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Marquette Men’s Lacrosse Preview: vs #10 Denver Pioneers

First game of the season, first game of the Big East schedule, eighth game of the Stimmel Era.

2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship - Semifinals Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

I have no idea what to expect from Marquette men’s lacrosse this season.

From a certain point of view, this year’s 11 scheduled games are just the continuation of Andrew Stimmel’s first year as head coach. His official first year was the 2020 season which was shut down after seven games. Combine the two, and that’s 18 games. In the two years where Marquette made the NCAA tournament, they played 16 games. Sprinkle in the fact that this year is looking to be almost entirely just Big East games and MU didn’t get to play a Big East opponent in 2020, and that just drives the idea home.

This idea of “Year 1, continued” just keeps stacking up when you realize that Marquette returns all of their top 10 scorers from 2020 and all but one guy who even scored a point. 17 of the top 18 ground ball guys return. 19 of 20 guys who recorded a caused turnover at all are back. With the exception of talented two-way midfielder Luke Anderson, this is the same team that Stimmel had last year..... except they’ve had a whole year to get better than they were when we last saw them...... except the pandemic has prevented that “we had a full year of practices” thing from actually taking full effect.

So, is this this the scrappy team that was in close games up and down the seven game schedule a year ago? Was that team rounding into form — the top three scorers were all freshmen — as they came together and figured out how Stimmel wanted them to play? Does a deeper understanding of the team structure under Stimmel and his coaching staff help Marquette get out of the gate quickly? How will the team respond to Stimmel removing a player from the roster for abhorrent racist behavior this week? How will the Golden Eagles react to playing a ranked opponent for the first time under Stimmel’s direction?

Yeah, there’s a lot of questions. We’re not going to get answers to all of them on Saturday afternoon in just 60 minutes of lacrosse. One step at a time, though, so let’s jump into the year and see what we get.

Big East Game #1: vs #10 Denver Pioneers (2-2)

Date: Saturday, February 20, 2021
Time: 11am Central
Location: Andy Glockner Memorial Bubble, Valley Fields, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Streaming: GoMarquette.com, with Jack Lewandowski, Jackson Gross and Aimee Galaszewski on the call.
Live Stats: Sidearm Stats
Twitter Updates: @MarquetteMLax

Marquette is 2-8 all time against Denver. In a weird set of circumstances, MU is 2-1 against the Pioneers in the Big East tournament and 0-7 against Denver in regular season contests. The shortened 2020 season was the first time in program history where Marquette did not play Denver at all during the season.

Lacrosse is a delightfully weird sport in terms of organization from the NCAA level down, perhaps largely due to the fact that there are only 74 Division 1 teams. Anyway, combine that with Marquette’s canceled game against Cleveland State last weekend, and that’s how you get the Golden Eagles opening their season on Saturday while it will be the fifth game of the year for Denver.

It’s been a real mixed bag of results for the Pioneers. They squeaked out a 9-8 win over Utah in their opener after holding a 9-6 lead with three minutes to play. Then they went out to North Carolina for a pair of games where they got outscored 8-2 in the second half in a 12-10 loss to then-#1 Duke and then got blown off the field by then-#4 North Carolina 24-13. Between the second half of the Duke game and the first half of the UNC game, Denver got walloped 22-5 for 60 minutes of lacrosse. That’s a big ol’ yikes, even if they were playing two top five teams. In their most recent game, they ran out to a 10-2 lead on the road against Air Force in the first 33 minutes and then wandered around for a while to win 15-6.

Is Denver good? I have no idea! They didn’t look great against Utah, but they put together 60 minutes against Duke and North Carolina where they outscored those guys 18-10, but they also gave up that 22-5 full game’s worth of action against them. They handled Air Force relatively easily, but that’s just what a ranked team is supposed to do, so that doesn’t tell us much.

It’s been just four games, but Denver already has three double digit point guys in Ethan Walker, Jackson Morrill, and Jack Hannah. Walker is the leading goal and point man with 12 markers propelling him to a team high 16 points. Morrill’s six assists lead the team and get him to #2 in points at 14. Hannah is just chugging along at two goals and an assist per game at 12 points. Generally speaking, this is slightly unfair because Jackson Morrill is supposed to be at Yale and not torturing Big East teams, but between the Ivy League’s weird “no graduate students” thing and the Ivy not even playing at all this spring now, Morrill looked elsewhere for his extra year of eligibility and now he’s just helping to power the Pios’ offense up even further than you might normally expect.

Marquette might be in a bit of trouble on face offs. Since this is the first game of the year for MU, the Golden Eagles haven’t gotten a chance to run draws with the new rule changes on a live whistle that counts yet this season. Denver, on the other hand, has Alec Stathakis winning nearly 62% of his faceoffs. I’m just going to go ahead and presume that Stathakis has this whole new face offs thing figured out pretty good right now, and that could be a huge pain for MU all day long.

It looks like Jack Thompson will be the netminder at the opening whistle for Denver. He has started all four games so far and is giving up just 9.40 goals per 60 minutes. He’s stopping precisely 50% of shots on goal, and this is actually pretty impressive given how badly North Carolina swamped the Pios out of the gate. Then again, Thompson only played four minutes in that game, allowing four goals and stopping none before getting yanked. Yeah, that’ll help protect your numbers. Thompson played all of the Utah and Duke games and nearly all of the Air Force game, so he’ll likely be the guy all afternoon in the Valley.