Marquette Wire

Mac Wheeler getting hard-earned minutes in net

Mac+Wheeler+started+two+of+the+Golden+Eagles%27+games+thus+far+this+season.
Mac Wheeler started two of the Golden Eagles' games thus far this season.

Mac Wheeler started two of the Golden Eagles' games thus far this season.

Photo by Maggie Bean

Photo by Maggie Bean

Mac Wheeler started two of the Golden Eagles' games thus far this season.

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Mac Wheeler waited a long time for his big break. Four years, to be exact.

The redshirt senior keeper has an opportunity to win Marquette’s starting job before the BIG EAST campaign begins after years of mostly watching from the sidelines. Marquette head coach Louis Bennett has been rotating goalies each game as he and assistant coach Jon Mroz want to see as big a sample size as possible from both keepers.

“I feel like I’ve had chances in the past,” Wheeler said. “I always just tried to stay hungry and work hard in training and do extra stuff to make it seem like I wasn’t just spinning my wheels.”

Wheeler’s final chance at glory almost didn’t happen. He was looking at graduate schools in the spring, wrestling with the question of where to go next.

“I was waiting on how some of my applications to grad school were going to turn out,” Wheeler said. “The way that things shook out I just wanted to keep as many doors open. Finally, it just seemed that the best decision was to come back here.”

A big factor in his decision to return was his strong performance in the spring, which helped create this year’s goalie competition between him and incumbent Wicho Barraza. Bennett was impressed with his technique and his command of the defense.

“I just think it finally clicked in my head that four years had gone by and this is my last chance to make it happen,” Wheeler said. “Honestly, I did everything I could to put myself in a position to be a good player. … I just refocused and got my mentality and preparation right. … I wasn’t nervous anymore.”

Bennett said Wheeler’s earned playing time on and off the field.

“A lot of people use the phrase ‘wait for your opportunity,'” Bennett said. “You can’t wait for an opportunity. You have to work for an opportunity. When you have guys that work that hard, you really cross your fingers in hoping that they will come through with the performances.”

Wheeler spent a majority of his Marquette career sitting behind arguably the greatest keeper in program history, Charlie Lyon. Bennett is a believer in a constant goalie battle, but Lyon never faltered. He is one of the most determined athletes you’ll ever meet, and he didn’t miss a start from 2012 to his graduation in 2014.

It’s fair to say anyone sitting behind him would get a bit frustrated.

“My other teammate Brady Walsh, who was my grade as well, we shared those same feelings,” Wheeler said. “We would always talk to each other. If we had frustration, we would relay it to each other. At the end of the day, we were just happy to be on a team that was doing so well.”

Playing with Lyon obviously wasn’t without benefits. Wheeler was able to see what goes into becoming a great keeper and teammate.

“That was the first time I was able to train with, watch and learn from someone who is advanced as a player,” Wheeler said. “I feel like that’s really paying off now.”

Unfortunately for Wheeler, as one star goalie left, another highly touted one entered. Barraza joined the Golden Eagles in 2015 following a strong academy career with Real Salt Lake. Wheeler played one game early in the season against Portland, but Barraza secured the starting job quickly. It would be easy to say, “Here we go again.”

That’s not the approach Wheeler took, an example of why he’s become one of the team’s top locker room leaders. That isn’t conditional on him playing either. The team brought him to St. Louis for their game this weekend despite him not being able to play due to a red card in the previous game. His presence was valuable enough that they left someone else in Milwaukee to bring him along.

“Last year and this year, my job is just to help the team win,” Wheeler said. “Whether that’s playing on the field or pushing Wicho to a level where he’s unbelievable, that’s my job.”

Wheeler has made two starts this season against Northern Illinois and Northwestern. Although he hasn’t been tested with shots frequently, only making one save, he’s been a sound figure on the back end. He’s 2-0 and hasn’t given up a goal yet.

“All the credit in the world to the guys that play ahead of me,” Wheeler said. “They’ve been some of the best defenders in the country and they just make my job a lot easier.”

He’ll have his biggest moment yet Wednesday, when he’ll start in his first Milwaukee Cup. It’s the final non-conference outing of the season and possibly Wheeler’s final shot to bolster his resume before the team settles on a starter.

“They’ll both have three games in before the BIG EAST and then we’ll re-evaluate based on what people are doing and what’s been done,” Bennett said. “We’re in a great situation because we have two first-team goalies.”

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1 Comment

One Response to “Mac Wheeler getting hard-earned minutes in net”

  1. Tim on September 13th, 2016 11:43 am

    Mac’s a tremendous human being… work’s extremely hard and just does the right things…just one of those guy’s you cheer for and hope that someone notice’s his talent’s…!!!!!!

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