2021.... perhaps because head coach Stefanie Golan left for the Missouri job.

If Koker is healthy and up to the performance level that she was at in 2018 for Marquette, then she can probably step right into a starting job for the Golden Eagles. That has more to do with Marquette having more than enough available playing time on the backline than anything else, of course. If not playing an organized match since April 2021 is going to have an impact on her fitness, well, it still makes Koker one of MU’s most experienced defenders on the roster anyway. We’ll have to wait and see. That’s a phrase we can attach to Erin O’Keefe (#2, 5’3”, Shrewsbury, MA) as well. Her Marquette bio gives her an incredible list of prep and club accolades before joining the Golden Eagles, and that’s good news given that Marquette needs talented defenders next to Bonnie Lacey this year. The question, of course, is how well can she defend at the collegiate level while standing just 5’3” tall? I’m not doubting her ability, after all, there’s a reason why Pelaez recruited her. It’s just not something you see very often, and to put it bluntly, having a larger physical presence is beneficial when playing defense because you just take up more space. If O’Keefe is one of MU’s best options on the backline, then so be it, because as we discussed yesterday, Marquette needs to be better defensively than they were in 2021.