Marquette faces Dayton in NCAA opening round

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Natalie Kulla and Allison McBride have led a stingy Marquette defense all season.

When the NCAA Tournament bracket was revealed Monday night, the women’s soccer team had mixed reactions. Marquette was pleased with securing a spot in the tournament; but at the same time disappointed it wasn’t awarded an opening round game at home.

Two in-state foes — Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Wisconsin-Madison — have worse records than Marquette, but will play in Madison this week.

“Seeing Wisconsin and UWM in the same bracket and not us, I was really thrown for a loop,” goalkeeper Natalie Kulla said.

Despite not capturing the ideal selection, coach Markus Roeders is thrilled that his team is back in the NCAA Tournament for the second year in a row.

“It never gets old,” Roeders said. “It’s great to be back in the tournament, and I’m really proud of the team’s effort and what they’ve done.”

Marquette (15-5-2) received an at-large berth into the field, but its controversial seeding left it matched up with Dayton at the Flyers’ home stadium. Ideally, the Golden Eagles would have been placed within the comforts of Valley Fields, but Kulla is confident they’ll be ready to play no matter the venue.

“Of course we would have liked to be at home but we approach every game the same way,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about Dayton, but we know they’re beatable.”

Dayton comes into the NCAA Tournament as one of two undefeated teams in the country — No. 1 overall Stanford being the other.

The Flyers boast an overall 16-0-5 record, an Atlantic 10 Conference Championship and three players who have recorded over 20 points this season. Marquette senior defender Allison McBride knows every team in the field is facing a must-win situation and expects Dayton’s best shot tomorrow.

“We know that Dayton is going to be a good team,” McBride said, “but once you get down to the final 64 everyone is a good team, so we’re expecting a real good game come Friday.”

Lauren MacCormick and Mandi Back have paced the Flyers up top this season, recording 24 points apiece. Dayton’s back line has been solid as well, allowing just seven goals in 21 contests.

“Going down to Dayton, we’re playing a tough team,” Roeders said. “They haven’t lost a game this year and have done extremely well. We’re going to have to sort out what they’re all about in the next couple days.”

Despite losing to Notre Dame last weekend, the Golden Eagles are riding a hot streak of their own. Their offensive production is on the rise as sophomore Rachael Sloan has come on strong, scoring seven goals this season, including two in the Big East Tournament.

Roeders is confident in his players and proud of what they’ve achieved to this point. But he isn’t satisfied just yet.

“The Big East season was outstanding, and I don’t think we could have asked for much more,” Roeders said. “As a program we’ve taken the next step forward and now it’s time to get ready and just keep playing.”

For McBride and the rest of the senior class, they know what’s at stake.

“This is the end of the season so this is it for us,” she said. “We’re ready, and we have the must-win mentality.”