Men’s soccer team receives bid to NCAA Tournament

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The Marquette men’s soccer team lines up prior to a match against Northern Illinois Feb. 7 (Photo courtesy of Marquette Athletics.)

For the first time since 2013, the Marquette men’s soccer team is headed to the NCAA Tournament with an at-large bid after finishing the regular season 8-2-1 and being BIG EAST Conference Midwest Division champions.

“I’m really happy the NCAA recognized our body of work this season,” head coach Louis Bennett said. “I’m pleased for the program and just excited that we have a team back in the tournament that’s capable of doing some damage.”

Bennett will be making his eighth NCAA Tournament appearance throughout his 25-year career as a Division 1 head coach. Bennett led the UW-Milwaukee Panthers to five trips to the tournament before coming to Marquette, while this will be the third time he’s taken the Golden Eagles to the Big Dance.

The Golden Eagles, who were ranked No. 18/17 in the country, had their best season in terms of win percentage since 2012, which lands them a date with the No. 4 Loyola Marymount University Lions of California in the second round of the tournament set for May 2 in Cary, North Carolina, a start time is still to be determined.

The Lions finished the regular season with a 6-0-2 record. They were champions of the West Coast Conference, defeating No. 23 Saint Mary’s in the title game, thus earning an automatic bid to the tournament in back-to-back seasons.

Defense will be a common theme in this one, as LMU has only allowed two goals all season and holds the best shutout percentage in the nation at .0750, while Marquette comes into the matchup after only allowing more than two goals in one contest all year.

Redshirt sophomore goalkeeper Chandler Hallwood has been one of the main reasons for Marquette’s resurgence on the defensive side of the ball this season. The transfer from Gannon University had a stellar regular season in net for the Golden Eagles with a 7-1-1 record while being named BIG EAST Goalkeeper of the Week on two different occasions.

Since this will be the first NCAA Tournament appearance for most members on the team, the lads celebrated accordingly after hearing their name called during Selection Monday.

“When we heard our name get called my jaw just dropped,” redshirt sophomore defender Alex Mirsberger said. “Everyone was just in shock and then of course we all had to hug it out and celebrate.”

Mirsberger is enjoying his standout season for the Golden Eagles, as the Brookfield, Wisconsin, native was named to the BIG EAST All-Tournament Team. He also landed Second Team All-BIG EAST Honors for the season.

Despite being picked to finish fourth in the BIG EAST Midwest Division this season, Marquette is one of three teams from the BIG EAST selected to compete in this year’s reduced field of 36, joining Georgetown and Seton Hall.

Though falling 4-1 to Seton Hall in BIG EAST semifinals didn’t help the Golden Eagles tournament chances by any means, Bennett feels there was some good that came out of the loss.

“The loss definitely gave us some realization that we aren’t a perfect team, and that we need to focus on not revealing our weaknesses,” Bennett said. “I definitely think it’s given us more motivation to get better heading into the NCAA Tournament.”

Along with dealing with COVID-19 pauses throughout the season, this is the type of adversity the Golden Eagles have had to overcome of being the underdogs all season, in which they said has brought the team closer to one another.

“After seeing the preseason polls, we wanted to prove everyone wrong because we knew we’re a good team and capable of winning it all,” Mirsberger said. “For the last three years I’ve been here, this is definitely the closest team we’ve had on and off the field. We all have each other’s backs and have stayed together as a collective group.”

This will be Marquette’s fourth trip to the NCAA Tournament in school history. The Golden Eagles are 1-3 all-time, with their lone win coming in their most recent trip in 2013 against Akron in the first round.

Marquette and LMU have only faced each other one time prior, with the Lions winning 2-1 back in 2006.

The winner of the matchup will move on and play in the third round May 6.

This story was written by Sam Arco. He can be reached at sam.arco@marquette.edu or on Twitter @sam_i_am119.