GROVER: Still a long way to go for men’s soccer

Like any college student, I enjoy cancelled classes, “Saved by the Bell” reruns, and to an exponentially higher degree, free food. Short of racing the Iditarod, there isn’t much I wouldn’t do for pizza on someone else’s dime. What would you do for a Klondike bar? What wouldn’t I do is more like it.

So it was the promise of oversized burritos that led me down to Valley Fields last Tuesday for the men’s soccer game against Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the Milwaukee Cup. That and exciting soccer action.

And good Lord, was it a freshmen convention over there. I’ve never seen so many people wearing lanyards with their school IDs attached to them in my entire life. Lookin’ good.

After the Golden Eagles had an undefeated preseason and managed a 1-0 win over the Panthers thanks to Calum Mallace bending it like a Spice Girl’s husband, I was content with the progress but wary of what was to come.

Marquette soccer has gained a reputation of having decent starts but fading fast. There is no better example of this than the 2006 season, when after an undefeated preseason, a season opener win at Loyola and a draw with Denver, the team lost its final 15 games. Yikes.

Now the team returns to campus after suffering its first loss of the season to then-No. 21 Drake Sunday night.

“We just couldn’t get a foothold of the game,” coach Louis Bennett said.

And while a road loss to a ranked opponent is understandable, it has become all too familiar. The team has not beaten a ranked opponent in just over four years. You’d have to go all the way back to Sept. 4, 2005 when Marquette knocked off No. 23 Penn State 1-0.

Bennett and company will have five more chances to change that this year, including next weekend’s Marquette Invitational showdown with preseason-No. 15 UC Irvine.

It is now coach Bennett’s fourth year in charge of the program since he came over from Wisconsin-Milwaukee with an impressive resume, including a winning career coaching record and five straight entries into the NCAA tournament from 2001-’05. His tenure at Marquette has seen just seven wins since then, including Tuesday at Valley Fields.

“We don’t travel to any game we don’t think we can win,” Bennett said. “If we put it together, on any given night we have the potential to win.”

So, how is this year going to be different?

“First of all, the experience,” junior striker Anthony Colaizzi said. “Secondly, for the first time, we have competition all over the field which pushes players to perform.”

Colaizzi, who led the team with four goals last year, isn’t about to put a figure on his individual statistics.

“I want to score how many goals it takes to win,” he said.

That’s nice and all, but not practical for a statistic hungry audience like yourselves. I’d feel pretty good about the team ending above .500 if their top scoring threat can put up 10 goals. That’s more than double from last year, I know, but necessary if the team is going to succeed.

Marquette also benefits from the return of co-captain Dan Addis, who sat out last year with a leg injury. An attacking midfielder who was tied for the team lead in goals in 2007, Addis said he and his teammates are not pressured by the past. Instead, they’re building off experience.

“That was the past, I don’t even think like that,” Addis said. “That’s not in our minds at all. I think we’re much more prepared this year to do better.”

It has been a rough couple of years, but with senior experience in several key areas, this team has a good chance to be Marquette’s best showing in recent history.

Unfortunately, they really face a murderer’s row of a schedule from which it will be difficult to get consistent results. Hey, it’s doable. I mean, all they have to do is top three wins.

But please, aim a little higher than that, would you?