QUESTION #1: Who’s going to score for this team, or perhaps more importantly, will the specific players matter?
Looking at the 2019 campaign, Marquette men’s lacrosse is losing 57.6% of their goals scored and 60% of their assists. Gone are Marquette’s top three scorers in John Wagner (21 goals, 18 assists), Tanner Thomson (26/12), and Andrew Romagnoli (22/5). Peter Henkhaus is MU’s leading returning scorer from both a points (21) and goals (17) perspective, while Connor McClelland’s seven assists are tops amongst returning guys in that column.
In short, Marquette has very little returning in terms of guys who were expected to carry a significant load last season, and having two midfielders as your top two returning attackers is probably not very good. There’s going to be a lot of opportunities for a lot of people — Ryan Fazio! Devon Cowan! — to put the ball in the net this year. It’s entirely possible, given that Marquette has a new head coach and new offensive coordinator, that we will see returning names bubble up from seemingly nowhere to start chucking in goals this year.
It’s not just the new opportunities presented by having new faces and new minds making the decisions that may be potentially helpful for Marquette this year. Let me explain it this way. Last year, new MU head coach Andrew Stimmel was the offensive coordinator at Yale. The Bulldogs averaged 15.6 goals per game, a looooooong way away from the 10.8 that Marquette put on the board. Yale had four guys total more than the 39 points that John Wagner had for Marquette, led by 94 from Jackson Morrill. Because you’re doing the math in your head right now: Morrill had more assists (48) in 2019 than anyone on Marquette’s roster had points. New MU offensive coordinator Peet Poillon was the offensive coordinator at Hobart last season. The Statesmen averaged 13.9 goals per game, and were led by 67 points (45 goals, 22 assists) from Eric Holden. Just like Yale, Hobart had four men tally more points than anyone on Marquette’s roster in 2019. To put a hat on it: Marquette’s record for points in a season is 57, and the Golden Eagles have only seen three seasons north of 40 points in all seven years of Division 1 lacrosse in Milwaukee.
It’s entirely possible — and I’m crossing my fingers for this — that the “who” question mark on the offensive end isn’t that important. If we’re lucky enough, Stimmel and Poillon are going to be driving an offensive style that generates goals in bunches. When the volume comes crashing through the living room window, the specifics of which stick the goal actually came from isn’t that important any more.
QUESTION #2: How fast will the defense figure out how to play together in front of goalie John Hulsman?
It’s important to remember that even while Marquette finished the 2019 season under. 500 at 6-8, Noah Richard was still named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Allowing 11.57 goals per game wasn’t that much of a problem for the Golden Eagles, it was the fact that they were underwater in terms of their scoring. Marquette allowed just 10 man-up goals all season, and finished with a penalty kill rate of 79%. This was a pretty reasonably solid to good defensive team that had the best defensive player in the entire league.
And now there’s almost nothing left.
Richard, a long stick midfielder, was a senior last season, along with close defenders Jackson Ehlert and Brendan Connolly. Nick Grill was a junior last year, but with Joe Amplo heading to the Naval Academy, Grill followed him out east to Maryland for his senior season. Eight of Marquette’s top nine ground ball getters are gone now, leaving short stick midfielder Luke Anderson (28 GBs) as the top returner. Anderson is tops in caused turnovers as well, but he had just seven a year ago.
There’s very little in terms of Division 1 experience in the close defense corps heading into the 2020 season, although Moey Lardy and Anthony Courcelle are experienced and active LSMs. To put it plainly: Guys are going to have to step up in a big way all over the field. If Stimmel wants to play a high tempo game driven by transition play, that’s going to require, y’know, transition plays made by the defense. Right now, jobs are open all over the place.
The good news is that the coaching staff has names in mind. According to the season preview from the Marquette Wire, freshman Mason Woodward is apparently getting the nod to run the show on defense right out of the gate. Zach Granger and PJ Cox are the guys who will likely start the year playing defense next to Woodward. Redshirt freshman James Amorosana looks to slide into Richard’s spot at LSM. Jordan Schmid and Max Kruszeski are the names to watch in terms of short stick defensive middies, and Anderson himself likes what he sees from Jacob Hallam and Logan Kreinz.
That’s good. The question is how fast will these guys start playing together as a cohesive group? Playing defense in lacrosse sometimes isn’t about how good or athletic each individual guy is, but instead about how the group plays together as a unit to cover up passing lanes and shooting alleys. These guys haven’t played together in live game action all that much, so they’re going to need to figure it out in a hurry. With Jake Richard staying on as defensive coordinator and Stimmel having previously coached Richard at Marquette as MU’s defensive coordinator, the coherence of the coaching direction on defense should mostly stay the same. The familiarity with the language being used for what the team is being asked to do should help as well, particularly with the upperclassmen being asked to step up.
QUESTION #3: What counts as a success for this team this year?
Hooooooboy, that’s the big one.
I think the guys over at College Crosse pegged it right for Marquette on their Big East preview podcast: This is a Year Zero for Stimmel. He’s taken over a program that’s experienced waaaaaaaay more success than anyone had possibly imagined through its first seven years, but for him in his first campaign in charge, it’s unlikely that anything super will happen. It’s going to be a year where young players, specifically freshmen, are going to be asked to make big play after big play after big play if Marquette’s going to end up high fiving at the final horn, and that’s a lot to ask from a team.
To make matters worse, or at the very least tougher, Marquette’s last nine games shape up to be an absolute hell walk. Seven of their final nine opponents are earning votes in the preseason Inside Lacrosse poll, and the two that aren’t are both Big East foes. Three of their final four games come against teams that are starting the season in the IL top 10, and Marquette has never beaten any of those three teams in the regular season.
It’s a lot, particularly when getting into the four-team Big East tournament probably means beating a team that’s earning preseason top 20 votes and taking both of the two games against the other BE teams that aren’t earning those votes. With 14 games scheduled for Marquette this season, half against teams starting the year with IL votes and half against teams that aren’t, I think we have to say that finishing at .500 is a pretty great start to Andrew Stimmel’s time at the tiller. If he figures out a way to squeeze Marquette into that fourth and final Big East tournament berth, even better. I think anything above and beyond that is gravy for the Golden Eagles in 2020.