Marquette’s regular season did not finish ideally, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a successful one.
With its 1-1 draw against Notre Dame this past Saturday night, it finished in a tie for third place in the Blue Division of the Big East and was seeded fourth in the division for the conference tournament. If it had won, it would’ve avoided playing on Wednesday, but now it hosts the Cincinnati Bearcats that night at Valley Fields.
The Golden Eagles were leading most of the game on Saturday against the Fighting Irish after redshirt freshman defender Axel Sjoberg’s 29th minute goal. Then, in the 88th minute, Notre Dame senior Ryan Finley scored his 17th goal of the season to tie the game.
After being two minutes and 58 seconds away from another Blue Division championship, Marquette was understandably disappointed following the match. Coach Louis Bennett said this season was a great one for the program.
“I don’t think this (year) has been a failure, or (that) we’ve underachieved,” Bennett said. “I would have loved to give these fans and the alumni and all the supporters the opportunity to celebrate another Big East title. When you look at the big picture, we came up a little bit short.”
“This is such an exciting time, and it is bittersweet, but we have to put things into perspective,” he added. “We have a very good team and a very difficult team to play against.”
Although there is no Big East trophy for Marquette this season, this fall has been a memorable campaign for the team. Its 14 wins are the most under Bennett, and its top five ranking throughout the season has signaled a complete turnaround.
Something the team will likely have this fall is a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last season’s non-conference season kept Marquette out, but that will not be the case this season, junior defender Paul Dillon said.
“Knowing that we’re pretty much guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament and we still have games to play in the NCAA Tournament, it’s a huge relief from last year when we were sitting in the locker room watching the selection show and having that disappointing feeling when our name didn’t pop up,” Dillon said.
A win on Saturday would have meant the team would get a bye to the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament and would only have needed one win to get to the semifinals, which will be held at the home of the MLS’ New York Red Bulls, the Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
That is definitely something the team is working toward and is one of its goals from the start of the season. Sjoberg has played in huge club stadiums before in his native Sweden. He said it would be a memorable opportunity.
“I’ve done it in the past back in Europe two or three times,” Sjoberg said. “But it’s an awesome experience to play at a great arena like that. All the guys are really looking forward to that, and we’re going to do our best to get to Red Bull.”
There have been two crowds of more than 1,000 at Valley Fields this season, and 920 were on hand to watch the match Saturday night. The students have packed the “Bird Cage” and Bennett is very appreciative of that.
“The atmosphere of the student fans that are now following us is now indicative of what type of brand and quality we have,” Bennett said. “I’m very proud of the students for following us and the players for showing that beneath that gold shirt is a big heart, a lot of talent and some extreme determination.”