1) How can they replace Tyler Melnyk?
And really, not just replacing Melnyk, Marquette's first ever All-American, but also Bryan Badolato as well. Between the two of them, they accounted for 36% of Marquette's goals and 35% of MU's assists over the past two seasons. No one ever really wants to end up figuring out how to replace a program's all time leading scorer like Melnyk, but at least head coach Joe Amplo has the benefit of only having to replace two years worth of production.
The answer to the question, though, looks like it's going to be Jordan Greenfield and a cast of thousands. Greenfield comes to Marquette after spending three seasons at Fairfield and graduating in 2014, where he was the Stags' leading scorer during 2013, the final season that he played there. He tallied 34 goals and 8 assists to lead the team in points with 42, and as a fun historical note, Greenfield becomes the first graduate student to play for Marquette.
As far as the cast of thousands goes, Marquette has a bunch of talented dudes that had strong contributions in 2014. Four returning players tallied double digits in points: Kyle Whitlow (33), Conor Gately (31), Ryan McNamara (23), and Andy DeMichiei (11). All four of them will be called on to step up this season, but I'm particularly intrigued by the development of McNamara and DeMichiei. Both men were freshmen last season, but both still found ways to insert themselves into the dramatic. McNamara notched Marquette's overtime game winner against Georgetown, while DeMichiei did the same in MU's monster road win against St. John's.
2) Will the defense improve the way that head coach Joe Amplo wants them to improve?
In a Q&A published on GoMarquette.com, Amplo point blank said that his team needed to make great strides on defense.
I think we need to improve tremendously defensively. Overall in our performance I think we have good individuals. Our production has to increase where we have to be a tougher team to score on. And I think that comes with two areas, one is facing off. We’ve got to see the ball on the offensive side a little bit more, to increase our production there, which I think will allow us to play better defense. A second area is in goal but I don’t think it’s an individual thing. I think that will be a result of good team defense, with having most of our defensive personnel back, the hope is that we can improve our performance. It’s necessary that we improve.
As you can see from that quote, it's not his usual starting defensive trio of Dan Mojica, BJ Grill, and Logan Tousaw that Amplo's necessarily concerned about. Last season, Marquette won just 44% of their face offs. That's a lot of balls being given up to the opponent right after they score against Marquette. Now, MU will enter this season without both of their top face off men from a year ago, with duties at the X largely falling to KC Kennedy, or possibly Gryphin Kelly, a transfer from Hobart, or freshman Owen Weselak.
Netminding duties are Jimmy Danaher's to lose. The sophomore stepped in to the starting role after four games last year and never let go. He finished with a goals against average of 11.13 and a save percentage of .466. It sounds from the quote that Amplo trusts his netminder, but needs the defenders to do a better job of protecting Danaher from shots that he has no chance of stopping.
3) Is this the year that Marquette takes a step backwards?
2013 was the first ever season of Division 1 lacrosse at Marquette, and the Golden Eagles finished at a surprising 5-8, including a three game winning streak late in the year. In last year's Three Questions, I asked how the team could improve even if the record wasn't as good as it was the year before. As it turns out, Marquette eclipsed their five wins from 2013 with six in 2014 with four of them coming in Big East games. While the winning percentage was a step back, ultimately you can't call that a step backwards, as MU finished in second place in the Big East.
So you have a third year program that's done nothing but get better over their first two years. On top of that, all four of Marquette's Big East wins were by just one goal. The combination of regression to the mean along with the vagaries of luck topped with a healthy dash of graduating MU's first senior class last season could mean that this is a down year for Marquette.
This is the kind of thing that happens with such a young program. The alternative viewpoint to this is that now, in their third season, Marquette is finally on an even experience footing with their opponents. In the past, MU was playing with a lot of freshmen and sophomores playing the biggest roles on the team. But all three Golden Eagles that landed on the Big East's preseason all-conference team are juniors. They still might be one of the younger teams around (only 3 players in their final year of eligibility), but at least they're starting to match up with teams relying on junior and senior contributions.