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Nakada is turning Kulla into top caliber keeper

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New assistant coach Hideki Nakada (left) and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Natalie Kulla have made quite a team for the Golden Eagles.  With Nakada’s help, Kulla has become one of the Big East’s best keepers.

New assistant coach Hideki Nakada (left) and redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Natalie Kulla have made quite a team for the Golden Eagles. With Nakada’s help, Kulla has become one of the Big East’s best keepers.

The offensive struggles of the Marquette women’s soccer team have been well documented this season. Case in point: The Golden Eagles (7-3-1, 1-1-1 Big East) combined for 39 shots and 16 shots on goal against West Virginia and Pittsburgh.

But the fact that the offense has been a true leash on the team’s potential would not be nearly as apparent if it weren’t for the defense’s dominant play on the other end of the pitch, backed by redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Natalie Kulla.

And behind Kulla’s progression into becoming one of the Big East’s top keepers stands new coach, Hideki Nakada.

Under Nakada’s tutelage, Kulla sits first in the Big East in shutouts (seven), third in goals against average (0.44) and fourth in save percentage (85.3). Last season, Kulla ranked seventh, eighth and seventh in those categories, respectively.

“There are some technical things that I’ve been working on with her, but more than anything else she has that confidence in her now,” Nakada said. “I think she goes into the game knowing she’s probably the best player on the field.

“I wouldn’t be surprised by next year, by her senior year, not only in the Big East, but she could easily be one of the best goalkeepers in the nation.”

Nakada moved to the U.S. when he was 16 years old. Born in Portugal, where his mother is from, he spent parts of his childhood there and in Japan, his father’s homeland. He attended San Francisco and played goalkeeper for the Dons before stints of professional soccer for Major League Soccer and in Japan.

Then, while working as the assistant coach for Idaho, he was suggested by former men’s soccer coach Steve Adlard to Marquette coach Markus Roeders for an open coaching position.

“We were looking for somebody for Natalie and Chelsea (Turner) and further down the road,” Roeders said. “We like how he came across and what he could provide for our team.”

And what he has provided, Kulla has quickly absorbed.

“He’s really good at finding my flaws and things that I struggle with,” Kulla said. “He’s good at teaching me how to adjust and readjust. I think he’s helped me a lot with staying higher on my lines. … He’s done a lot of stuff that is nitpicky but good.”

With the inefficiency of the Golden Eagles’ current offense, Kulla and Nakada will need to continue to work their magic to survive No. 13 Rutgers Friday night at Valley Fields.

The Scarlet Knights come into the contest with an 8-1-2 record (2-0-1 Big East) and an even stingier defense and goalkeeper than Marquette in senior backstop Erin Guthrie.

Guthrie’s .40 goals against average is good for tops in the Big East, and she sits just one shutout behind Kulla, with six through 10 games.

But Nakada isn’t sold.

“It’s easy for everyone to give her a lot of credit,” he said. “But I think their defenders, they’re the ones that make a huge difference. Like Kulla, I think she’s a good goalkeeper, but I think her backs are doing really well. She hasn’t faced that many shots.

“We’re not so worried about scoring against her. But it’s getting past the defense.”

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