‘No one is able to stop him’

Dave Rossetti

But a scary thought for future Marquette opponents may be that, according to Lee, he’s done most of his damage at less than full strength after suffering an ankle injury Oct. 7 against Wright State.

“Up until that point I was really feeling healthy and in shape and fast,” Lee said. “Mentally, I had a lot of confidence and that enabled me to do well. That just kind of built on itself. After I got hurt I really haven’t felt as quick, but it’s coming back — I’m almost 100 percent better now.”

Lee started off the season unassumingly enough, recording his first goal during Marquette’s fourth game — a 4-0 drubbing of DePaul at Valley Fields Sept. 11. After not playing in the team’s next game due to a concussion, Lee tallied a goal in each of the next two matches — a win over South Florida and a loss to Washington.

Head coach Steve Adlard said Lee’s slow start set him up for later success.

“He started slowly, didn’t get the chances and missed a few chances,” Adlard said. “But when you start to score the confidence grows because when you miss this one you say, ‘It’s OK, because I’ll get the next one.’ Once he scored a meaningful goal it just steamrolled from there.”

After scoreless games against Alabama-Birmingham and St. Louis, the Lee steamroller got going Oct. 4 against Memphis. Lee scored twice in that match, promptly following that up with another two-goal performance against Wright State. Following a Marquette loss at Wisconsin, Lee recorded hat tricks at Valley Fields against East Carolina and Wisconsin-Green Bay, tacking on a key goal Oct. 29 against Wisconsin-Milwaukee to score his seventh goal in a four-game stretch.

After the 4-1 victory Oct. 25 over Wisconsin-Green Bay, in which Lee also earned an assist, senior goalkeeper Adam Ubert said Lee has the power to change a match.

“There’s nobody that can keep up with his speed,” Ubert said. “It’s nice when you have somebody out there, even when you’re down a goal, if we give him the ball we’ll get chances to score.”

As successful as Lee has been this season, last year might have been equally disappointing for the Lenexa, Kan., native. After recording seven goals and starting in 15 matches as a freshman in 2001, Lee found himself coming off the bench during his sophomore campaign.

“He’d been injured and he was unfit and he could not regain the flair he showed (in 2001), and it was really an uphill battle for the first half of the season,” Adlard said. “He had lost that acceleration.”

As frustrating as last season was for Lee, the product of St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Overland Park, Kan., was able to tally four goals and an assist in a season he called a “learning experience.”

“It was really hard,” he said. “After my freshman year, I expected a lot out of myself sophomore year — and the coaches did, too — and when that didn’t work out I really wanted to come back and not have it slip by me like it did sophomore year.”

Lee said he spent more time this off-season drilling, sprinting and playing soccer to ensure that didn’t happen. He also thinks the presence of senior forward Derek Gutierrez, who was his teammate during Aquinas’ 2000 state championship, has been important for his success as well.

“Ever since high school he’s always had a majority of my assists, and even when he doesn’t get an assist he might be carrying two defenders into the box with him,” Lee said. “He might not get credit for that but everyone should know he’s always been doing that for me.”

Gutierrez, the team leader with eight assists, said Lee’s natural abilities have become even more dangerous when paired with his newfound mindset.

“He’s always been fast and able to finish, but in college — especially this year — he has the confidence that he’s going to score and no one is able to stop him,” Gutierrez said. “They really haven’t been able to, either.”

Craig Ewing, Lee’s coach at Aquinas, said he isn’t surprised by his former star’s success.

“We’ve had a lot of players, and Chris, maybe he’s one of the best who’s ever played here,” Ewing said. “He’ll always be remembered here at Aquinas and it looks like he’s trying to do the same thing at the college level — that’s fantastic.”

If he can add a third hat trick Saturday at Valley Fields, Lee will tie a Marquette record set by Ed Nomo-Ongolo in 1964 with 17 goals. But with Marquette not locked into the C-USA tournament, Lee is only thinking about one thing.

“I want to beat Cincinnati,” he said. “If we win and I don’t score I’ll be a lot happier than if I score three goals, get the record and we lose.”