Putting two tough losses behind you is no easy task, but that’s what will be asked of the Marquette women’s soccer team (3-2-1) as they begin Big East play at Pittsburgh (5-4-0) tonight.
After dropping a 4-0 decision to North Carolina and a 5-2 contest to Duke in Durham, N.C., last weekend, the Golden Eagles will face the Panthers for what could be the last time in a while.
Pittsburgh is leaving the Big East for the ACC next year and won’t face Marquette again this year unless the teams meet in the postseason.
“We’re channeling everything we learned last weekend toward Thursday,” assistant coach Frank Pelaez said. “Whenever you want to get better you have to copy the best.”
Pittsburgh is coming off a 1-1 weekend and has lost three of its last four games after beginning the year 4-1-0. It hasn’t played at home, however, since a 3-1 win over Duquesne on Aug. 26.
Senior forward Ashley Cuba has launched a team-high 25 shots for the Panthers but has only converted one into a goal. Cuba is the program’s all-time goals leader with 21 and has led the team in both goals and points in each of her first three seasons.
Another player to keep an eye on for the Panthers is junior defender Morgan Sharick, who has scored three goals on just six shots and has also added an assist in nine games.
“Pittsburgh is one of those games where we really need to play well,” Pelaez said. “They have a new staff, they’re playing on campus for the first time and they’ve always finished towards the bottom of the conference, but it’s always been a close game with us.”
Following the game against the Panthers, Marquette returns home to take on George Mason (4-4-0) Sunday in its final non-conference game of the year.
The Patriots are also coming off a 1-1 weekend, losing to No. 8 Virginia 3-0 before beating Richmond 3-1 in the Virginia/Nike Soccer Classic.
George Mason has gotten most of its productivity from senior forward Tiana Kallenberger, who has six goals and three assists in eight games and sophomore forward Liz Hodges, who has three goals.
For the rest of the Big East, the departure of West Virginia, the biggest thorn in Marquette’s side over the past few years, is a relief, but road games against Rutgers, Providence and Connecticut could be challenging if Marquette is to win its fourth straight American Division title.
Senior midfielder Rachel Brown isn’t looking at the rest of the Big East season, however; she is focused on tonight’s game.
“If anything, I think the losses last weekend are more drive and motivation to go out and be a better team as much as we can,” Brown said. “I’m excited to start Big East play and show everyone that we can move on from those games.”
Marquette’s biggest challenge during Big East play will likely come on Sept. 28 at home against Louisville. The Cardinals (5-1-0) feature one of the most dangerous goal-scoring threats in the country in junior forward Christine Exeter, the reigning Big East Offensive Player of the Year.
Exeter scored 14 goals and was also named to a NSCAA Third Team All-America and to the All-Big East First Team last year. She has been blanked so far this year, however, with no goals on just five shots while appearing in just four of the team’s six games.
For junior midfielder Kate Reigle, winning a fourth straight division title is one of her goals this year.
“I really want to win the Big East Tournament this year,” Reigle said. “I think we have the skills to do it and the players to do it, and it’s something we haven’t done yet as a program.”