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The 2020 Marquette Women’s Lacrosse Season Preview: Three Questions

Year 8 of Division 1 lacrosse starts on Sunday, so let’s figure out what needs to be figured out.

Marquette women’s lacrosse
What’s in store for the Golden Eagles in Year 8?

QUESTION #1: How does Marquette replace Grace Gabriel?

132 points on 115 goals and 17 assists, 19 free position goals, 78 ground balls, 54 caused turnovers, and 226 draw controls.

That’s Grace Gabriel’s totals over the past two seasons. By way of Marquette qualifying for the Big East tournament in each season, these have been the two best years in program history, and Gabriel was ridiculous for MU across that two year stretch. Let me explain it this way: If you only take her junior and senior year numbers, Gabriel would rank

  • #6 all time in points
  • tied for #2 all time in goals
  • tied for #8 all time in assists
  • tied for #3 all time in free position goals
  • #10 all time in ground balls
  • #8 all time in caused turnovers
  • #2 all time in draw controls

And you can move all of those numbers up one if you want to do the “pretend that’s all Gabriel ever did” because she’s obviously higher on all of those charts than. Yes, she scored more goals than almost anyone else in program history in just two seasons, and yes, she has more draw controls than anyone else in just two seasons.

Grace Gabriel was just nutso to watch.

And now head coach Meredith Black has to figure out a way to get Marquette to their third straight Big East tournament without Gabriel. It probably won’t be easy and/or fun for her!

The cliche answer is probably the most obvious one: It’s going to take a team effort to replace what Gabriel did for Marquette. It’s unlikely that someone is going to suddenly score 20 or 30 more goals than they did last season, even with MU needing to replace Gabriel’s 59 as well as Charlotte McGuire’s 44. That’s going to be the biggest one, as it takes the most skill and talent out of everything else that Gabriel did. Ground balls, caused turnovers, and draw controls? Some of that is skill, talent, and even technique, sure, but a lot of that can get chalked up to 1) being in the right place at the right time as well as 2) pure want-to.

And that’s the big thing for Marquette this season, I think. Gabriel wasn’t just the tugboat pulling the ocean liner through the harbor, she was also Marquette’s safety net. The Golden Eagles don’t have that this season, and it’s going to take multiple women stepping up in multiple areas to prevent them from falling.

QUESTION #2 - Can the Golden Eagles play better defense than a year ago?

I don’t want to take anything away from what Marquette accomplished last season. Second straight Big East tournament appearance, first ever win over a ranked foe, closed the regular season strong to earn that conference tournament spot..... there was a lot for the Golden Eagles to be proud of in 2019.

But the fact of the matter is that Marquette finished the year underwater on goals, 251 against and 242 for. This is particularly a problem since Marquette actually outshot their opponents on the year, 564 to 553. Marquette’s offense was ripping goals in the net last year, to the tune of 13.44 per game which ranked #37 out of 116 Division 1 teams. That’s really good! 88th in the country in scoring defense..... that’s not particularly good.

It’s a fine tuning adjustment more than anything else, I think, based on MU holding a shots advantage. Opponents put more of their shots in net than Marquette did last season, even though the Golden Eagles had a higher percentage of shots on goal. First and foremost, Marquette’s goalies need to be better. The quickest and best way to improve a defense is just to make saves. Last year, the Golden Eagles fell in save percentage from the year before, going from .437 to .371, and turning that around will fix a lot of things.

It’s not just the goalies, though. Marquette’s field defense has to do Julianna Horning a favor once in a while. They can’t allow open shots, and they can’t allow transition shots. One of the hardest things to do in lacrosse is make a save on a transition shot attempt. You have to wait until the attacker makes a decision on where they want to go, and then you have to wait until they’ve fully committed to it. If you bite on a fake, half the net is now open and the opponent just casually flips the ball in for a goal. Getting a shot off needs to be something that Marquette’s opponents work to earn this season, especially as the offense figures out where and how to get goals without the help of Grace Gabriel’s gravitational well.

QUESTION #3: What is Marquette’s ceiling in Year 8 of the program?

Not the ceiling overall under head coach Meredith Black, merely the ceiling for the 2020 Golden Eagles.

To answer that question, we have to go back and look at how last season ended, which was with a record of 9-9 after a conference tournament semifinals loss. Here’s the facts of the matter: Measuring things by the RPI and the Selection Day team sheets, Marquette lost to each of the top seven teams they faced last year (although they did split with Georgetown), and eight of the top nine. All nine of those teams are back on the schedule this season. Three of them are in Marquette’s first three games, two of which are on the road. The other six, partly because three of them are in the Big East, are in Marquette’s final nine games.

Marquette wasn’t far off from some of those losses. They lost by two to #36 Villanova. They lost by four at #52 Cincinnati. They lost by 2 at #38 Ohio State. (Aside: Remember that there are only 116 Division 1 teams, so top 60 here is like being top 175 in basketball.) They also got mauled by Northwestern, Denver, Notre Dame, and High Point, all of which they’ll see again this season and all of which are probably going to be pretty good again this year.

Making the Big East tournament should be the baseline goal at this point for Marquette. I think they can do that, although it might take some work to get there if Denver, Georgetown, and Villanova are all going to be pretty good again this year. That might be the ceiling for what the Golden Eagles can accomplish this season.

Past that? Well, is the 2020 team is better than the 2019 team? Last year, the Golden Eagles finished the season as the #55 RPI team, almost perfectly right in the middle of the country. They’ve lost a lot from last year’s team, but last year’s team also struggled a lot at times. Sometimes those struggles were against very good lacrosse teams, though.

Can they take a step forward and start knocking off ranked opponents regularly like they did in last year’s regular season finale? Right now, there’s a lot of questions in the air about that. That’s the whole point of this article, y’know? The season starts on Sunday afternoon in South Bend against #7 Notre Dame, so I guess we’ll start to find out then.