I don’t want to be mean to the opponent that will be lining up across from Marquette on Saturday afternoon in the Valley, but 1) The Golden Eagles should be favored to win this game and 2) The Golden Eagles need to win this game.
Things get a wee bit more difficult in the ol’ schedule once Saturday afternoon’s contest wraps up. The next two games are against teams that are earning votes in the most recent Inside Lacrosse top 20 poll. The next two games after that are the first two contests in Big East play, and both of those teams are actually ranked in the most recent Inside Lacrosse top 20. From there, MU has five games remaining on the schedule: Three more Big East contests, with one against the current #8 team in the country, and two non-conference games, both away from home and both against teams currently ranked in the top 10.
Like I said, wee bit more difficult.
So, to a certain extent, it’s a good thing that Marquette gets to play a team in their third year of Division 1 competition here. It should — key word: should — be a chance for Marquette to wash away any remaining sensation of how the past two Saturdays have gone for them. It’s clear from head coach Joe Amplo’s postgame reactions that he was much more pleased with the effort against #9 Ohio State in a 13-9 loss than he was regarding the 15-12 home loss to Detroit Mercy the week before. That makes all the sense in the world even just at face value. The Golden Eagles were within shouting distance of the Buckeyes for all 60 minutes down in Dallas last Saturday, while they were down 13-4 at one point against the Titans.
It’s probably not going to be easy, and we’ll talk about the threat that the Vikings present in a moment. But these things aren’t supposed to be easy, either. Amplo is trying to get this program aimed at the NCAA tournament after missing out a year ago, and this is a game perfectly set up to get Marquette back on that track.
Saturday’s game should be an interesting day in terms of what happens in the MU net. Gabe Stein got his first ever start for Marquette last Saturday, but he was lifted at halftime for John Hulsman. Hulsman had started MU’s first three games of the season, but was clearly not getting the job done against Detroit Mercy when Amplo pulled him in favor of Stein. We may see the two guys splitting time going forward, or perhaps someone ends up wresting away full control of the starting goalie job. As long as it turns into wins for Marquette, there is no wrong answer.
Game #5: vs Cleveland State Vikings (2-4)
This will be the first ever official meeting between Marquette and Cleveland State, although the two teams did play a preseason exhibition last year in Ohio.
While the record does not look very great for the Vikings at this point in the season, you can’t fault them for scheduling up the way that they have. Amongst their losses so far this season: 12-9 to then-#15 Ohio State, 10-8 to then #20 Michigan, and 16-8 to then-#8 Denver. The Michigan game was particularly interesting, as CSU rallied from down 7-0 with six straight goals of their own and made it a 9-8 game with 7:15 to go as well. Even the Denver game was only a one goal game at the half. In short: they might not have the horses to pull off these wins, but Cleveland State is clearly not afraid of wading into tough situations and giving it their best shot.
They come in after a 12-8 road win against Mercer, and this one will be their fourth straight game away from home as part of a six game stretch. Cleveland State is still playing as an independent in the world of college lacrosse, so they do find themselves in the position of fitting in games how and when their potential opponents can fit them in. That’s how you end up with six straight games away from home sometimes.
Through six games, CSU already has a trio of guys with at least 10 points on the board. Michael Wilson leads the way with 19 (8G, 11A) to earn the title of the Vikings’ most dangerous offensive player. Tristan Hanna is their most dangerous shooter with a team high 13 goals to pair with four helpers. Jason Sullivan will also need an eye on him at all times with a goal per game average and four assists, too.
Danny Tesler will probably give Marquette fits on face-offs. He’s winning 63% of his draws this season, and nearly half of those are coming as balls that he pulls up himself. He has 82 wins and 35 ground balls. MU has only won 45% of their face-offs this season and last time out, Ohio State won nearly 70% of the draws in the game.
Caleb Espinoza has been the starter in net in all six matches this season, but he has only finished one game. He got lifted late when CSU had a big lead on Bellarmine and lifted early after falling behind 6-3 in the first 19 minutes against Air Force. The rest of the time he left at halftime to make way for Stephen Russo. Espinoza’s lone 60 minute performance came against Mercer in their most recent game, so I would presume that he’ll be in net against Marquette. His goals-against average of 10.09 is pretty reasonable, but he’s only stopping 45.7% of shots on goal. If MU gets a crack at Russo, his stats (11.93 GAA, 48% SV%) are roughly similar to Espinoza.