With a historic start to the season following up a win of the BIG EAST Blue Division last year, the Golden Eagles and head coach Louis Bennett seem to have uncovered the formula for a winning program. Marquette has won 18 of its last 22 matches and has won 11 consecutive regular-season games. The Golden Eagles hold the nation’s longest winning streak with a 10-0-0 start to the season. The program continues to make history as last week it earned its highest ranking ever in the Soccer America poll at No. 7.
But Bennett remains both focused and true to his mission. “Our goals for the season remain the same, game in and game out: that our play represents the culture, ability and character of our program at the level that will win games, it's that simple.”
Last year saw the Golden Eagles earn their third-straight BIG EAST Men’s Soccer Championship berth. MU captured the Blue Division title with a 7-2-0 league record. Even with the success of last season, this season wasn’t a guarantee as Marquette’s roster features 11 freshmen, including 10 newcomers, and just eight upperclassmen. Add to that the loss of both leading scorers from 2011. The 2011 BIG EAST Midfielder of the Year Calum Mallace was drafted into the MLS after being second on the team with 12 points, nine of which came in league play. C. Nortey, who led the team in his freshman campaign with 20 points on nine goals and two assists, is recovering from offseason knee surgery after earning a spot on the 2011 BIG EAST All-Rookie Team.
It would have been easy enough with such a young roster and the loss of both leading offensive threats for the Golden Eagles to have taken a step back, or consider this a rebuilding year. But instead, the team took a step forward and continues to reach new heights that the program has never seen before.
What is it like to a member of the team that is making school history?
“It feels rewarding, we work so hard in the spring and summer to put ourselves in a position to put this program up there amongst the best and now everyone is realizing the ability that this squad has; if they did not already from last fall,” said two-year team captain Ryan Robb. The 5-8 senior midfielder from England is tied for the team lead with 56 matches played.
“For the older lads such as myself, having seen where this program has come from, you have to praise the coaching staff,” said Robb. “Coach Bennett, first and foremost, is a great man who is passionate about you as a person but he really does harness and develop an individual and team ethos that speaks for itself.”
As recently as 2010, MU posted a 7-8-4 overall record, including a 3-4-2 mark in the BIG EAST to finish sixth in the Blue Division. The previous year, the Golden Eagles were 4-11-3 and the four years prior to that, the team finished last in the Blue Division.
The program has clearly turned a corner. While Robb praises the coaching staff and the belief it instills for that change, the coaching staff is quick to put the success on the team’s attitude. Bennett’s take on his team is that this year’s squad is unique. They are comfortable with themselves but complement that with a hunger for competition and achievement.
“The team’s personality this year has similar characteristics to the previous year with the one exception,” said Bennett. “They have more positive experience going into the season. They are hard-working, focused and selfless. This group is unique in the fact that they are happier with who we are, not who we are not, much earlier in the season and the belief in this year’s team has afforded them the ability and drive to get through tough games.”
Despite all of the accolades the team has collected so far, MU is not done being tested. The Golden Eagles’ last regular-season loss goes back to then-No. 5/2 Connecticut on Oct. 26, 2011. Fast forward to Oct. 5, 2012, when MU will put its winning streak on the line against No. 2/2 UConn at home.
“Having played against UConn on numerous occasions we know what they will bring in terms of ability and style,” said Robb. We are better prepared than ever and will get our tactics right on the night, as we prepare. At the end of the day there will be 11 men on that field that will have individual battles and no matter who is out there, I know we will put up a fight. We thrive on occasions like this. We won’t boil over but will be ready come kick off, the coaches will make sure of that.”
From the coach’s perspective, Bennett has boiled down the matchup against the Huskies to the simplest tasks to ensure victory.
“UConn is one of the best teams in the country, not just by results, but style and talent. Obviously to win we have to score one more goal than them. The best way to allow ourselves that opportunity is to be at our best while not allowing them opportunities to score. Working hard to get chances and looks that are by design will also be important. If we can use our weapons and make them have to do their share of defending that will also help the game swing our way. Either way it's the most challenging game we have because it’s our next game”
When asked what he attributes the team’s success to, Robb says that is simple enough to put into three words: the Marquette community.
“Everything about our school puts us in a position to be successful on that soccer pitch. At Marquette you can be truly successful socially, academically and athletically. As players we are thriving from our community and this gives our program a real steel about it, something that any great team needs. We really believe that we will win all of our individual battles on any given night and if not, someone will be there to pick up the slack. Not only do we have some of the best players in the country, we by far have the best team spirit I have ever felt from a sports program. That comes from the coach down and people really have to stand up and realize the quality of our coaching staff.”
When addressing what he is most proud of so far this season, Bennett does not reflect on accomplishments, but on the attributes he feels have gotten the team to the level at which it is currently playing.
“[I am most proud of] the dedication, commitment and respect for what we do and how invested we are to keep focused,” said Bennett. “The players and people that helped change the culture and standards in the past as well as the present players that recognize and honor those people by giving their best in all aspects of Marquette university soccer life. The drive yet balance with school, soccer and social happiness and performance, those expectations and standards are now adopted by the masses. The talent is just a part of the whole package not the only part.”
Bennett’s message seems to be reflected in the voice of his captain, who said, “[Our goal is] to win each and every game starting this Saturday until the NCAA championship final in Hoover, Alabama. As a squad we take each and every game in our stride and I strongly believe this is one of the reasons we have been so successful thus far. We all believe in each other as a unit and prepare as well as anybody else in the country. From top to bottom Marquette soccer is doing the right things.”