New conference alignment set for BIG EAST fall sports

From+left+to+right%2C+Brianna+Jaeger+%287%29%2C+Madison+Burrier+%2813%29%2C+and+Bonnie+Lacey+%284%29+look+to+make+a+play+on+the+ball+against+Utah+State.+

Photo by Marquette Wire Stock Photo

From left to right, Brianna Jaeger (7), Madison Burrier (13), and Bonnie Lacey (4) look to make a play on the ball against Utah State.

The mindset for fall collegiate athletics this upcoming season is going to look a lot different than usual on the Marquette University campus in 2020 as the BIG EAST announced June 8 there will be a few changes that will come into effect in the months ahead.

Marquette men’s and women’s soccer, along with women’s volleyball, will be the most affected sports as all sports will be split into two divisions, the East and Midwest. The Golden Eagles, along with  Butler, Creighton, DePaul, and Xavier, will be part of the Midwest division.

The motive behind this is to minimize travel during the season. When traveling to away games, the team will only be playing against teams that are within driving distance, rather than flying out East to face other opponents. For volleyball, Marquette is slated for 16 matches, which is two shy of a regular season schedule. 

With the uncertainty of what to expect this fall season, women’s volleyball head coach Ryan Theis explained it is a relief to know what procedures and changes will be made moving into the season.

“It is not going to look the same when you walk into the Al McGuire Center,” Theis said. “I don’t think it is going to be the same for the players, walking out of practice and even in the locker room. There are going to be some spatial restrictions.”

“We get the chance to play at, and travel to fun places (around the conference). Annually, we go to New York and Washington D.C. and we look forward to going to some fun sights,” said Theis. “All of those fun aspects are kind of going away. However, with the current mental state of having to be stuck in our houses, I think just going to play volleyball is just something to look forward to.”

Just like volleyball, soccer will also be separated into the East and Midwest divisions. They will also only compete against teams within driving distance as well, but they will only play each other twice: once at home and once away. 

For the women’s soccer program, 2020 is the first year under new head coach Frank Pelaez. Pelaez was formerly a coach in the Missouri Valley Conference at Loyola University. 

“When I was in the Valley Conference most games were in traveling distance. We would drive to every away game pretty much the whole season,” said Pelaez. “Now that the BIG EAST has announced that our opponents will be within driving distance, I think that it is going to be business as usual.” 

Pelaez’s main focus in the season is about how he can give his team a good experience, whether that is playing games or not. 

Marquette’s women’s soccer division includes Xavier, who was the 2019 BIG EAST Tournament Champion. 

“The teams that are in our division are very high caliber,” said Pelaez, “I am looking forward to the challenge.”

Pelaez also mentioned his gratitude that the conference administrators have been so persistent in allowing teams to play, even if it has to be modified. 

“It is great that people are thinking of the safety of the players, coaches and everyone else involved,” said Pelaez. “Everybody is thinking of everybody’s well being.” 

Meanwhile, Louis Bennett is returning for his 15th season as head men’s soccer coach. He has a similar mentality to the other fall athletic head coaches. 

“We all want to have a season, and construct it in a way that we can have a significant, relevant and enjoyable opportunity,” Bennett said. “I think that the BIG EAST and Marquette have done a good job to get that.” 

Preseason and conditioning have not been at the same standards as normal due the pandemic for fall athletes as Bennett said once athletes get back on campus, the staff is going to be careful about how long training goes each day.  

Many of the men’s soccer players play over the off season in summer leagues to stay conditioned for the upcoming season. However, this year that is not the case. 

“(When they come back to campus) they won’t be in the same condition,” Bennett said. “We have been working with them via Zoom calls and the coaching staff has put together packages for them, so we hope they come back in some sort of shape.”

Bennett said he hopes there comes a time when students will be able to come to Valley Fields for a game. 

“When something like this happens we have to think in and out of the box. For the health of everyone and for the players,” Bennett said. “It will have to be a gradually increased workload and we are prepared for that.”

This story was written by Molly Gretzlock. She can be reached at molly.gretzlock@marquette.edu and on Twitter @mollygretzlock.