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Grace Gabriel Named Big East Women’s Lacrosse Preseason Offensive Player Of The Year

ALSO: Marquette is picked to finish third, and there are two more Golden Eagles on the all-league team!

Grace Gabriel
Grace Gabriel is one of eight unanimous choices for the all-Big East team.

The Big East released their 2019 women’s lacrosse preseason awards and honors on Wednesday, and with it came some pretty big news for Marquette in terms of historical notes for the program. Senior midfielder Grace Gabriel was named the preseason Offensive Player of the Year, marking the first time since 2015 that a Golden Eagle has earned a preseason individual honor.

With the departures of Florida, Vanderbilt, Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Temple from the Big East after last season, Gabriel is the top returning goal scorer in the conference. She tallied 56 goals a year ago, averaging 3.11 per game, and with 11 assists, she averaged 3.72 points per contest. She also leads all returning players in shots per game, draw controls per game, and caused turnovers per game, although that last one doesn’t really help make her case as the best offensive player in the conference.

I can’t argue with the selection of Gabriel as OPOY, nor do I want to. However, I do have to point out that my pick for the award was Villanova’s Kate Comerford, who did average more points per game last season than Gabriel. It’s an award for best offensive player, not best goal scorer, and Comerford did damage with both goals and assists to come out ahead of Gabriel. Still, I can’t fault anyone for voting for the best goal scorer, particularly in a sport that regularly requires players to score unassisted goals by way of the free position shot.

As a team, Marquette was picked to finish third in the Big East this season. Here’s how the voting shook out:

1 - Denver, 25 points (5 first place votes)
2 - Georgetown, 21 (1)
3 - Marquette, 16
4 - Villanova, 14
5 - Old Dominion, 8
6 - Butler, 6

It’s kind of impressive that the Pioneers are ahead of the Hoyas in the preseason poll, as Georgetown’s only loss last season in league play was to the now departed dominant Gators. Still, I had the Pios as my preseason pick to win the league because there were more Denver players than anyone else on my all-league team, so it makes sense that the Big East coaches, all of whom know more about lacrosse than me, would also vote in that direction.

Gabriel is one of eight unanimous choices for the all-league team, and she’s joined there by two more Golden Eagles. Senior Cate Soccodato made her way in as one of the five attackers on the squad, while sophomore Jocelyn Miller is one of four defenders honored by the league. Here’s how the MU press release wrote up Soccodato and Miller:

Soccodato finished third on the roster in points behind Gabriel and Hill with 57 on the strength of 18 goals and a team-high 39 assists. That assist mark is the highest single-season number in MU history and she sits fourth all-time at Marquette with 46 in her career. The Huntington, New York native was an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection as a junior after earning a pair of league Attacker of the Week honors.

Miller started all 18 games for the Golden Eagles as a true freshman in 2018 and recorded 34 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers. The Manorville, New York native picked up a pair of ground balls and caused two turnovers in last year’s regular season finale against UConn to help Marquette secure its first BIG EAST tournament appearance.

Gabriel was one of two individual honorees from the Big East office. Denver’s Kennedy Milburn is the preseason Defensive Player of the Year, which the league office explains as such:

Milburn led a Denver defense which surrendered just 9.11 goals per game over nine BIG EAST contests, the second-stingiest mark in the league. Four conference opponents were limited to single-digit goals. Over 20 games on the year, Milburn totaled a team-high 42 ground balls to go along with a Denver-best 21 caused turnovers.

Milburn was my pick as DPOY as the only returning All-Big East First Team defender from last season. Sometimes these things are very easy to figure out.

Here’s the full rundown of the preseason all-conference team, with the unanimous choices marked with asterisks.

Maddie Baum, Denver, Sr., D
Julia Feiss, Denver, Sr., A*
Quintin Hoch-Bullen, Denver, So., A*
Molly Little, Denver, Jr., M
Kennedy Milburn, Denver, Sr., D*
Haelle Chomo, Georgetown, Sr., GK
Taylor Gebhardt, Georgetown, Sr., A*
Natalia Lynch, Georgetown, Jr., M*
Mollie Miller, Georgetown, So., D
Francesca Whitehurst, Georgetown, Sr., M*
Grace Gabriel, Marquette, Sr., M*
Jocelyn Miller, Marquette, So., D
Cate Soccadato, Marquette, Sr., A
Devin Hassinger, Villanova, R-Sr., M
Katie Comerford, Villanova, Jr., A*

Nine of my 12 preseason all-league team picks are in that 15 woman list. I’ll take that as a win. My misses were Old Dominion’s Kerri Caruso, Denver’s Katherine Fischer, and Denver’s Carson Gregg. Caruso was in there because I intentionally leaned over to make sure an ODU player got in for the Monarchs’ first ever season as an associate member of the league. Fischer was a bit of a blind guess as I needed to find another defender to wedge onto my squad. Gregg was an intentional choice by me to ignore Chomo as an all-Big East honoree last season while Gregg had better statistics than she did in net.

It is what it is.

Marquette opens up the 2019 season on Friday, February 8, when they host Notre Dame at Valley Fields. First draw is set for 2pm Central.