Even with 20% of the Big East schedule in the rear view window, it’s a little too early to call anything happening this weekend for Marquette women’s soccer “must win.”
In fact, while the 4-5-2 overall start and 1-1-0 Big East start isn’t the best thing ever and there’s certainly problems for head coach Frank Pelaez and his staff to work through, the Golden Eagles actually find themselves in something of an advantageous position heading into their second week of conference play.
Yes, MU currently sits seventh in the Big East table when only six teams qualify for the conference tournament. It’s not great. But there are some upsides. One of them is the fact that Marquette is actually tied for fifth place in the league with three points. It’s not ideal that Providence and Villanova have only played one match and Marquette has played two, but a tie is a tie.
Also good news for Marquette? There are four teams behind them in the standings. Even better: All four of them don’t have a point at all, and all four have played two matches as well. Best of all? Marquette still has to play three of them, and if the Big East table is already starting to show us some division into tiers at this point of the slate, that’s three quality chances at potential points down the road for the Golden Eagles.
For now, though, Marquette has to focus on the task at hand. That’s not just finding points on the road this weekend, but also getting better as a team. Perhaps that mostly means figuring out how to get the ball at the feet of Taylor Schad more often. The freshman from Kiel, Wisconsin had a point streak snapped last time out at Butler, as she had two goals and an assist in MU’s three previous contests, one item in each match. That makes her the only Golden Eagle with more than one goal this season, the only player with a crooked number for goals or assists, and one of just two — Kate Gibson is the other — to have a goal and an assist in 2023. Marquette is getting badly outshot on average, and that has led to them getting badly outscored, too. Schad’s on a hot streak, maybe she’s the key to unlocking the Marquette offense in league play.
Big East Match #3: at Creighton Bluejays (2-4-4, 0-2-0 Big East)
Marquette is 6-6-3 all time against Creighton. The series started in the mid-90s and those four meetings favored the Bluejays. MU won the last one as well as the first three after The Reformation. Since then, Creighton has controlled the series with MU going 2-4-2 after last year’s home loss.
Creighton comes into this one after a bit of a letdown to start Big East action. The Bluejays had been unbeaten in their last five non-conference contests, tying three times and then winning twice. Seeing as those two were the first two victories of the year, that was a pretty notable step for Ross Paule’s squad.... but they haven’t scored a goal since their 1-0 win over South Dakota State. UConn blanked the Bluejays out in Storrs, and then #17 Georgetown came to Nebraska and used one 38th minute goal to walk away with a win.
It’s the “not scoring a goal” thing that’s probably most troubling for the CU coaching staff. Remember those three ties in the run up to the start of league play? Yeah, two of them were scoreless. In fairness to Creighton, one of them was against that Minnesota team that couldn’t stop shooting it against Marquette, so holding them down is kind of good news. Still, all told, Creighton has scored just 10 goals in 10 matches and only once in the last 275 minutes.
Abigail Santana is the biggest puzzle piece for the Marquette coaching staff to watch, as she’s the only Bluejay with more than one goal. Her three strikes are top of the chart right now, and Santana is also the only woman with more than one assist. She has two for a team high eight points. Santana’s doing the scoring, but she’s not the focal point of the offense. That’s Azumi Manriki, who has 23 of CU’s 95 shots on the year. She’s suffering from a bit of bad luck, as 10 of her shots have been on frame and only one has gone in. Maddie Radke (18) and Lara Kazandjian (11) are both into double digits in shots as well, so the Golden Eagles’ defense is going to have a few bodies to keep tabs on.
I think we’re going to see freshman keeper Maddie Merrick on Thursday night. Even with Keelan Terrell coming off a Goalkeeper of the Week award last week, Ross Paule still went with Merrick in both of Creighton’s matches to start Big East play. That was Merrick’s first action of the season, not to mention her career, and Friend Of The Show Matt DeMarinis helpfully reports that Terrell was going through warmups on Sunday before the Georgetown contest. Small Sample Size Theater to be certain, but through 180 minutes, Merrick has better stats than Terrell after her 720 minutes. 1.50 goals per 90 minutes and 75% of shots on goal stopped is going to make it hard for the Bluejays to win matches, but again, slightly better than Terrell.
Big East Match #4: at Connecticut Huskies (5-2-2, 2-0-0 Big East)
Marquette is 6-4-1 all time against Connecticut. The series is contained entirely to the stretches where both teams were in the Big East at the same time, but even misses the spring 2021 season as the league used divisional play for that. After the Huskies took two of the first three meetings, Marquette has gone 5-2-1 since then, and both of UConn’s wins are in the last two meetings.
Connecticut has been unbeaten in their last three matches after a 3-2-1 start to their season. They drew with Buffalo in their non-conference finale after giving up a 60th minute goal to the Bulls, but bounced back to shutout Creighton and stun St. John’s to move to 2-0-0 in the league. The Huskies went up 1-0 just seven minutes into the match against the Johnnies, gave up an equalizer in the 88th minute, then fired off the game winner just 22 seconds later.
Huskies are 2-0 in BIG EAST play after this beauty! pic.twitter.com/ZzyH8yBXJy— UConn Women's Soccer (@UConnWSOC) September 24, 2023
Oh, St. John’s.
In the “well, that’s interesting” file, while Marquette has to make the Omaha/Storrs trip this weekend, it’s not like Connecticut will be by default the more rested team. The Huskies will be in Washington to face #17 Georgetown on Thursday afternoon. Sure, that means that they’ll probably be back in Connecticut in time for a reasonable bedtime (shouts to the lack of lights at Shaw Field) but that’s still a road trip that they have to make. Oh, and playing the league favorite probably won’t be a picnic, either.
With five shutouts to their name through nine matches, that’s made it a little bit easier for UConn to stack up goals. They have a 15-5 goals for/against mark right now, although to be fair, that is propped up by a 5-0 win over Marist. Still, doubling up your opponents on the year is pretty good on its own. Chioma Okafor leads the way for the UConn offense with four goals this season, although she did score twice against Marist. The 5’5” sophomore also has two assists to lead the team there as well, and of course that makes her 10 points the best on the team, too. Cara Jordan has three goals on the year thanks to scoring against both Creighton and St. John’s, but she still only has half as many shots as Okafor.
Every minute in net has gone to Kaitlyn Mahoney, so we’ll probably see her on Sunday, too. The 5’4” senior from New York is stopping just over 78% of her shots on goal, which means that if Marquette works hard to get quality angles, they can score goals on her. Getting those shots will be the problem, as Marquette’s sputtering offense will be going against a Huskies defense that only allows seven shots per match. That’s why Mahoney’s only allowing 0.56 goals per 90 minutes this season.