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Marquette defense strong during seven game shutout streak

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Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

Photo by Valeria Cardenas/valeria.cardenas@marquette.edu

The major story of the 2014 Marquette season so far has been impressive play from its backline, a group that has not given up a goal in a school-record seven straight matches. The most notable clean sheet came this weekend when Marquette shut out No. 7 Georgetown on the road.

The unit is led by cornerstone veterans like senior defensive midfielder Brady Wahl, redshirt junior Axel Sjoberg and junior Adam Hermsen. Joining them this season is a strong group of underclassmen: redshirt sophomore John Pothast, sophomore Jake Taylor and redshirt freshman Jack Alberts. Together, they make up one of the top defensive groupings in the Big East.

According to Marquette head coach Louis Bennett, each member of the group plays a part in the team’s immense success.

“They’ve done really well,” Bennett said. “We’re a very process oriented team. There’s job descriptions. Without over-coaching and making a player feel like they are confined, we give them guidelines and blueprints.”

“Obviously the older guys are experienced and they’ve been in a lot of big games,” Pothast said. “They can provide knowledge and an example for the younger guys who haven’t been there before.”

Marquette has not given up a goal in 718 minutes of play. The team’s home shutout streak stretches back to November of last season.

“We knew we were going to have a good defense coming in,” Hermsen said. “It’s just about gelling the younger guys and the older guys together.”

That gelling process preceded the shutout streak, starting the first weekend of the season.

“Starting off the season playing two really good teams … helped us a lot,” Hermsen said. “We saw that this is the standard.”

Bennett believes the competition amongst the talent on the backline has led to the team getting even more out of the players.

“If they don’t (do the job), there’s someone else waiting to do it,” Bennett said. “Everyone thinks that we’re a tight knit unit, but that’s built out of that respect that if you do the job, you’ll stay. … When I first came here, that was one of the things I said. When we have real competition at every position, healthy competition, we’d position ourselves in a place we wanted to be.”

Golden Eagles found themselves honored by the league rather frequently this season. Sjoberg, Pothast and Alberts have all earned Big East Defender of the Week honors this season.

“Defensively, as a unit, we talk to each other, see what our tendencies are,” said Alberts, who was named the Big East Defender of the Week Sept. 22nd. “We get in position when someone gets beat. We cover each other.”

There were some questions going into the season about how Marquette would be able to replace graduating seniors Eric Pothast and Paul Dillon. The pair were two of the Golden Eagles’ big defensive minute-crunchers and played a large role in Marquette’s Big East championship season. However, the new faces have filled into their shoes quite nicely.

“Last year we had a very strong defense,” Bennett said. “It was very mature. Now we’ve got a strong defense and it’s got maturity and youth.”

Alberts has earned a starting role with the Golden Eagles this season after being redshirted, which made him unable to see playing time. He started in six of the nine matches, all victories for Marquette. His first collegiate goal was a timely one, the eventual game winner of this season’s Milwaukee Cup. He credits his ability to jump right in the rotation to his time learning the system last season.

“It means pretty much everything,” said Alberts about his redshirt season. “I know I’m way stronger then when I came in as a freshman. That redshirt season helped solidify my skills to be able to help the team.”

Like many of the younger members of the unit, Alberts feels he learned the most from Sjoberg, the star of the defensive unit the past two seasons. His and Pothast’s size is beneficial when it comes to keeping the ball out of the Marquette box.

“Axel can win pretty much anything that comes towards him in the air,” Hermsen said. “It’s tough for people to play over the top of us and try to get behind us. Then (we’ve) got a lot of speed on the outside … I think it would be frustrating for other teams to play against us.”

In many ways, the whole team has contributed to the shutout streak. Indirectly, the success of the offensive unit has helped keep shots out of the Marquette net as well.

“The pressure that our forwards and midfield players put on people at the midfield makes it so the balls that the opponents play in aren’t as precise,” Bennett said. “So if they’re not as precise, we can pick up a lot of 50/50 balls.”

Standing behind the defense as the last line of defense is redshirt goalkeeper Charlie Lyon, who is one shutout away from the all-time Marquette record.

“(He) makes you a lot more confident that if I do end up making a mistake that he has my back,” Pothast said. “He’s saved us quite a few times this year already.”

“If they do make a mistake, Charlie is going to tell them about it,” Bennett said with a laugh.

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About the Writer
Jack Goods, Sports Editor

Jack Goods is the sports editor of the Marquette Wire, covering the men's soccer, basketball and lacrosse teams. He is a senior from Buffalo, New York...

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