Pelaez’s program still determined to get first win of season

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Frank Pelaez (center) coaches in a huddle in Marquette’s game against Wisconsin-Madison on Aug. 14 2010. (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

It’s not often you hear Marquette women’s soccer head coach Frank Pelaez use the word “challenge.” When it came to the news that their fall season had been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no exception.

“You have to live that way, you have to truly believe in it,” Pelaez said. “This is an opportunity to get to know (the players) emotionally, get to know them personally and get them to know me. You know, you get to see (the players) sweat, you get to see them go through the hard things and work through those things. My staff and I like to be very involved particularly because we love the game. It’s our way to relive what we used to do, at least I do, and we missed out on that opportunity (with no preseason).”

For senior forward Kylie Sprecher, it is important to build off the work the team has done this summer.

“Even though we can’t play right now, we still are hopefully going to have the spring if that works out,” Sprecher said. “Right now it’s our offseason, and in our offseason, we’re doing stuff every day to prepare for the next chance that we get to compete against someone else. So (when we found out the news), we wanted to make sure that everyone was still doing their part as best as they could with the environment that they were in at home.”

The Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin native and her teammates have been faced with adversity in the past. Within the last year, there was the abrupt stepping down of Markus Roeders in November, a new coaching staff and now COVID-19 taking away their fall season.

“The adversity that everyone’s dealing with right now all over the world, but especially within our team — I think we have done a very good job of being there for one another and supporting one another through this unknown time,” Sprecher said. “As a team, we’ve really leaned on each other to appreciate the platform and opportunities that we have, even though they’re kind of postponed right now.”

During Pelaez’s 19 seasons from 1996 to 2014 at Marquette as an assistant coach, the Golden Eagles went 282-104-39 overall, and had an impressive stretch from 2010-13 where MU went 39-1-1 in BIG EAST play. He knows the adversity his new squad has dealt with, but found a positive side to it all thanks to a saying from a longtime friend.

“A coach that used to coach at Marquette, Brian Mugford, used to say, ‘Out of adversity comes strength,’ and it stuck to me 20 years ago,” Pelaez said. “With adversity comes strength and I see a lot of strength, even if it’s just via Zoom in their (the players) eyes. I see that they want it so bad and I truly believe in that.”

As students are returning to campuses all over the country, Pelaez said he has taken notice of students going out at night to large gatherings. This has happened at a fellow BIG EAST school, Villanova, where first-years gathered during a non-campus sponsored event during orientation two weeks ago.

“The biggest challenge is the next two weeks to be honest with you. I’ve talked to a lot of (players) just in the last week alone and I’ve said, ‘Everything you’ve done these next two weeks are crucial,'” Pelaez said. “I don’t like to sugarcoat things, but we’ve got to look at these next two weeks as our first game. … The last thing we want to do is have to go online and go home. So, as a team and as an athletic program, we’re all doing our best to make these next two weeks the biggest games of our careers right now.” 

As classes are set to resume tomorrow at Marquette, Pelaez said it is the fact that university students are still college kids is what worries him during this two-week test.

“It scares me, it really does. You’re coming back and everyone’s going to think it’s kind of the same, but it’s really not,” Pelaez said. “But I’m really confident that our players are being responsible and they know they can’t control what’s around them, but they can control themselves and they can influence others.”

During this extended offseason, in hopes of a spring season, Pelaez said he has one idea for how the team can stay in shape mentally.

“I want to make them coaches. I want them to start thinking about what we can’t do together right now on the field, (instead) let’s do it in our head,” Pelaez said. “If we can do it in our head, I think it’s going to be such a great advantage.”

This article was written by John Leuzzi. He can be reached at john.leuzzi@marquette.edu or on Twitter at @JohnLeuzziMU.