#1 — Is it Marquette’s offense or Marquette’s defense that needs to be better in 2023?
Last year, as part of the Three Questions, we kicked around the idea of who was going to play defense for Marquette because it appeared that Bonnie Lacey was the only real returning existing option on the back line. This year, Marquette seems to be in a little bit better position thanks to the combination of Hailey Block shifting into a defensive role and Mia Haertle starting in every match that wasn’t Senior Night. Thus, the question of “who” isn’t as important this time around, but the question of “what” is looming.
In Frank Pelaez’s first two years in charge of the Marquette program, the Golden Eagles were underwater in shot percentage at 44.6% in both of his seasons. To put it more simply: They were giving up more shots than they were taking. It’s hard to win soccer games that way. Last year? That shot percentage climbed to 52.2% as Marquette ended the year outshooting opponents 10.3 to 9.4 on a per game average.
This is good news.... but Marquette’s 7-7-4 overall record and 3-4-3 mark in Big East action isn’t very nice. In terms of pure goals, Marquette was +2 on the year, 25 for versus 23 against, but dead even in league play at 13 going both ways. Looking just at Big East competition, the Golden Eagles were tied for the third most goals scored.... but they found themselves in eighth place for goals allowed.
That certainly sounds like the defense needs to be much improved, but sometimes the best defense is a good offense. That can definitely be the case in soccer, where the ability to pin the ball deep in your offensive end and keep it there for minutes on end can go a long way towards putting you in the win column.
If it is the defense that needs to show the most improvement.....
#2 — Who’s going to play keeper for Marquette?
We talked about it a bit in the Returning Players article already, but based on what we’ve seen from the two keepers on the roster, it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear cut starter. Mikki Easter was the starter to begin the season, but it was Chloe Olson who ended up with the most matches and the most minutes played, nearly doubling up Easter in that regard. Partially because of the minutes played, Olson has an edge in statistical performance, but let’s not pretend that her goals-against average of 1.20 is the kind of thing that wins you a lot of soccer contests. Same goes for Olson’s .696 save percentage. That save percentage was 10th best in the Big East last season.
The thing throwing a wrench in trying to figure all of this out? Easter’s back after being honored on Senior Night at the end of last season. She has only seen action in three of her four seasons on campus, so in theory, this isn’t even her bonus season of eligibility. If Easter can regain the form that had her stopping 74% of shots on goal during the Fall 2021 season while Marquette continues to tip the field away from her net in terms of a positive shot percentage, then there’s a real argument that she needs to be MU’s #1 keeper.
But Olson had the better season last year, and the fact of the matter is that we have to wonder if Frank Pelaez asked Easter to return for one more season..... because there’s just not any other goalkeeper options on the roster. I don’t mean “MU doesn’t have any other keepers with experience,” I mean “There’s Easter and there’s Olson, and that’s it on the roster.” One of them has to be in net for Marquette at any given moment, and the bottom line is that MU’s goalkeeping play has to be better than it was last year, no matter who it is.
#3 — Is this a Big East tournament team?
We’re just going to keep asking the question until it gets answered in a positive manner in October, I guess.
In 2017, Marquette went 13-7-1 overall with a 5-4-0 record in Big East action. That got them into the Big East conference tournament as the #4 seed, and they beat Xavier, 3-0, before falling to top seeded Georgetown in the semfinals.
Marquette hasn’t appeared in the conference tournament since.
Each of the past three seasons, for each of Frank Pelaez’s three seasons in charge, Marquette has been thisclose to finishing where they needed to in order to earn a bid to the conference tournament. It feels like they’re knocking on the door, it feels like they’re on the verge of a breakthrough.
Perhaps the biggest thing that Marquette needs to do in order to find themselves in the postseason for the first time since 2017 is merely keep the same 11 women on the field regularly. We’ll ignore the 2020/spring 2021 campaign because COVID reasons, but Marquette had just five women start all 17 matches in fall 2021. That numbers goes down to just three in 2022 if we give Mia Haertle credit for all 18 matches because she didn’t start on Senior Night. If Marquette can roll out the same 11 players on a regular basis in 2023, they’re probably going to be a better soccer team just because the coherence of communication will be greatly improved. If Marquette is just a slight tweak away from getting into the conference tournament, something as simple as “people are healthy” might be all it takes this fall.