Can you believe that the start to the Marquette men’s lacrosse season is just TWO DAYS AWAY?
We’ve already talked about the guys returning to Marquette’s roster from last season as well as trying to figure out how the new guys fit in around the established parts of the roster. Today we’re going to talk about three big questions, I presume the three biggest questions, facing the Golden Eagles in the 2022 season.
QUESTION #1 — Can Marquette live up to Mason Woodward’s expectations for the season?
We turn to the official Marquette athletics preview for the MU defensive unit for the context of what we’re talking about here:
“Our expectation is to win the BIG EAST tournament, make it to the NCAAs and win there,” defenseman Mason Woodward said. “My biggest goal is to have the best defense in the BIG EAST, if not the country. We’ve worked really hard in the fall and especially this winter. We’ve set the expectations high.”
So, that’s a lot. Historically speaking, no, it’s not really a lot, as Marquette has two Big East tournament titles in their eight years competing in the conference. That’s actually pretty impressive, and it only takes 1) qualifying by finishing in the top four and 2) winning two games to secure that trophy. Once you h ave it, you’re automatically in the NCAA tournament, so that’s actually the easiest part of what Woodward said. Marquette is 0-2 in their two NCAA tournament games in program history, so we have to acknowledge that Woodward is calling for this year’s team to be historically great from that perspective.
Is it possible? I’m not going to stand here and tell you or Marquette’s All-American caliber defenseman that it’s not possible. It would definitely be a bit of a surprise, given that Marquette is coming off the worst season in terms of wins in program history, and the Golden Eagles are losing a metric ton of their scoring from last year, including the entirety of their top offensive midfield line. There’s also a major question to be answered about the defense, which will actually use as one of the other two questions in a minute here.
It’s going to take some big time plays, game in and game out, from a lot of guys on the roster, some of whom are being asked to play a much bigger role than they’ve ever played before. Can it be done? I don’t know for certain but I’ll be happy to jump up and down to celebrate it if the guys can pull it off.
QUESTION #2 — Who’s going to play goalie for Marquette?
We talked about this a little bit when looking at MU’s newcomers this season. Max Christides played 10 games across two seasons for UMass Lowell with seven starts a year ago. That makes him the only goalie in a Golden Eagles uniform with live Division 1 game experience, so you’d think that makes him the obvious pick to start Game #1 or at the very least give him the inside track to that.
It’s going to be up to the coaching staff to decide whether or not Christides is the best pick game after game. Michael Allieri and Jamie Grant are both on the roster as well this season after spending the 2021 campaign on the sidelines for the Golden Eagles. I think it’s a safe bet that head coach Andrew Stimmel and his staff went out of their way to bring in a goalie as a transfer because they knew they needed a third option on the roster if nothing else. There’s also a reasonable train of thought that brings you to the idea that Stimmel knew he needed a better option than Allieri or Grant in the cage.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marquette mix it up in net in the first few games of the season. Circling back to Mason Woodward’s goal of being able to beat some combination of probably Denver, Georgetown, and Villanova twice in three days, Marquette has three games on their schedule before they face a team that was earning preseason poll votes. If the Golden Eagles are taking care of business in those three, I could see Stimmel opting to throw all three goalies out there to make sure his scouting reports from preseason training are correct. If one of the three goalies just has a better flow with Woodward, Zach Granger, and David Lamarca as his three close defenders, then it just makes sense to go with that guy long term.
QUESTION #3 — What will a full normal regular season look and feel like for head coach Andrew Stimmel?
Andrew Stimmel was announced as the second head coach in Marquette men’s lacrosse history on June 14th, 2019. In his first season in charge, Marquette went 3-4 with two one-goal victories, two one-goal losses, and two two-goal losses. Seven games is, of course, not a normal lacrosse schedule, as after Marquette played at Michigan on March 11, 2020, the season was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Season #2 began on February 20, 2021, and with the pandemic still going and vaccines still in the early days of a rollout. Marquette played an altered schedule, going with 10 league games, home and home against everyone else in the Big East and just two non-conference games. The Golden Eagles went 4-8, largely because they had to play six games against teams that started off the year in the Inside Lacrosse top 20 all while going through the mental stress of the pandemic and the protocols that were required.
In short: Stimmel has yet to coach a full season under what we can comfortably call traditional circumstances. We don’t know how far he could have taken Team #1 given how feisty they showed themselves to be through seven games. We don’t know what could have happened with Team #2 if they had been given a chance to ramp up into the season even slightly instead of opening the campaign with five of their first eight games against teams that were ranked at the time or six of the first eight against teams ranked in the preseason poll. I mean, come on, they had a lead on #10 Georgetown at the start of the fourth quarter in their eighth game of the year, and that dropped them to 1-7 on the season.... and they still finished 4-8!
This spring should be a normal one, or as close to normal as Stimmel has ever seen as MU’s head coach. 14 regular season games, nine non-conference, five in Big East play, no league games until April, no games against a team earning preseason top 20 votes until Game #3 of the year. Business as usual, but just not as it’s gone for Stimmel at Marquette. How much of what he’s been through already as MU’s head coach will help shape his direction with this year’s team? How much of the experience that all of the returning guys have been through together with the coaching staff help guide the program through a 14 game campaign for the first time since 2019? I could keep coming up with rhetorical questions to drive this point home, but you get the idea here.