If coach Louis Bennett had been told in August that his team would have the chance to win the Blue Division of the Big East in the last week of the season, he would’ve taken it.
Tied for the lead in the division, playing top-10 Notre Dame twice this week — on both Wednesday night in South Bend and Saturday night at Valley Fields — makes it a bit more difficult.
“There are no really easy games in the Big East,” Bennett said. “There are just those that are harder than others.”
The Golden Eagles’ two upcoming games against Notre Dame will fall under the category of “harder than others.”
Marquette shares the Blue Division lead with Connecticut, whom the Golden Eagles beat this season, with a 5-1-0 record. The Huskies play Providence twice this week, as Marquette does Notre Dame. The Friars are 3-9-2 overall and 1-5-0 in Big East play.
To win their second conference championship in a row, the Golden Eagles have to equal or better Connecticut’s results. Their fate is in their own hands.
“That’s the way the cookies crumbled there, and some might see it as unfortunate, especially since Notre Dame is one of the higher-ranked teams in our division,” junior midfielder Eric Pothast said. “We’ve got to not look at it like that and use it as an opportunity to go out there and get two big wins and make some noise around the country and go for the next Big East Championship.”
Junior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka said he felt the same way.
“These are the kinds of games you love playing,” Ciesiulka said. “You get to play against some of the best kids in the country. They’re going to be two battles for us, so it should be a good time.”
Last season, Marquette beat Notre Dame for the first time in program history, 1-0 at Valley Fields, thanks to a first half goal from sophomore Sebastian Jansson.
The Fighting Irish had control of the game after the goal, striking the woodwork of the Marquette goal post four times. Bennett said his team learned a big lesson from that victory: how to bend but not break.
“Like peek-a-boo boxing, we covered up, we punched when we needed to punch, and we didn’t hit them as much as they hit us, but when we did hit them, it was enough to win the game,” Bennett said.
A positive aspect of playing the Fighting Irish twice in four days is that scouting will be much easier the second time around. Pothast thinks game action is the best way to prepare and admits he’s never had anything like this happen.
“We’ll basically know their tendencies and know what we’ve got to do,” Pothast said. “It will be something unique for the season, especially since we don’t normally see teams twice, and we don’t normally see teams twice in one week.”
Notre Dame has scored left and right in Big East play, with 17 goals in the team’s last four conference matches. A lot of that comes from its attacking depth. Their top two point scorers, senior Ryan Finley and junior Harrison Shipp, have not started a game this season. Finley leads the Big East with 14 goals and 31 points.
Marquette will approach this game the same way they have all season, with the mindset that the next is the most important. The only difference is the next two are against the same team, and two victories could lead to another Big East championship on Saturday night, which happens to be Senior Night.
“That’d be cool doing it on Senior Night because our seniors have been so big for us this year,” Ciesiulka said. “They’ve all played really well, but we want to not focus on that Saturday game yet, and just focus on the next one.”