Last fall at this point in the season, Marquette was struggling to find any rhythm or success heading into its games against Michigan and Michigan State.
After a 1-1 draw against the Spartans and a 2-1 double-overtime win against the Wolverines in Ann Arbor last season, Marquette was headed into Big East play hitting on all cylinders.
“It turned everything around,” junior defender Paul Dillon said. “It was huge getting two results and getting away from the losses before going into conference. We started getting momentum, we started getting chemistry. From that point on, I would say no one outworked us on the field.”
Marquette was 1-4-0 heading into the two games against Big Ten opposition, coming off a 2-1 loss at Valley Fields to Wright State.
Sophomore Kelmend Islami scored a goal in the 110th minute of the game against Michigan to win the game for the Golden Eagles, a victory that turned their season around.
They would go on to become Big East champions and only lost twice more in conference play.
Big Ten teams have a specific style that includes being very physical in defense and midfield, something Dillon said the Golden Eagles are ready for.
“In the last two years, both have been very tough,” Dillon said. “It’s been very physical battles against both of them. It’s a lot different from what we play in the Big East. This year I think we’re a lot more well-equipped to battle with teams and fight in midfield and the back.”
One way you can tell the team is more physical is from its success from scoring on set pieces this season.
Junior defensive midfielder Eric Pothast is the team’s leading scorer with three goals in five games, all coming from set piece situations.
While the numbers and success may be more than coach Louis Bennett thought his team would produce this season, he says it is just another dimension added to his team’s threatening attack.
“You’ve got three guys who can really head the ball and are really aggressive in the box,” Bennett said, “and you’ve got guys who can go around the outside and be dangerous. We can still create corners, we can create free kicks. But we can score through regular run of play.”
Senior midfielder Ryan Robb thinks the team can score from many more situations, not just set pieces.
“As a team, I think we can do a little bit more from open play,” Robb said. “The way we train, we barely even practice set pieces. I want to see more goals in the general play. I think there’s a lot more goals to come from open play.
“We expect to score in all different ways. At the end of the day, I don’t care how it goes in the back of the net as long as it’s in there.”
Marquette takes on Michigan Friday night before traveling to Michigan State for its game on Sunday afternoon. The Wolverines have a new head coach, someone who is familiar to Marquette.
Chaka Daley was hired last December, after leading Providence to the NCAA Tournament last fall.
In what will be a difficult weekend, Robb has urged his team to not look at it as two tough games. Instead, he wants them to take care of business against the Wolverines first before they even think about Michigan State.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Robb said. “Michigan first. We get a win against them, and then we can think about the Michigan State game. But we can’t think of it as a long weekend. We have to think about it as one game.”