Maegan Kelly Will Be Among The Big East’s Best Up Front Again
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Marquette enjoyed another exemplary season in the Big East, taking home a share of their second straight league title and upping their regular season record in the conference over the past two years to a staggering 21-1-0. Yet despite the club’s overwhelming success within the Big East, the Golden Eagles are still searching for that major run in the NCAA Tournament to propel them into the ranks of the national elite. A season after 2010′s run to the Sweet Sixteen, Marquette would fall one round earlier last year, being outgunned by Penn State in a 4-1 defeat in the second round.
It’s hard not to hope for big things for Marquette, a fixture in the soccer mad Milwaukee scene and a club with a de facto mascot in “Little Nugget”, the Golden Eagles’ blue and yellow adorned garden gnome that constantly watches over the team. It’s just a part of the significant charm of the Marquette soccer program and its long-time overseer, Markus Roeders. Roeders, the German head coach with puppeteer parents and a superstition of always wearing khaki shorts on the sideline, even in the cold of Milwaukee, has his lovable quirks and also has his fair share of trophies accumulated over the years with the Golden Eagles.
Marquette was a force in the early days of Conference USA, racking up three league titles in five seasons and three straight C-USA Tournament titles between 1998-2000. Roeders’ team would also began to make their mark as consistent NCAA Tournament participants at the turn of the millennium, making it into four straight Big Dances and into the second round on their first two trips in 1999 and 2000. But the Golden Eagles’ overall progress hit a ceiling near the middle of the decade, and the move to the bigger pond of the Big East was a welcome one in 2005.
Marquette took to their new surroundings exceedingly well, winning nineteen matches, including nine in the league, and advancing to their first ever Sweet Sixteen in their first season in the Big East. Since then, the Golden Eagles have often found themselves near the top of the American Division in the Big East and in the NCAA Tournament. Roeders’ side have found that trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2005 difficult to replicate though, and most in Milwaukee have been waiting for the Golden Eagles to take the next step towards national prominence since that standout first season in the Big East. 2009 looked to be such a step forward for Marquette, where after a tepid non-conference campaign and slow start to league play, Roeders’ team rebounded to win the American Division in the Big East and reached the Big East Tournament final for the first time in program history. There would be NCAA Tournament heartbreak though as the team fell at the very first hurdle for the second consecutive season, going down to Dayton on penalties after a scoreless draw.
It undoubtedly left Marquette a sense of purpose heading into 2010, the Golden Eagles hoping to make a run at Big East silverware and the program’s first win in the NCAA Tournament since 2006. They got both, making up for an inconsistent non-conference campaign with a perfect 11-0-0 conference campaign and wins over Central Michigan and Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament.
With many of 2010′s key figures returning, hopes were high again going into 2011. There was no slow start this time, as Marquette won their first four of the year, including a 2-1 win over Long Beach State. The Golden Eagles couldn’t pass their toughest non-conference test though, being upended, 3-1, at Florida State, who had knocked the club out of the NCAA Tournament one season earlier. The Golden Eagles would finish out their non-conference schedule with three more wins, including a derby victory over Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Opening weekend saw the club roll over Pittsburgh but then take a tough defeat to title rivals West Virginia in Morgantown. It’d be the club’s only slip in Big East play, as the Golden Eagles won the rest of their league games, including victories over Notre Dame and Louisville that helped the club lift a share of the league title come the end of the regular season. Having conceded just one goal in their final seven, Marquette looked decent bets to do the double as well. However, facing a Notre Dame team fighting for its NCAA Tournament life, they couldn’t claw back an Irish goal scored eight minutes in, losing 1-0 to UND.
There wasn’t an instant recovery in the NCAA Tournament either, as Marquette had to huff and puff to get past Toledo in extra time despite being the superior team for much of the night. Penn State’s explosive offense proved too much for the Golden Eagles to handle the following week though. Marquette would be down early and could only cut the deficit to 2-1 before Penn State tacked on a few more late. The scoreline was harsh on the Golden Eagles, but there was little doubting that they had been second best on the day. Even with all the changes in the Big East’s roster over the next few years, Marquette will still likely be right at the top of the league when all is said and done. It’s just reaching that next level which is the big challenge now for Roeders and his charges.
So can Marquette hold hopes of reaching that next level this year before the Big East undergoes some massive changes? It looks a bit murky in all honesty. First, the good. The Golden Eagles return nine starters from last year’s impressive squad, including the entire midfield and the starting frontline. The big name coming back is junior Maegan Kelly, who looks well on her way to becoming one of the nation’s most dangerous forwards at this level after an electrifying fourteen goal, twelve assist season last year. With main strike partner Taylor Madigan, scorer of eight goals herself last year, returning as well, the Golden Eagles certainly shouldn’t struggle for goals in 2012.
