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Marquette Women’s Soccer Preview: vs #18 Northwestern & at Colorado

The Golden Eagles open up the year at home, but have to immediately jet off to the Rocky Mountains.

California v Colorado
Colorado’s Ralphie is much more interesting than Northwestern’s Guy In Suit mascot.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

And so, another Marquette women’s soccer season begins.

Officially, it begins tomorrow. Since it’s the first match of the season, there’s no reason to not get ahead of ourselves in terms of preview action. After all, there’s nothing that could possibly happen to MU or either of the two teams they’ll see in this opening two-fer that would change this preview drastically between now and tomorrow morning, so why not, right?

It is interesting that Marquette is going home and away for their first two matches. That’s a rarity, especially with Match #2 being so far away. What makes the whole thing really whacky is Match #3 is back here in Milwaukee...... against Denver..... after Marquette travels to Boulder for their match on Sunday. What happened with the scheduling arrangements here? Feels silly for the Pioneers to effectively follow Marquette home to play a game.

ANYWAY, we’re previewing the first two matches of Frank Pelaez’s fourth season in charge at Marquette. Things are going fine, at best, for Pelaez. He had to coach his first season under the timeshift to the spring and all of the protocols that went along with that. His second season may not have been the picture of normalcy, as Marquette still had a mask mandate on campus for the entirety of the season. Season #3 was somewhat knocked around by injuries and he was unable to put the same consistent 11 out on the field match after match.

Along the way, Marquette has been competitive, but they haven’t been able to push themselves over the top. They’ve yet to qualify for the Big East conference tournament in any of his three seasons, just barely missing second place in divisional play in the spring of 2021, and then falling just short of the top six over the past two fall seasons.

It’s not going to take much improvement to get Marquette back to the postseason for the first time since 2017. An extra burst of speed here or there by Elsi Twombly, an extra bit of precision in a kick by Isabella Cook, a slightly quick close out to cut off an attack by Hailey Block or Mia Haertle, a split-second faster reaction to make a save by Mikki Easter or Chloe Olson, depending on who ends up as the netminder. One play here, one play there, suddenly they start stacking up and Marquette is 10-5-3 overall instead of the 7-7-4 that they finished last year at, or 6-2-2 in Big East play instead of 3-4-3. Go from “barely outside the Big East tournament” to “in the Big East tournament” and then worry about taking the next step from there after that. One thing at a time, one match at a time.

With that said, Marquette gets a big opportunity right out of the gate....

Match #1: vs #18 Northwestern Wildcats (0-0-0)

Date: Thursday, August 17, 2023
Time: 7pm Central
Location: Valley Fields, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: FloFC
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWSOC

Marquette is 6-3-2 all time against Northwestern. The two sides have had a series of home-and-home sets over the years, but they have not met since a match in Evanston in September of 2016. The Golden Eagles haven’t snagged a win in the series since 2012 and haven’t won at home against the Wildcats since 2011.

Northwestern is coming off a 16-5-2 season a year ago. That got them to second place in the Big Ten with a record of 7-2-1 in league action, and they qualified for the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid. It was NU’s first NCAA appearance since 2018, and they earned a #4 regional seed. The Wildcats defeated SIU-Edwardsville and Vanderbilt to advance to the Sweet 16, where they were eliminated by #1 regional seed UCLA.

As I work ahead on all of our fall sports previewing action, the Big Ten has very rudely not released any preseason polling as of this writing. What I can tell you, however, is that Northwestern returns their top four scorers from 2022. Josie Aulicino led the team in points last year, which is the thing that happens when you lead the team in both goals (nine) and assists (10). The next three scorers on the list very conveniently lined up at 17, 16, and 15 points respectively. Aurea del Carmen went for six goals and five assists, Meg Boade had seven goals with two assists, and Ella Hase was more of a distributor a year ago with four goals and seven assists. I could keep going down the list to see who else the Wildcats bring back, but when you return 26 goals and 24 assists off your top four, does it really matter who else is returning?

Northwestern will be undergoing a slight change at goalkeeper for 2023. Last year, Mia Raben appeared in all 23 matches and started 12 times, ultimately logging over 1,500 minutes and allowing just 0.80 goals per 90 minutes. Raben played every minute in 11 of Northwestern’s final 12 matches of the season, but before that, she was coming off the bench at halftime to relieve Reiley Fitzpatrick. 11 appearances and 11 starts for the 5’10” Fitzpatrick last season and since she allowed just four goals in just short of 500 minutes, she ended up with a goals against average that’s actually better than Raben’s. That’s not great for Marquette’s chances of starting off the year with a goal or two, but you know what is? Fitzpatrick’s .556 save percentage. Now, who knows what’s changed for her between now and then, but if Marquette can figure out how to get shots off and get them on net, they’ve got a chance to get them past Fitzpatrick.

Match #2: at Colorado Buffaloes (0-0-0)

Date: Sunday, August 20, 2023
Time: 2pm Central
Location: Prentup Field, Boulder, Colorado
TV & Streaming: Pac-12 Mountain, if you’re the lucky sort of person who gets Pac-12 Network at all
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteWSOC

Marquette is 0-1-0 all time against Colorado. The only previous meeting came in Milwaukee back in September of 2018. The Golden Eagles scored first in that one with all three goals coming after halftime, but an own goal and a strike in the 85th minute sent MU to an 0-5-1 start to the season.

The Buffaloes are coming off an 8-7-5 season a year ago that featured a 2-6-3 mark in Pac-12 action. There’s a “yes, but, you see” to their season. Colorado last won a game on October 9th last season, going winless in their final six matches with a 0-4-2 mark. However, they did have to play four straight ranked opponents in there, including #1 UCLA and #7 Stanford, and they did pull off a home draw with #15 USC. In any case, CU was 8-3-3 up through their win over Oregon, things just went sideways by way of ranked team smashy after that.

That qualifies as a notably down year in the annals of Colorado soccer, as they’ve been to the NCAA tournament six times since Danny Sanchez took the reins in 2012 and 12 times since starting their program in 1996. They’ve missed the NCAAs in each of the past two campaigns, finishing the year with eight wins both times. Sanchez is the winningest coach in program history — he’s also only the third coach — so I feel like it’s safe to say that they’ll be aiming their sights on something better in 2023.

Will they get there? Well, if they do, they’ll do it without last year’s leading scorer. Civana Kuhlmann put up 12 goals and six assists for the Buffaloes last season, which was tops in both columns and of course in points as well with 30. That’s a lot of production in 19 matches that will need to be replaced and then some if they’re going to be better than 8-7-5 overall. Shyra James is the leading returning scorer after knocking in 11 goals to get to 23 points, and Emerson Layne, fourth overall last year in points with four goals and two assists, is the second best returning offensive player.

They’ll also be working with a brand new starting keeper. This game will be CU’s second of the year, so MU’s coaching staff will have a solid guess to who’s going to be in the net when they get to Boulder, but we’re just guessing right now. Lindsey Smith is the only returning keeper with experience, and that experience is one match against Texas A&M Commerce last season after not playing at all in two years with Memphis. Jordan Nytes might be the most likely starter after playing in 17 matches for over 1,400 minutes for Oklahoma State last season. She was 10-3-4 in those contests with a goals-against average of just 0.67 and a save percentage of .841. OSU went 11-4-4 overall last season, so it remains to be seen how much of Nytes’ performance was her and how much was the Cowboys’ defense in front of her.