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Freshmen adjust to large roles in key nonconference games

Photo by John Steppe

Photo by John Steppe

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Redshirt freshman Mary Kate Simon is often one of the first women’s soccer athletes to finish a sprint or drill in a practice.

“I’m naturally pretty fit,” Simon said. “I lead the pack in a lot of the fitness things.”

But even the 5-foot-10 defender was challenged athletically after playing more than 70 minutes in her first two collegiate games this weekend. “Mary Kate Simon said she’s never been this tired in her life after a game,” Roeders said after the Kentucky win. “And she’s been playing soccer probably since she was five or six years old.”

“I had to play more defense than I’ve ever had to play and that definitely makes me tired and my legs were just like, ‘Whoa!’ going into Kentucky,” Simon said. “By the end of the Kentucky game, I was winded.”

Simon is not the only freshman to be thrown right into the fire. In fact, inexperienced players receiving major minutes in key nonconference games has emerged as a theme this season. Fellow redshirt freshman Abby Hess scored her first career goal against Kentucky and forward Kylie Sprecher has already racked up two shots, one assist and one shot on goal.

Sprecher experienced a similar surprise following the pair of Power Five matchups. “We did have to do a lot more running than I have in a long time, but fitness-wise, it’s helpful,” Sprecher said. “I was exhausted my first five minutes in.”

Even though Sprecher knew Stanford was on the schedule for a year, she was still taken aback at just how skilled they were. “(Roeders) actually told me that my first home game as a freshman was going to be on our home field against Stanford,” Sprecher said. “But to realize that I’m going to be playing the number two team in the country as my first regular season game as a freshman was kind of surreal.”

Simon, Sprecher and true freshman Rachel Johnson have combined to play 307 minutes for Marquette (about 103 minutes per player). To put that into perspective, the team’s senior class — Madison Dunker, Eli Beard, Darian Powell, Kirsten Timmer and Caroline Fink — combined to play 555 minutes (or 111 minutes per player).

Simon has quickly emerged as a starting center back alongside Dunker, which she attributes to playing spring soccer with the team during her redshirt year. That’s she first had the opportunity to start and had a chance to gel with the rest of the defense.

“During the spring I was able to adjust and learn what I needed to get better at,” Simon said. “The spring showed me a good picture of what it’s like to play at the highest level.”

Even then, a spring game can only prepare a player so much for a season-opening gauntlet like Stanford and Kentucky.

“Even a spring game does not give you the idea of what it’s like to play back-to-back Friday-Sunday in this environment,” Roeders said. “You’re not just running; you have to make decisions and execute.”

That’s where the more experienced players, women like forward Darian Powell and redshirt junior Carrie Madden, come in. According to Sprecher, they have been instrumental in helping her get into game form.

“The older girls have been super helpful when I’m on the field, trying to coach me to be in the right places and make the right movements. When I’m on the sidelines before I come in, I watch them to make sure I know what they’re doing and if I see something that I could do a little differently maybe to get myself in an even better spot.”

What’s Sprecher’s aim for tonight’s match against Drake? To score her first collegiate goal.

“I’ve had so many chances in the last weekend,” Sprecher said. “I feel like I’m very close and it’s one of those things where I think when I get my first one, hopefully that knocks down the wall and they all start coming.”

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