The club’s main worries are likely to lie in defense, where two very big losses must be overcome. Starting keeper Natalie Kulla departs after an illustrious career at Marquette, sealing her place as a club legend and one of the nation’s brightest goalkeepers after another fantastic season as a senior. She leaves behind a void in experience in goal, making the situation in between the pipes the likely biggest worry for Roeders going into the new season. He also has to replace center-back Kerry McBride, who ruled over the backline with an iron first and was a main reason why Marquette conceded just seven goals in the league last year.
Even with those challenges, the Golden Eagles still must fancy their chances for silverware in the Big East. They avoid Notre Dame on the schedule and get their other main title rivals, Louisville, at Valley Fields in late September. A win there could set Marquette up very nicely, with the Golden Eagles finishing with four of their last six at home.
Marquette’s biggest questions likely lie in between the posts given the departure of Kulla, the club’s starter for almost all of the past four seasons. A big, imposing presence in goal, Kulla was a two-time Big East Goalkeeper of the Year and two-time All-Region Second Team selection. She also leaves as a U23 international who was also perhaps more than a little unfortunate to be a part of a college era that also featured such goalkeeping luminaries as Bianca Henninger, Jillian Mastroianni, and Adrianna Franch, which may have dimmed her hopes of making a bigger impact on the national level a bit.
The big question now is who takes over in goal for the Golden Eagles. Sophomore Sophie Schunk would appear to have an edge based on experience, though only just. Schunk redshirted in 2010 and only saw mop-up duty in a few games last season, so that experience edge over her rivals is only by the scantest of margins. She’ll have competition from true freshmen Amanda Engel and Jordan Scott, two newcomers with a whole lot of size, but who come in as largely unknown commodities. Given Kulla’s quality and the untested nature of the replacements, this unit figures to take a step back this season and could be the team’s Achilles’ heel in 2012.
McBride could be just as big a loss as Kulla, such was her impact on the defense these past few seasons. Her rise was a swift one for the Golden Eagles, as she began her career as a top reserve before blossoming into the Big East’s best defender her final two years with the club. McBride won the league’s Defender of the Year award as a junior and senior playing in an unorthodox sweeper role while also chipping in with a few goals each of the past couple of seasons.
Senior Ally Miller looks likeliest to be the new anchor of the defense this season. A starter from near the beginning of her career for the Golden Eagles, Miller has been a constant in the starting lineup for Marquette these past three seasons. The Mequon native is equally adept at playing in a defensive midfield role but looks likeliest to function as a center-back this season after McBride’s departure. Though she’s not nearly packing McBride’s size, Miller is still a tough, physical presence that should be a great leader of the back four this year.
Likely starting at right-back will be another senior, Megan Jaskowiak. Jaskowiak began her career at Missouri State before transferring and seeing a season as a seldom used reserve in 2010. She was a revelation last year though, starting twenty games for the Golden Eagles and adding four assists to Marquette’s cause. She should continue making strides this year and could round into one of the league’s top full-backs. Operating on the opposite flank will likely be junior Katie Hishmeh. On a squad full of late bloomers, Hishmeh’s been a force as a starter from the very beginning, seeing the most minutes of anyone on Marquette as a rookie in 2010. She started every match again last year and also was a big part of the offense, notching a handful of assists for Marquette’s free scoring team.
Filling the gap left by McBride could be quite the task though. Sophomore Haley Fritzen was highly touted coming into Milwaukee last season and made a few starts as a rookie while seeing time in eleven games overall. She has the size to play in the middle and could be looked at as an option. The club could also look towards utility player Emily Jacobson, who saw a much bigger role as a sophomore last year, making sixteen appearances and netting a pair of assists in Big East play. On paper, depth doesn’t look tremendous, meaning Roeders might be counting on rookies to contribute early or may need to shuffle some players in from other positions. Despite losing McBride though, he has a fine anchor in Miller, with experience and cohesion from the flanks, meaning this unit should again be strong, though perhaps not as strong as last season.
Going forward, Marquette should be in great shape, especially in midfield, where the club should return all four starters from last year’s side. Junior Taylor Madigan will provide the pop offensively for this group after an offensive breakthrough as a sophomore last year. Madigan had already proven her worth as a rookie with four goals in sixteen starts but was a full-time starter last year and doubled her goal output to eight in 2011. It’s not just the volume but also the timing, as Madigan tied for the lead in the Big East with six game winners, including three in the league and one in the NCAA Tournament. It’s those big game chops that Roeders and co. will be counting on this year to help drive the Golden Eagles forward.
Senior Rachel Brown should also be a key presence in the center of midfield after two seasons where she’s started every match. Four goals and four assists as a sophomore perhaps unfairly raised scoring expectations going into last season, and Brown netted just a single goal and two assists, with much of the damage being done against minnows North Dakota. Her senior experience should still be invaluable for the Golden Eagles going into 2012 though. Junior Kate Reigle made a big breakthrough last season, starting all but one match and seeing her offensive numbers increase markedly after mainly being a reserve as a rookie. Reigle started out on fire, with five assists in the club’s first six games, before cooling off a bit down the stretch, going for just a few more assists the rest of the way. She still finished with seven helpers though, good for second on the team, and is another dangerous weapon for Roeders to call upon.
