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The 2019 Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Preview: The Returning Players

What will it take for the Golden Eagles to bounce back from last year’s sub-.500 record?

Tanner Thomson
Tanner Thomson returns to the Marquette lineup not just as an experienced player, but also from an injury that kept him out last year.
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We’re winding our way towards Saturday’s 2019 debut for Marquette men’s lacrosse, so it’s probably about time that we officially kick off our season preview. As is tradition around these parts, we’ll break this down into looks at the guys who are coming back from last season, the newcomers to the roster (not just freshmen, we’ve got transfers, too), and then a few questions about the season as a whole.

Let’s briefly address Marquette’s losses from the 2018 roster before diving in to who is coming back. Jordan McKenzie was a reliable long stick midfielder last season, while Colin Riehl and Teddy Goltzman were cogs in the rotation as midfielders. Owen Weselak helped provide depth on face-offs, but the big pieces that are missing are Zachary Melillo and Cole Blazer. Melillo is easily the best face-off man in Marquette’s still young history, and the same can be said for Blazer when it comes to MU’s goalkeepers. Those are two key spots on the roster that Marquette is going to have to figure out how to replace what amounts to program legends, and that’s not going to be the easiest thing in the world. Thankfully, the roster is loaded up literally everywhere else with veteran faces, so the transition at face-off and in net should be relatively simple and pain-free.

Onwards, then.....

ATTACKERS

Well, we have to start this section with John Wagner. The Golden Eagles had six wins last season, and Wagner put up five game winning goals. All five of them were in the final seconds of regulation or in overtime. He is, officially, ridiculous. Wagner, a unanimous choice for the preseason all-Big East team this year, led the team last year with 30 goals and 39 points, and his nine helpers were tied for second best on the team. 15 of his goals came in Big East matches and led the conference. In a year where the lineup was in near constant flux, Wagner was a tried and true steadying influence. And now he’s back for more.

Wagner has a couple of guys who will be looking to make major impacts on the attacking end. Griffin Fleming threw together a heck of a redshirt freshman campaign last year with 10 goals and tying Wagner for second on the team in assists with nine. His 14 ground balls are nothing to sneeze at, either. Andrew Orsini had a nice freshman year, putting up 23 points on 16 goals and seven assists in only 10 games. The official GoMarquette.com season preview indicates that Orsini is on the outside looking in when it comes to a starting job, but with his size and power, the coaching staff has to find ways to give him shots, particularly with the new constant shot clock this season. That might require a move to the midfield, but we’ll see how things shake out.

Ryan Fazio’s sophomore season showed that the California native is capable of making a contribution. He had six goals and five assists in 13 appearances, and he made the most of his shots, putting up only 17 in the course of the season. Keaton Thomson was expected to provide some pop in the lineup a year ago, but injuries limited him to just six appearances and just a goal and an assist.

Colin O’Donnell and Dylan Dobrosky are both in their third seasons in Milwaukee as a redshirt sophomore and a junior respectively. They both only saw action in two games last season, so for the time being at least, they’ll be providing depth on the roster. Brendan Alt and Garrett Moya were both on the roster a year ago, but neither man saw the field, with Moya sitting out due to injury. Moya scored 244 points in his prep career, so you’d like to think that he could find a way to make that kind of talent available to head coach Joe Amplo.

MIDFIELDERS

Hooooooooooooboy do we have a lot of guys to get through here.

Let’s start with Tanner Thomson, who is still listed on the roster as a midfielder. According to the official team preview, he’s being moved up to attack in order to keep his stick on the field as much as possible. Joe Amplo has a tradition of moving a high scoring midfielder to attack (shouts to Ryan McNamara), so this isn’t surprising. Thomson missed all of the 2018 season after suffering an injury in fall ball that just wasn’t quite healed enough to let him make a worthwhile contribution in the spring, so he’s back for his senior season now. He had 20 goals and 14 assists out of the midfield in 2017, and I’d wager that we’ll see all of those numbers go up this year.

The big names to know in the midfield are Jack Zerillo, Conor McClelland, Nick Singleton, and Luke Anderson. Those four gents played in all of Marquette’s 14 games a year ago, which is not a very common thing. Zerillo was the most productive overall in terms of points with 21 last year (11G, 10A), but it’s McClelland that found the net the most with 14 goals. Anderson put up four points (3G, 1A) last season, but it’s his 18 ground balls and three caused turnovers that will get him playing time again this year. Singleton didn’t score at all, but his defensive work with eight ground balls and five caused turnovers are more than enough to keep him in the rotation.

