Last season, sophomore midfielder Mary Luba appeared in 19 games off the bench, scoring three goals and tallying three assists.
If the beginning of this season is any indication, Luba could far exceed those numbers while also wowing fans with her technical skills.
“She’s very creative with the ball,” junior defender Emily Jacobson said. “I think as a freshman you’re overwhelmed a little bit, obviously, but we’re finally getting a little more of that creativity out of her.”
Through two official games, Luba has scored once and is one of the first options off the bench for coach Markus Roeders.
“Her main strengths are on the offensive end, but the big thing we’ve seen is the maturity on both sides of the ball,” Roeders said. “It’s just a matter of living in an environment where she has a lot of older players around her. But it’s also her doing her part and really pushing herself, saying ‘Hey, I should be out there more than I am right now.’”
Jacobson, along with her sister Cara, went to nearby Shorewood High School with Luba, and they played together with FC Milwaukee when Luba was a junior.
The two weren’t the best of friends in high school, but Luba said she talked with the Jacobsons before deciding to commit to Marquette.
“When I was getting recruited I talked to the Jacobsons because they were really helpful and open about their recruitment,” Luba said. “Marquette was a good choice because of the family environment, and it’s close to home but not too close.”
According to Jacobson, Luba is “quirky, but in the best way possible,” which likely explains how she can do some crazy things with the ball. Luba is “outstanding” at chess and with Rubik’s Cubes, she said.
“She can’t be compared to anyone else, in a very good way,” Jacobson said. “She’s able to put some bend on the ball and do some things with the ball that she didn’t do last year.”
Neither Jacobson nor Roeders indicated Luba’s role would be similar to Lindsey Page’s role last season, however. Page appeared in 21 games, starting just three of them. She ranked third on the team in scoring with five goals and six assists.
Roeders said Page was more of a spark plug, but Luba is more versatile in the midfield.
“With her versatility, we’re still trying to sort out what is maybe going to work best for us,” Roeders said. “The two canceled matches we’ve had probably hasn’t helped get us into a flow.”
Roeders said Luba has the chance to become a deadly passer who can spring a forward into an open position to score.
“In the Milwaukee game, she lofted one over the back line and hit Sloan on the other end,” Roeders said. “It’s beautiful to watch because it’s a level of creativity that you really only see in the best of players.”
Luba’s fresh legs off the bench will be vital for a team with an increasingly daunting schedule the next four games. On Friday, Marquette travels to an already improved Northwestern team who finished 2-16-1 overall last year.
Through three games, the Wildcats own a 2-1-0 mark, with wins over Kansas and Miami (Ohio) on the road before dropping a 5-2 decision at Dayton on Aug. 26.
Golden Eagles fans will see a familiar face on the Northwestern sidelines in coach Michael Moynihan, who spent the past 15 years as the head coach of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Moynihan brought assistant coach David Nikolic with him to Evanston, Ill. Nikolic spent 18 years with Moynihan, and the duo is familiar with how Marquette runs its team.
“We know what they like to do, and the same goes for them,” Roeders said. “It should be a battle.”