The last of 2011′s starters to return is junior Ashley Stemmeler, who made a fine comeback from injury after missing all of 2010. Stemmeler started all but one game and provides some muscle at the middle at 5’9″, though she’s not much of a threat in front of goal. Roeders and Marquette should also benefit from a ton of depth in the midfield as well. Maddy Vicker was extremely highly regarded coming into the club last year and didn’t disappoint, earning All-Big East Freshman Team honors despite not starting a single game. Vicker had three assists and was one of the team’s top reserves, a role she could reprise in 2012 if she can’t force her way into the starting lineup. Sister Sam Vicker is a junior with the club and made eight appearances off the bench in midfield last year as well.
Canadian junior Vanessa Legault-Cordisco looked like a star in the making at Evansville before transferring to Marquette before last season. She was gone early on to help the Canadian WNT win gold at the Pan-American Games and was exclusively used off the bench last year. The budding talent will miss the early part of this season as well, playing at the U20 World Cup, but has a chance to see more meaningful minutes upon her return, possibly in defense. Junior Cara Jacobson, sister of Emily, was one of the team’s top reserves last season while also starting in the NCAA Tournament against Penn State. She gives the club even more punch from off the bench having scored four goals, including two league game winners last season.
Sophomore Mary Luba had three goals and three assists from off the bench last year and should also have the chance for more minutes, along with classmate Elizabeth Bollinger, another of last year’s reserves. Lest you think that Marquette had enough depth with all of the above, they also add in redshirt freshman Jacie Jermier, one of last year’s top recruits who sat out last year through injury and should be a factor this year as well. There’s not a superstar to be found on this unit, but there’s a ton of talent and depth, making this one of the league’s best groups with the potential to be one of the nation’s best as well this year.
Goals flowed freely from this group last year, and it basically returns most of last year’s players. The biggest loss is of Lindsey Page, who made eleven starts in 2010 before turning into more of a bench option last year, though she still started three games. She was a fine scoring option throughout though, with five goals and six assists, including three of each before mid-September. Her most memorable goal was the winner in extra time as she spared Marquette’s blushes against Northwestern. The other loss is of Britney Scott, who began her career at Purdue before transferring to the Golden Eagles and turning into a solid reserve. She’d net six assists from off the bench last year, including a hatful of them in the rout of Saint Louis early in the year.
All eyes will likely be on Kelly this season, who returns as one of the nation’s elite predators in front of goal. She had flashed tantalizing potential as a rookie, scoring seven goals despite not starting a single game. All-Region Third Team honors would come her way last season after the second best goal scoring mark in a season in club history after fourteen goals and twelve assists. That included an insane four goal, two assist performance against North Dakota, part of a four game scoring streak. Lest you think she was a flat track bully, Kelly also scored against Long Beach State, Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Notre Dame as she racked up six game winning goals. Only four teams held her without a shot on goal, and none after September. She’s a legitimate threat for twenty goals and will fuel this dynamic attack yet again.
Her likely strike partner up front will be senior Lisa Philbin who broke into the starting lineup last season on a full-time basis after being a key reserve in 2010. Though she scored the winner against Long Beach State, Philbin’s more of a complementary piece, having had five assists last year but only scoring a single goal. Roeders’ ace in the hole this season could be the healthy return of senior Rachael Sloan. Twice a seven goal scorer and All-Big East First Team selection, Sloan was hobble with a knee injury early, missing almost all of the season. If she returns healthy and on form, she, Kelly, and Madigan could provide no end of fireworks in the attack this season.
Other depth isn’t great on paper, though the likes of Madigan and Reigle can put in a shift up front if need be. The club also adds in promising rookie Darian Powell, from the storied Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep team and a Region II ODP stalwart as of late. Kelly ensures this group should be full of goals this year, while a healthy Sloan could make them one of the league’s very best attacking units.
They might lose two supremely gifted players in Kulla and McBride, but Marquette is still loaded going into 2012. The offense is going to eviscerate many of their Big East foes, with the troika of Kelly, Madigan, and potentially Sloan, capable of lighting up the opposition like a Christmas tree. The midfield has depth for days and should be even better when Legault-Cordisco returns from international duty. The one question of course is how the defense will hold up given the loss of two very key pieces. There’s still plenty of experience on the backline, but the lack of such experience in goal could loom large as the stakes rise later in the season.
We should get an idea of how high this club’s ceiling is by the midway point of the season. The likes of Florida State, North Carolina, and Duke will provide stern tests before league play starts. Success in those fixtures could set up Marquette for a dream season. The league title should certainly be within reach, while anything less than a few victories in November would have to be considered a big disappointment. If they can get some consistent play from the defense and new goalkeeper, they might just have a puncher’s chance of reaching San Diego as well.