Beyond that quartet is even more depth as there’s a pile of dudes that saw action in at least half of MU’s contests last year. Peter Henkhaus found his way into the starting lineup late last season and tallied seven goals and two assists, so lord knows what he can do if given an extended shot. Bob Pelton is a Marquette lacrosse legend for opting for the Curb Your Enthusiasm theme as his goal music, so hopefully he can pop in a few more this season. Matt Del Duca, Tommy von den Benken, Colin Strange, and Luke Vassos all saw regular action as the year progressed, even if they didn’t make major impacts on the stat sheets. Even Jacob Hallam and Anthony Courcelle chipped in here and there last season with five appearances each, so they could find their way into bigger roles this season as a result of their experience.

Aaron Joseph, Jordan Schmid, and Jace Whelan all redshirted for their freshman campaigns at Marquette for one reason or another, so perhaps they’ll all find a niche to contribute in this year. Connor Campbell is a junior who has yet to see the field for Amplo, and Mikey Zadroga is back for his redshirt senior season after missing all of the last two seasons due to injuries. He played in five games waaaaaay back in his freshman season, which is a pretty solid amount for a new guy, but he’s never gotten a chance to mix it up in live action since then. It’d be one hell of a story to see him make a dent in the rotation this year and help Marquette get back to their winning ways.

Like I said, there’s a lot of dudes here. There’s also a lot of roles for guys on the team in the midfield, so we’ll see how all of this shakes out.

LONG STICK MIDFIELDERS

Noah Joseph was a unanimous selection for the preseason all-Big East team as the best LSM in the entire conference heading into the season, and that’s a pretty big deal. His 48 ground balls a year ago were tied for the team lead with face-off specialist Zachary Melillo, and you have to remember that Joseph still missed three games along the way. He also contributed 11 caused turnovers, and still found time for a goal and two assists. Pole goals and pole points in general are awesome and should be celebrated more.

There’s not a lot of experienced depth next to Joseph, so that’s slightly worrying. Zach Granger saw action in five games last season, tallying four ground balls along the way, and Moey Lardy made one appearance. Both of those guys are officially sophomores on the roster, while Elliott Yacu didn’t see action last year and thus will be a redshirt freshman in 2019. Odds are that Marquette will need at least one of these dudes to step up along the way at some point this season.

FACE-OFFS

We’ve only got one face-off man coming back from last season, and that’s Jared Hershman. He got on the field in four games last season as a sophomore after making five appearances as a freshman. Hershman went 21-for-45 on draws for a success rate of 47%. That’s not too bad given the limited duty. With the departure of Zachary Melillo, Hershman is the incumbent FOS, but with two freshmen on the roster, it remains to be seen if he ends up holding onto the spot. He did get a bit of international experience over the summer, as Hershman was the face-off man for Puerto Rico in the 2018 FIL World Championships. He went 89-for-132 in the event, winning 67% of his draws. That’s a good sign of what he can do, although I suspect that it’s unlikely to expect him to recreate that in a collegiate season.

DEFENDERS

Nick Grill is going to be the headline act amongst the guys in this group because of his preseason all-Big East honors, but we have to rightfully point out that 1) he’s not alone out there, 2) Marquette returns all three close defenders from last season, and 3) Grill’s partners are pretty great in their own right. Grill, who had 23 ground balls and five caused turnovers a year ago, will be joined out there again by Jackson Ehlert and Brendan Connolly. Ehlert, much like Grill, has been an immediate starter since arriving on campus, and Connolly has gone from regular contributor at long stick midfielder to defensive starter in his three years with the Golden Eagles. Ehlert had 13 ground balls and eight caused turnovers, while Connolly had 22 ground balls and a team high 17 caused turnovers.

Those three guys are going to carry the lion’s share of the time on the defensive end, and that was the case last year where they only missed one collective game. As such, it’s not that big of a deal Marquette’s depth behind them is kind of inexperienced. Well, at least it’s not a big of a deal as long as Grill, Ehlert, and Connolly keep running out there every single weekend. P.J. Cox is the guy on the bench who brings in the most experience from last year, seeing playing time in five games after appearing in three games as a freshman the year before. Cole Froemming has appeared in four games in his two seasons in Milwaukee, as has Ben Allen. Alex Malitas and Kyle Koch were both freshmen last year, so it’s not that big of a deal that they only played in one game each. If things go according to plan this year, none of this group of dudes is going to have to do any heavy lifting for Marquette in 2019. 2020, when Connolly and Ehlert have moved on? That’s a different story, but we’ll cross that bridge when we have to.

GOALIES

Head coach Joe Amplo has a pair of goalies returning from last season, although neither man is what you would call experienced. Chris Rolfing has the most tenure with the Marquette team after playing 14 minutes in three appearances in his first two seasons. Gabe Stein is a sophomore who saw less than seven minutes of playing time in two games last year. Like I said, not exactly game tested at the collegiate level. We’ll get into it more in the newcomers article, but it would definitely seem that Rolfing and Stein are not destined to be the heirs to Cole Blazer’s net. Still, this guest article on GoMarquette.com does throw a big ol’ question mark on the entire corps, so we’ll see who gets their name called in the starting lineups against Bellarmine on Saturday.