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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse 2018 Season Preview: Three Questions

There’s way more than three questions for the Golden Eagles this season, but here’s what’s important.

John Wagner
Can John Wagner carry the Marquette offense? Will he need to?
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#1 - Who is going to score goals for this Marquette team?

Answer #1: Junior John Wagner, who is moving from midfield to attack. Given the particular construction of this roster, Marquette can’t be fiddling around waiting for their best returning scorer to rotate his way back onto the field in transition from the defensive end.

Past Wagner? I dunno.

The answer was supposed to be Tanner Thomson, but he’s sitting out the season after suffering an injury during fall ball. Jack Zerillo had a decent tertiary-ish option season on the scoring end last season, so perhaps he can make a jump during his redshirt junior campaign. Zerillo and Wagner are the only two guys coming back from last season that tallied more than two goals in 2017, so no matter where MU gets goals from in 2018, it’s going to be a surprise.

Could it be redshirt freshmen Colin O’Donnell and Griffin Fleming? Maybe it will be true freshmen Anthony Orsini and Keaton Thomson. There’s a reason why the coaching staff is moving Connor McClelland from defense to offense in the midfield, so perhaps he’ll be the one dropping bombs. Dylan Dobrosky or Luke Anderson, both of whom scored two goals last season in minimal playing time? What about Peter Henkhaus, who had a goal and an assist?

Here’s what we know for sure: When Marquette seemed to be on track for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament in 2016, MU had a 40 goal scorer and three more guys who hit the back of the net at least 15 times. Last year, Marquette struggled on offense on their way to an 8-8 record and had a goals leader top out at 24. Three other guys hit 20 goals for the season, and another got to 16. Generally speaking, that kind of production isn’t going to be enough on a year-in, year-out basis.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t really who will be doing the scoring for the Golden Eagles, but can they get enough goals to win ball games on a regular basis against a very tough schedule. That brings us to the next question......

#2 - Will Marquette finish over .500 this season?

This is season #6 of Division 1 lacrosse for the Golden Eagles, and MU has finished over .500 just twice: 10-6 in 2015, and 11-5 in 2016. That’s it. Last year was the second NCAA tournament appearance in program history, but it came with an 8-8 record following the loss to Notre Dame in the first round.

Marquette has 13 games scheduled this season. Four of them are not looking good for MU’s chances of victory: Duke, Notre Dame, Denver, and Ohio State. The Golden Eagles are a collective 1-19 against those four squads in the regular season, with the lone victory coming in 2015 on a neutral field against the Buckeyes. All four of those squads are top 10 teams as we head into Marquette’s season opener, and with the questions that the Golden Eagles have to answer on offense, things are not looking super positive for those contests ending up as wins.

That leaves Marquette nine games to try to finagle seven wins out of in order to finish the regular season at 7-6. That could be rough. Villanova is ranked this week, while Georgetown and Providence are earning top 20 votes. That’s three tough tests out of the nine. Jacksonville has been frisky to start the season, Detroit gave Notre Dame fits, and Robert Morris is no slouch. There’s another three that are no picnic. This could turn into a very long season for the Golden Eagles very quickly if they don’t take advantage of their chances to get wins.

#3 - How much longer is Joe Amplo going to be the head coach at Marquette?

Each of the past two seasons, there has been noise about other programs with head coaching vacancies circling Marquette with an eye on popping Joe Amplo free to fill their job. Both times, it hasn’t worked out for those other guys. In June 2016, Marquette announced work on an extension for Amplo, and in June 2017, the university and Amplo announced their mutual commitment to each other.

Here’s Amplo’s quotes in 2016:

“I am so grateful for the confidence and trust that Dr. Lovell, Bill Scholl and other members of the Marquette community have put in me,” Amplo said. “Leading this program since its inception has been a wonderful journey. The players have challenged me to become a better person and taken the entire Marquette community on a ride that is filled with joyous memories. My wife Jen and three girls have made Marquette Lacrosse our family business and we could not be happier to continue this journey as we look to keep building this program to remain amongst America’s great lacrosse programs.”

And in 2017:

We win with people and I am so grateful for the team of people who believe in my vision for our program. I am proud to be a small part of all the great things going on at Marquette. We have a very bright future together.

I wouldn’t read a whole lot into that very short statement from Amplo there, but all the official press release has from him is two embedded tweets and not an official statement officially in the release. A little weird, no?

Here’s athletic director Bill Scholl in 2016:

“Marquette is committed competing at the highest level in lacrosse and we are thrilled that Joe is again affirming his commitment to this program,” Marquette University Vice President and Director of Athletics Bill Scholl said. “Joe’s work has positioned Marquette among the sport’s leaders in a very short amount of time and we are excited to know that he is going to continue to be with us in Milwaukee.”

And in 2017:

“Joe is a phenomenal lacrosse coach, but an even better person,” MU Vice President and Director of Athletics Bill Scholl said on Saturday. “Joe’s values closely align with the mission of Marquette University and his passion and dedication to the young men in this program is unrivaled. In a very short time Joe has proven himself to be one of the best lacrosse coaches in the entire country and we couldn’t ask for a better leader for our student-athletes on the field and in the community. We are excited to have Joe, his wife Jen, and their three daughters, Sophia, Charlotte and Lily remain as part of the Marquette family.”

I can’t help but think that Amplo is going to make a jump at some point, perhaps in the not distant future. At some point, other teams being interested in hiring Amplo stops being mostly a case of “hey, you know who we should think about?” and instead starts becoming mostly a case of “hey, I’m interested in going somewhere else.” That’s a lesson that Marquette fans learned very very well with Buzz Williams, and there’s something about this whole deal that makes me wonder how long it will be before MU will be looking for the second coach in program history.