This time last year, Marquette’s men’s soccer team was unranked and was not expected to have the 16-4-1 season it did. The team now stands at 12th in the country on the preseason NSCAA rankings, prepped for another great run.
The disappointing 4-4-1 finish after the 12-0-0 start left the squad hungry to rebound, but overall, the team views last season as a monumental success and hopes to build on it.
“I wouldn’t say we fluttered out (last season), I’d say quite the opposite. I’d say we went out swinging,” coach Louis Bennett said. “Obviously, I would have liked to change the results, but I don’t know that we would have done anything differently. We were what we were and I was pretty proud of what we were.”
In terms of personnel, not much has changed. The defense returns all of its starters along with redshirt junior goalkeeper Charlie Lyon who is considered one of the top keepers in college by Top Drawer Soccer.
On offense, the loss of leading scorer Andy Huftalin removes a key piece of the attacking threat. However, redshirt sophomore C. Nortey, Marquette’s 2011 leading scorer as a freshman, returns after sitting out last year due to an offseason knee surgery. Nortey played his freshman season while injured and still led the offense with 20 points (9 G, 2 A). The recovery process caused problems for Nortey, but he said he feels healthy and ready to contribute.
“Now that I’m back and I’m doing really great, I feel a little extra sharp,” Nortey said. “I feel like I am going to contribute well for the team, because I feel good and my knees are well.”
Senior co-captain Bryan Ciesiulka, the highest ranked Marquette player in Top Drawer Soccer’s top 100 preseason rankings, solidifies the midfield with great play up and down the field. He tied for first in assists with nine and tied for second in points with 19.
The only significant change is the new Big East conference. Powerhouses No. 7 Notre Dame and No. 5 Connecticut, now members of the Atlantic Coast Conference, will be replaced by No. 6 Creighton and Xavier. Both teams made the NCAA tournament as did Big East members St. John’s and 2013 Big East Coaches’ favorite No. 3 Georgetown.
Though the new conference brings new faces, the players expect to play every game the same way.
“It doesn’t matter who we play,” Ciesiulka said. “We’re going to go out and look at every game the same way expecting to win that game.”
Among the many match-ups to watch, the Marquette rivalry with Wisconsin-Milwaukee for the Milwaukee Cup is one of the first challenges for the Golden Eagles. The local rivalry goes back to 1972 and Milwaukee owns the 27-10-3 overall record. Last season, the game ended with a last second half-bicycle kick by junior midfielder Sebastian Jansson to win the game 3-2 and reclaim the Milwaukee Cup.
A city is not all the two teams share. Coach Bennett was the Milwaukee coach for ten years before crossing sides to lead Marquette. Though Bennett does not believe that the switch has changed the rivalry, there have been some subtle increases in attendance since his transfer.
“It’s been hotted up since I’ve been here,” Bennett said. “I don’t necessarily believe that, but there’s definitely been an increase in attendance. It’s definitely a cup that’s been around a long time. It’s a trophy that’s worth having.”
The quest for a season of brilliance to capture the College Cup begins this weekend at 7:30 p.m. at Englemann Field on Milwaukee’s campus as Marquette plays Wisconsin-Milwaukee.