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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse 2018 Season Preview: The Returning Players

Guys are going to have to step up this season.

Cole Blazer
Big things are expected and needed in net from Cole Blazer in 2018.
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Marquette Golden Eagles men’s lacrosse is coming off the two biggest seasons in program history. In both 2016 and 2017, the Golden Eagles won the Big East tournament and earned an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. They may have been on the board to earn an at-large bid in 2016, but they definitely needed the automatic bid in 2017. MU needed the two wins in the conference tournament just to get to eight on the season and finish with a .500 record after the NCAA tourney loss to Notre Dame.

Heading into the 2018 season, I wouldn’t be prepared to predict or expect the Golden Eagles to make the tournament for a third straight season. First, it’s a small tournament and it’s really hard to actually get into the field. Second.... well..... The fact of the matter is that over the past two seasons, Marquette was heavily carried by the seniors on both teams. Those guys are obviously gone now, and head coach Joe Amplo is going to need major contributions from guys with with little to no experience in order for Marquette to finish the season with a winning record for just the third time in the program’s six year history.

The good news is that there’s a lot of guys who were relied on for big contributions last season, enough to field a full team on the field, plus a goalie and a face-off specialist. We’ll start with the guys we know will contribute for MU this season, and move forward from there....

KNOWN RELIABLE QUANTITIES

We’ll move from back to front on the field, as Marquette’s most reliable quantity at this point is goalie Cole Blazer. The Libertyville, Illinois, product has started Marquette’s last 25 games, recording a goals-against average of 9.32 in that time, as well as a save percentage of .514. That will more than get the job done for the Golden Eagles, and the net will belong to the senior again this season after earning All-Big East Second Team honors last season, and a preseason All-Big East spot this season.

Two-thirds of Blazer’s close defense from last season will be back out in front of him again in 2018, as both Nick Grill and Jackson Ehlert return. Both men started all 16 games a year ago in their freshman and sophomore seasons respectively. The pair were about even in terms of stat production, with Ehlert falling one short of Grill in both ground balls (15 and 14) and caused turnovers (9 and 8). The two also combined for eight of Marquette’s 42 penalties a year ago, and while you’d expect the close defense to end up racking up more than any other part of the team, MU will need them to get better in that department in 2018. Not only are they a year older, but Marquette’s margin for error will be that much smaller this time around.

I don’t mean that last bit to come across as critical of Grill and Ehlert, by the way. There was a very serious case to be made for Grill as Big East Preseason Defensive Player of the year, as he was the only non-senior in the league to be named to the all-conference teams last season.... and remember, he did that as a freshman. Grill ended up as one of Marquette’s three selections for the preseason all-Big East team, and he was one of 12 unanimous selections to the team. The fact of the matter is, and it will become very clear in a moment, that Marquette’s offense has very severe question marks heading into the season. Thus, if the Golden Eagles want to have a successful season, it’s going to come down to the defense not putting any extra stress on the offense to produce.

From there, we turn our attention to the defensive minded midfielders and the long stick midfielders. Marquette has an incredibly strong crew of guys in this department, and MU’s depth here could end up being the strength of the team. The most prominent member of the squad has to be Noah Richard, the junior LSM who had a non-faceoff-specialist team high 44 ground balls and a team high 15 caused turnovers a year ago. That’s a whole hell of a lot of activity, and he found time for a goal and an assist as well. Joining Richard on the pole is Brendan Connolly, a junior from Maryland. He’s been a contributor for the Golden Eagles since day one, and posted 17 ground balls and two caused turnovers last season.

That brings us two the two guys listed as midfielders on the roster who didn’t record a single point in 2017. Colin Riehl and Connor McClelland might not have made an impact on the offensive end, but they did make waves on defense. Riehl appeared in all 16 games last season, bouncing back from a nine game season the year before, and he made sure that the coaching staff couldn’t take him out of the rotation. Riehl had career bests in ground balls (20) and caused turnovers (6), and figures to be a major player in his senior season. McClelland is at the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of experience, as he was a freshman last year. Even with that being the case, he still made his way into 14 games and recorded 12 ground balls and four caused turnovers. That’s a nice little start to a collegiate career for the Ontario native.

We shift to full time offensive guys, and that means that we have to talk about the guy who will be on the roster but not playing this season. Tanner Thomson suffered a lower body injury in the fall and the progress of his rehab means that he’ll miss too much time this season, so he’s going to redshirt and return in 2019. Thomson was expected to be MU’s leading returning scorer with 20 goals and 14 assists last season. That was good enough for the second best mark on the team in points and assists and third best in goals, and the Golden Eagles really kind of needed him to boost all of his numbers in 2018. With Thomson out for the year, the primary burden of scoring is going to fall to John Wagner. The big Canadian had an explosive sophomore campaign with 22 goals and three assists, and by putting over 52% of his shots on goal last year, you can bet that opposing goalies learned to fear his windup. Jack Zerillo is another Golden Eagle who had his best year in 2017. Playing in 15 games, he tallied seven goals and an assist, and he got those seven strikes on just 16 shots. If Zerillo can maintain that level of accuracy, or even just keep putting 64% of his shots on goal, he’s going to be a valuable component to have in the lineup.

