Just 15 minutes into its opening round NCAA Tournament game last season, the Marquette women’s soccer team found itself in a huge hole.
The No. 22 Minnesota Golden Gophers jumped on top of the Golden Eagles with two early goals, and Marquette was unable to recover. A few defensive collapses along with a season-long inability to capitalize on scoring chances sent Marquette home much earlier than expected.
Coach Markus Roeders is confident that his squad will learn from the NCAA loss and be a much better team because of it.
“We’re still looking for our consistency in our play, and we’re trying a lot of different things and allowing different players to do different things,” Roeders said after his 1-0 victory over Rice Friday night.
The Golden Eagles defeated the Owls thanks to an early second half goal from the foot of sophomore forward Rachael Sloan.
“It was really huge for us to get that goal,” Sloan said. “We wanted to get a win our first night at home, and this was a huge weight lifted off our shoulders.”
The Golden Eagles are off to a solid 1-0 start but are still working on improving from last year. Goalkeeping and defending have been trademarks of the women’s team in the past, but finding the back of the net is something that must improve in order for Marquette to be a factor this year. Last season the team scored 22 goals in 22 games and was shutout seven times.
“We’ve talked about how we barely scored last year and we want to change that this year,” Sloan said. “We’ve been working a lot on shooting and possession, so hopefully we’ll get some more goals this year.”
Another obstacle Roeders will have to work around is replacing his three seniors, who provided a strong back line. Shannon Cusick and Katie Kelly were the main components of a defensive line that allowed only 19 goals in 22 games in 2008. Cusick and Kelly were first and second, respectively, on the team for minutes played, totaling 4,112 minutes combined. Finding replacements for the two of them, along with Kelli DeBarge, who played a vital role coming off the bench, will be no easy task.
“It’s going to be tough because it’s different without Katie and Shannon,” senior defender Katie Miller said. “We have a freshman playing stopper, and now I’m playing sweeper for Shannon, and we have different styles of play.”
While Marquette will miss the services of the three seniors, it will benefit from an eight-player recruiting class.
“With this class there are some new roles that we have to define,” Roeders said about the freshmen. “Ally Miller is the one that’s contributing the most right now as a stopper, but we have a few others that are sliding in and that takes a little bit of time.”
Also new to the Golden Eagles is assistant coach Hideki Nakada. Nakada comes to the team from Idaho State where he was an assistant coach for the women’s soccer team, specializing as a goalkeeper coach.
“(Nakada) has settled in very well,” Roeders said. “He’s really enjoying it. He does some great coaching with our goalkeepers, but he’s involved with everything in the program.”
Sloan added that although there are many new parts to the team, the players are a collaborative unit working towards the same goal.
“I think we’re just one big family,” she said. “We’re all really close and work well together, and I think that makes a huge difference.”