Marquette Men’s Soccer: Foundation is set for exceptional years to come

C. Nortey missed the season with a knee injury. Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

After winning a Big East championship in 2011, Marquette’s men’s soccer team appeared to be headed in the right direction.

Even though the 2012 Golden Eagles’ season ended earlier than they would have liked, in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, their 16 wins marked another huge stride forward.

“This group has definitely had a standard and has created a standard and has left an imprint that we’ll always have to follow as a footprint,” Bennett said. “It’s a huge positive footprint.”

The Golden Eagles finished 16-5-1 and were seeded as the No. 7 team overall in the NCAA Tournament. They completed a transformation into one of the country’s top squads.

Marquette’s season started in a big way against their biggest rival, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, in the Milwaukee Cup. Marquette trailed twice in the game before sophomore Sebastian Jansson scored in the 90th minute to give the team a 3-2 win.

Soccer doesn’t usually provide buzzer beaters, but the Golden Eagles started their season with one.

Bennett said it was the springboard for the team’s season, and redshirt freshman defender Axel Sjoberg agreed.

“That was the foundation for a great season,” Sjoberg said. “I was really impressed with the team at that time, how we were able to grind through result after result and managed to keep our lead in every game.”

After that, the Golden Eagles started an unprecedented 12-0-0 run, going from unranked to No. 2 in the nation.

Bennett said throughout the season that his team was focused on taking things one game at a time. He admitted taking it even further, saying it was practice-by-practice at one point.

“The history of us winning the week before was of no consequence,” Bennett said. “It was what we were doing then, and that’s taking every game as an individual game. That’s how we stayed, and the lads stayed really disciplined.”

The 10th win of that run was against then No. 2 Connecticut. In 2011, Marquette lost in Storrs, Conn., to the Huskies 3-0 in a game to clinch the Blue Division of the Big East. Instead, Connecticut made Marquette wait another game to finish the job.

This match was a different story. Marquette beat Connecticut 3-2, controlling the match from the start.

Senior Andy Huftalin scored two goals that night, his fifth and sixth of the season at the time. He would go on to finish with a team-high 10, tallying 24 points overall and eventually being named second team All-Big East along with Sjoberg and junior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka.

For Huftalin, a senior who hadn’t made an impact on the program, this was his final chance. With last year’s leading scorer, sophomore forward C. Nortey, out for the season with a knee injury, someone needed to step up and replace his 20 points, nine goals and two assists.

“Coming from last spring, coach Bennett mentioned the 20-point mark that C. Nortey left last year,” Huftalin said. “With him unfortunately being out, that was my role and a goal I tried to live up to.”

Bennett has been building a smooth passing style at Marquette for the past couple years, and the Golden Eagles beat Connecticut implementing that style. That gave the coach the most satisfaction from the victory.

“The crowd saw a Marquette team create chances and subdue a team that is probably one of the top four teams in the country,” Bennett said. “That was a coming of age for our style.”

From there, Marquette finished the season only winning two of its last six games, including three losses. It played top teams like Georgetown and Notre Dame and failed to get the results necessary to retain its Blue Division crown. Marquette finished tied for third.

“Looking back, I think those were the games that if you’re going to win a championship, if you’re going to go deep into the tournament, you just need that little bit of a spark occasionally when things are tight,” Bennett said.

After the regular season and the Big East Tournament, when the Golden Eagles lost their semifinal match to Georgetown in overtime, it brought a challenge the team had been waiting a long time for: the NCAA Tournament.

The Golden Eagles didn’t perform when Northwestern came to Valley Fields. It was the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance ever, and because of the 1-0 loss, Marquette is still looking for its first tournament win.

After a 16-win season and with a large portion of the team returning, Bennett is excited for the future with people he knows are committed to the program.

“It’s pretty simplistic to me,” Bennett said. “What the word now is: standards. What we have to do now is perpetuate the standard. We have a standard of what Marquette soccer is and should always be. Our goal is to mimic and improve the standard.”