After going from not being in the NCAA Tournament one season to being the No. 7 overall seed the next, coach Louis Bennett doesn’t see a difference in his team’s mindset.
“It’s been strange because I don’t see a lot of difference in the mentality from when we were hunting,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if we know or pay any credence what side of the record they are.”
It doesn’t matter who the hunters and hunted are now, as the Golden Eagles prepare for their first NCAA Tournament game since 1997, to be played Sunday at 4 p.m. at Valley Fields. Marquette will host the winner of Western Illinois and Northwestern, Thursday night in Evanston, Ill.
Western Illinois already traveled to Marquette this season, losing 3-0 at Valley Fields in September. The Summit League Tournament champions are now one of the two possible opponents for Bennett’s team, who said they’re much different than they were a couple months ago.
“We played them early in the season, and they hadn’t hit any type of rhythm, and we took advantage of that,” Bennett said. “Over their last six games unbeaten, they’ve played much better.”
“I feel like even though we beat them 3-0, I don’t really think the score represented the competition we had,” senior winger Anthony Selvaggi said. “They were a good team and high pressured. It wasn’t as easy a game as the score showed.”
Marquette’s other possible opponent, Northwestern, was the co-champion of the Big Ten in the regular season. The Wildcats have only won one of their last six games but boast their fair share of impressive results. Northwestern was the only team to win at No. 1 Notre Dame this season.
“They’ve had some tough losses and some very good wins,” Bennett said. “They’re a team that always keeps a lot of men behind the ball. They attack with frugal numbers, and they definitely don’t expose themselves. You have to work very hard to create opportunities against them.”
No matter which team Marquette ends up playing, junior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka said the team will approach the game just as it has all season long, with the next match being the most important.
“The way we’ve taken the season, it doesn’t matter who they’re playing, they’re out for us, we’re out for them,” Ciesiulka said. “We just take it one game at a time. That’s the beauty of the tournament. You can beat anyone on any given day, and they can beat you.”
Throughout the season, Marquette has built a reputation as one of the nation’s best teams. With results like its wins against Connecticut and at Louisville this season, the Golden Eagles helped earn themselves a possible two home games in the tournament if they win Sunday.
While the mentality of the team hasn’t changed, the players are well aware that their opposition is looking at them as one of the nation’s best teams.
“We beat Notre Dame last year, beat UConn this year, tied UConn (two seasons ago), so I feel like we’re starting to be a team that other big time teams are like, ‘They’re pretty dangerous,’” Selvaggi said.
Now that they are in the tournament, the Golden Eagles expect Sunday to be the start of a journey that will take them to the Final Four in Hoover, Ala., in December.
“That’s been an expectation from the beginning of the year,” Ciesiulka said. “We knew the guys we had and we knew how talented we were. Anything less than getting to Hoover and getting the chance to play for the national championship won’t be good enough for us.”