There’s just one major player returning to the Golden Eagles this season that we haven’t talked about, and that’s face-off specialist Zachary Melillo. This could be a big year for the New Jersey native, as he needs just 77 ground balls to break Liam Byrnes’ career record. Melillo has totaled 73 and 69 GBs in his first two seasons with Marquette, so the senior will have to rely on the Marquette offense getting him a few more opportunities at the X to get there. Melillo is already the only Marquette player to post a face-off record over 50%, and he’s done it twice, so it’s safe to say that he will leave MU in May as the program’s all-time leader in both career winning percentage and single season winning percentage.

GUYS WHO COULD BENEFIT FROM A BIG OPPORTUNITY

I could have used a different heading here. “Literally Anyone Else Who Scored A Goal” could have worked. You’ll notice that I listed absolutely zero attackers in the above section. None. Marquette has no juniors or seniors listed as attackers on the roster, which is how you start in this direction, and having just four sophomores marked as attackers is how you finish the journey. The Golden Eagles are going to either A) insanely inexperienced at the three attacking spots in the starting lineup, B) insanely young, or C) both.

Odds are guys are going to be migrating on the roster because someone has to start with the A next to their name on the roster. I suppose that Wagner would actually be the most likely suspect, but the question becomes whether Amplo and offensive coordinator Stephen Brundage prefer him in his middie role.

In any case, Luke Anderson, Dylan Dobrosky, Peter Henkhaus, Colin Strange, and Josh Williamson: Come on down, you’re the next contestants on “Someone Has To Start On Offense For This Team!” Those five guys combined to record seven goals last season. They are literally the most experienced goal scorers on the team that aren’t Thomson, Wagner, and Zerillo. I’m not kidding. There’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that they did this on a combined total of 15 shots, so that’s actually some really solid accuracy. The bad news is that Henkhaus led the group in appearances in 2017 with nine games played. Williamson saw action in six games, and no one else hit the field in more than four contests.

From there, we dip into the list of guys who played at least five games last season. Senior Teddy Goltzman and junior Luke Vassos are both midfielders, with Goltzman making the cut on exactly five games, and Vassos snagging nine appearances. Neither one made much of a statistical impression on the season in 2017, but they clearly have the trust of the coaching staff to a certain extent already. It’s not entirely clear which end either guy is going to focus on, but as you can tell at this point already, Marquette needs guys to fill holes in the lineup, so wherever they can get on the field, it will be welcome.

Sophomore attacker Ryan Fazio presents an interesting possibility for the aforementioned game show, “Someone Has To Start On Offense For This Team!” He appeared in eight games last season, but recorded only a ground ball and a caused turnover. Not even a single shot for the California native, even though he is an attackman. Fazio did set a school record for assists in high school, so he was clearly doing something right to accomplish that, but we’ll have to see if it can translate to helpers in college.

Senior Owen Weselak (eight games) and sophomore Jared Hershman (five games) both saw decent amounts of field time last season, but both are listed as face-off specialists. Zachary Melillo will take a heavy majority of the draws this season, but given the one-on-one nature of draws, these two will need to be ready at a moment’s notice. If Melillo has a bad matchup, Weselak and Hershman could get the call to provide a change of pace for the Golden Eagles.

UNKNOWN QUANTITIES

We’ve got a collection of nine guys who were relegated to deep bench roles last season, half of whom didn’t even get on the field. We should probably start with redshirt junior Jordan McKenzie, who appeared in four games last season. Listed as a defender/long stick midfielder, McKenzie earned a notable mention from head coach Joe Amplo coming out of the exhibition against Johns Hopkins:

I am most proud of Jordan McKenzie, who played probably the best he has since before he got hurt. That was encouraging for be because he’s just one of those guys who loves our program and we all love that kid and want to see him do well.

I don’t know if that’s going to turn into lots of playing time for the Canadian, but with Marquette looking for bodies to fit into the rotation almost literally everywhere, it can’t hurt.

McKenzie has three more D/LSM guys circling around looking for playing time this year along with McKenzie. Nick Singleton, P.J. Cox, and Cole Froemming all had a couple of appearances for Marquette last season, with Cox making the biggest impact on the field with one ground ball. Cox and Froemming are both sophomores, while Singleton is a redshirt sophomore. We’ll have to wait and see if the extra year of experience ends up giving the benefit to Singleton.

Matt Del Duca and Ben Allen round out the list of guys with experience last season. Del Duca, a junior midfielder from New Jersey, and Allen, a sophomore defenseman from California, both had three appearances for Marquette in 2017.

Mikey Zadroga, Bob Pelton, Tommy von den Benken, and Connor Campbell are all back from last season, but none of them saw action in 2017. In the case of von den Benken and Campbell, it’s mostly just an issue of being freshmen last season. For Zadroga and Pelton, both were injured in 2017. Zadroga is a senior who hasn’t played since his freshman year due to transferring out and then back in again (no, seriously), while Pelton is a junior who did not see the field as a freshman.

OH YEAH, ONE MORE GUY

I didn’t really know where to fit him in, but Chris Rolfing is backing up Cole Blazer in net again this season. I guess he counts as a reliable quantity, but with only two career appearances, that didn’t feel right. It also didn’t feel right to put him in the opportunities area, as Blazer is going to play the heavy majority of the minutes. Rolfing played just 13 minutes of action as a freshman in 2017, allowing two goals and making five saves on 10 shots on goal.