Rachael Sloan says her knee feels “great” and she is back to 100 percent. It’s hard to argue with her after a pair of goals in two contests and no glaring holes in her game.
The return of the senior forward is critical for the Marquette women’s soccer team (2-0-0), which is aiming to win its fourth consecutive American Division title and make its fourth straight NCAA Tournament appearance.
Sloan missed all but six games last year and was granted a redshirt after earning All-Big East First Team honors in 2009 and 2010.
“Part of the reason why we are where we are is (that) we have a lot of experience,” coach Markus Roeders said. “(Sloan) stretches the defense with her speed, and that was on display against Milwaukee.”
The senior Elk Grove, Ill., native tallied the first goal of a 4-0 whitewashing of crosstown rival Wisconsin-Milwaukee on Friday for her 18th career goal and also scored first in a 4-0 win over St. Bonaventure on Aug. 17.
Junior forward Maegan Kelly is glad her teammate is back on the field to help dictate the pace for the offense.
“It’s always awesome to have Rachael Sloan back,” Kelly said. “We work off each other really nicely.”
Kelly says the team’s ultimate goal every year is making the Final Four, and the two teams she has played on both came up just two wins short of that lofty goal.
“We want to show everyone else in the country what we can bring,” Kelly said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes even from games we already played this year and we’re just trying to improve every day.”
With one of the program’s toughest nonconference slates in its history this year, Roeders will have to look to players like Sloan and Kelly to shoulder the scoring load and try to keep up with teams like No. 1 Duke and No. 19 North Carolina.
“That road trip in itself is going to be two of the toughest games we’ve played,” Roeders said. “We just have to keep (our players) at a point where they’re believing and keep getting better.”
Not to be overlooked before the Duke/Nike Classic on Sept. 7 and 9 is a road game at Northwestern on Aug. 31. The Wildcats hired former Milwaukee coach Michael Moynihan this year to salvage a struggling program.
“They’ll be ready for us, there’s no doubt,” Roeders said. “They know what we like to do and we know what they like to do.”
Central Michigan, Marquette’s first-round NCAA Tournament opponent in 2010, returns to Valley Fields on Sept. 3. Sloan scored the lone goal in that game to advance to the second round, where Marquette eventually beat Wisconsin-Madison in overtime before falling to Florida State in the Sweet 16.
It was also Sloan’s last truly competitive game against a high-quality opponent until the team played the Seminoles again this year in a game that was declared a “no contest” after three weather delays.
“I’m extremely happy to be back out here,” Sloan said, a bag of ice wrapped around her knee following the Milwaukee game. “I’m just trying to take it day by day with my knee and it should be an exciting year.”
For a player who has seen action in 71 games over four-plus seasons, including 51 starts, it makes sense to look at the big picture like Sloan has.
“I was pretty disappointed when the injury happened last year,” Sloan said. “But thankfully I got one more chance to come out and play with these girls one more time.”