When the No. 2 Connecticut Huskies take on the No. 8 Marquette Golden Eagles on Saturday night at Valley Fields, fans in attendance will see everything come full circle for coach Louis Bennett’s program.
As much as a win would make the occasion all the more special, the match itself should be seen as a celebration for how far the program has come.
Many times people wondered what former athletic director Steve Cottingham was doing by sticking by Bennett, whose team won at total of 10 games in his first four seasons. While the win total increased by one every year after the team only won a single game in Bennett’s first season, there were plenty of people who didn’t see enough progress.
Last season, coming off of a seven-win campaign in the fall of 2010, the team started off slowly. While injuries plagued the team, its performances were simply not good enough. After taking what appeared to be a step forward, the 2011 Golden Eagles looked they were on their way to yet another low win total. I even had a few people ask me how much longer Bennett had to turn things around
Well, he didn’t need much time at all.
I’m in my second season of broadcasting the team for Marquette Radio and in my first on the beat for the Tribune. Through all of the talks I have had with Bennett, there hasn’t been a time when he has had any doubt about what he was trying to accomplish with this program.
He has a vision for how he wants his team to play, and last season, after those initial struggles, the vision began to become a reality.
Once some of their key players became healthy in 2011, the Golden Eagles truly began to soar. They flew all the way to the summit of the Big East, which meant a Blue Division championship.
I remember going to a game my freshman year against Buffalo that Marquette lost 4-0. The Golden Eagles had 19 shots and 19 corner kicks, in comparison to the 12 and one, respectively, for the visitors. While there was potential for success, it was clear that team was meant for frustration that day, and likely for that season.
Ask anyone who saw this team play four or five years ago. No offense to those players, but compared to the 2012 Golden Eagles, that team was a polar opposite.
Bennett credits players like Scott Miller, Matt Pyzdrowski and Matt Stummer, who were part of those teams of the past, for helping to keep the team going and to plant the early seeds of the way he wanted to play.
Now the whole team is quality and is buying into Bennett’s philosophy. While they’ve had to scrape a few of their 10 victories together this season, there are moments of skill and technical ability from the the players that you never thought you’d see four or five years ago.
As big of a match as it is on Saturday night, regardless of the result, it is going to be a night to appreciate and recognize how far the program has come.
Every former player and coach should be proud of where the team is now, and the current squad should think back to everything they’ve done for the program to help make it what it is today.
While a win would be ideal, the fact that Marquette is going to play in a match of two top 10 teams under Bennett is amazing. If you can, get down to Valley Fields on Saturday night. Win, lose, or draw, you will not regret it.