Hosting an NCAA Tournament game is an accomplishment in itself. A lot of soccer programs will never even have that opportunity. Hosting an NCAA Tournament game for the third straight season is even more special.
That’s what will happen when No. 4-seeded Marquette hosts Illinois State, the champion of the Missouri Valley Conference, Friday night at Valley Fields.
“It’s definitely a special thing hosting again, and it’s something we can’t take for granted,” junior midfielder Kate Reigle said. “Having the home field, playing under the lights with our home crowd is always special.”
The Redbirds boast the MVC’s offensive player of the year, sophomore forward Rachel Tejada, who scored 18 goals and chipped in 10 assists, both conference highs. Her 46 points are 27 more than teammate Kyla Cross, whose 19 points makes her No. 2 in the conference.
Cross has also scored eight goals and chipped in three assists.
Marquette has shut down good goal scorers in the past, most recently Georgetown’s Daphne Corboz, who entered the Big East title game with a conference-high 17 goals.
Coach Markus Roeders said goal scorers like Corboz and Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Sarah Hagen, who graduated last year after scoring 93 goals in her career, present different challenges.
“Tejada is a very good goal scorer who likes to mix it up a little and get in there and fight for the ball,” Roeders said. “We’ll have to be sure of our man marking and keep an eye on her at all times.
“It really depends on the player because you can have someone like Daphne (Corboz), who plays a little more finesse style and then Sarah (Hagen), who would kind of linger and then all of a sudden she was ripping some ridiculous shot past us that kind of makes you go ‘whoa.’”
Illinois State has not been shut out in a game this season and is outscoring its opponents 45-23 and averaging 2.37 goals per game. Comparatively speaking, Marquette has a 53-12 advantage in goals and averages 2.65 goals per game.
Roeders said he expects some goals to be scored but is confident in his offense’s ability.
“At this point, we know that pretty much anyone we play, we should be able to get at least a goal or two,” Roeders said. “They’re a talented offensive team, so we’ll have to be ready.”
The Golden Eagles played Illinois State during the spring exhibition season in Chicago. The match was played about 20 minutes after Marquette played Loyola-Chicago, and junior defender Emily Jacobson said the result was predictable.
“With it being a spring game, it’s different from a fall game, but any time we can play a team it’s going to help,” Jacobson said. “They have people who can attack you and score goals.”
She compared the Redbirds to Toledo, Marquette’s first round opponent in the NCAA Tournament last year.
“They’re a hard working team, and we can’t afford to take them lightly,” Jacobson said. “We can’t look past them or over them, and we just worry about winning this game.”
If Marquette does beat Illinois State, it would have a chance to take on former Big East rival West Virginia in the second round, should the Mountaineers take care of Princeton Saturday.
Jacobson said there was motivation to play West Virginia, but the team needs to focus on just playing another game.
“We just want to win,” she said. “We have to win to keep our season going, so it’s not just playing West Virginia. It’s more than that.”