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Men’s soccer looks to take next step in 2013

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Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics

Marquette men’s soccer coach Louis Bennett won’t mince words when discussing the upcoming fall season. The expectations for his team are high.

The Golden Eagles began last season with a stellar 12-0 record and garnered national attention. However, a 2-2-1 finish to the year and an early exit from the NCAA tournament proved a disappointing end to a potentially groundbreaking campaign.

With the spring schedule drawing to a close and August around the corner, Bennett and the Golden Eagles are prepared to put the past behind them and look ahead to a successful fall season.

Last year’s early triumphs made Marquette what Bennett calls a “yard stick” among other programs in the conference, with the standard to succeed continuing to rise.

“I think there will be that level of expectation from other teams for us,” Bennett said. “It’s stress that we really want to avoid. Stress would insinuate that we don’t have the wherewithal to handle what’s put in front of us. If you don’t have the answers, that becomes stress.”

Marquette fell in the second round of the NCAA tournament to Northwestern at home, a defeat that still lingers with junior midfielder Paul Dillon. Dillon and his teammates are prepared for a redemption year, one they hope will end with a Final Four appearance.

“We talk about where we want to go every day, and we want to make it to the Final Four and the national championship, because we think we’re good enough to be there,” Dillon said.

A fast start was uncharted territory

Opening the season with 12 consecutive wins put the Golden Eagles in the national spotlight, rocketing them to No. 2 in the nation. Marquette’s longest previous winning streak was eight in 1999. In 2011, the team’s longest streak was three.

Junior midfielder Bryan Ciesiulka knew the circumstances were much different than in seasons past but said the team still remained calm despite the attention.

“It was definitely new to us, but I think our coaching staff did a great job with keeping us level-headed and focusing on the next game,” Ciesiulka said. “It’s definitely something we want to do again, another great start to the season.

“Obviously, 12 games unbeaten is absurd in whatever sport you’re playing, and we know that we don’t have to do the same thing again, but we need to know that this year we need to be ready for the end of the season a lot more intensely than we did last year.”

Strong freshman class will contribute

A key factor for Marquette to reach the Final Four this season may be its recruiting class. The incoming freshman class, according to Bennett, could be the strongest the program has ever had. It ranks No. 13 on TopDrawerSoccer.com and includes Bennett’s son, Louis Bennett II.

“I’m confident that anyone from this freshman class who can break in and do really well, they’re going to be playing some of the best soccer of their lives and some of the best soccer in the country,” Bennett said. “That’s just a fact. They’ve all got their work cut out to carve out playing time for themselves, but if they can get acclimated to our standards and our culture, I foresee this class being of (great) significance.”

This year’s class includes midfielder Coco Navarro, the highest-ranked recruit in Marquette soccer history (No. 38 on TopDrawerSoccer); midfielder Daniel Szczepanek, last year’s Illinois Player of the Year; and Milwaukee native Alex McBride, who was tabbed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel as Area Player of the Year.

With all the accolades the players tote as they head into their first seasons as Golden Eagles, Ciesiulka said there will be competition among the veterans and newcomers.

“You always hope that you get big contributions from the new guys,” Ciesiulka said. “I’m sure we will, because I’ve played with some of them and they’re all very good players. It’s just going to be a matter of prying it out of the old guys’ hands.”

New Big East poses a challenge

In addition to obtaining new players, Marquette will be tested by fresh competition in the Big East, with Butler, Creighton and Xavier joining the seven Catholic programs remaining from the old Big East.

Creighton, which advanced to the Final Four last fall, poses the biggest threat to Marquette of the incoming teams. The Golden Eagles will play at the Bluejays this Saturday as part of their spring schedule.

Dillon said the team is fortunate to get an early look at such a powerful squad and that scouting for Butler and Xavier will not happen until fall.

“It’s a blessing that we get to go there, because we might have to go play at their place in the fall,” Dillon said. “Our coaching staff does a really great job of scouting. Our motto is take it one game at a time, so as far as preparing for those games, I think we’ll wait until the fall, get through each game and take it from there.”

Bennett is eager to compete in the new conference, which he said will be more demanding and straining than the current Big East.

“Our league is maybe as strong, if not stronger, than the previous (league), even though we lost some very good soccer teams,” Bennett said. “I couldn’t ask for better. I’m very, very excited about the prospects of playing in the new Big East, simply because it’s got some great men’s soccer teams. If you want to aspire to be the best, you have to play the best.”

Team readies for the next step

Ever since Dillon and Ciesiulka first arrived at Marquette, they always felt like underdogs. Now that the Golden Eagles have established themselves as a squad filled with talent and potential, Dillon believes the team is prepared to take the next stride to prove Marquette can make a title appearance.

“That’s where we want to be,” Dillon said. “That’s what we’ve been working for. We just want to keep going forward and keep getting better. At least the guys I came in with three years ago, we came from a group where the expectations weren’t as high. Each year we’ve gotten better and each year we’ve been building, and finally we’re at a place where we think we deserve to be.”

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the Creighton University men’s soccer team as the Jayhawks. The Creighton mascot is in fact the Bluejay. The Tribune regrets the error.

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1 Comment

One Response to “Men’s soccer looks to take next step in 2013”

  1. MU Smarty on April 18th, 2013 1:29 pm

    Creighton Jayhawks … huh? Perhaps he meant Bluejays http://www.gocreighton.com/

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