QUESTION #1: Who’s minding the net for Marquette?
We start with the fact that there are just two goalies on the roster this season: Sophomore Brynna Nixon and freshman Ava Sprinkel. Nixon played in nine games last season, logging over 250 minutes all in relief of starting goalie Amanda Rumsey. She had a much better goals-against average than Rumsey and that was a GAA that only has only been bettered in five of the 15 seasons with 250+ minutes in MU history. That sounds awfully good.... but we can’t ignore the fact that Nixon had a worse save percentage than Rumsey. Not by much, .346 to .356, but lower is lower, and that means a higher percentage of goals going past her.
That sounds an awful lot like Nixon’s goals-against average is more a product of what opposing offenses were doing once head coach Meredith Black pulled the trigger on the switch... and if you’re switching goalies, you’re probably down more than a couple of goals, y’know? That lends believability to the idea that Nixon could get beat out by Sprinkel for the starting job, and that’s something that Black did not shoot down when speaking with the Marquette Wire for a preseason interview.
It’s going to be at least one of those two, maybe both of them in some kind of timeshare, maybe one and then the other as the season goes along. What we know for certain is that Marquette needs an improvement from the goalkeeper position over last season because MU needs an improvement overall on defense from what we saw a year ago, and that leads us to our next item....
QUESTION #2: How much defensive improvement do we need to see from Marquette?
The first thing we need to identify is exactly how much of a problem this was for Marquette last season. Sure, getting outscored 270 to 258 on the year tells you that the defense needs to be better, especially when you had one of the best offensive seasons in program history, both as a team and as far as individual play goes.
But this is lacrosse, and because of the existence of draw controls, it’s not an even game. You can have more possessions than the other team just by scoring and then winning the ensuing draw control to go score again. Calculating possessions is simple, and thanks to Great Lax State here:
Draw controls + clearance attempts + failed opponent clearances = total possessions
Simple, right? Just adding up the circumstances where you gain possession.
That gives us a chance to figure out Marquette’s goals scored and goals allowed per possession from last season, and that should start bringing things into focus.
Last year, Marquette scored 258 goals on 711 possessions, a rate of 0.362 goals per possession.
Last year, Marquette allowed 270 goals on just 696 possessions, a rate of 0.388 goals per possession.
If you prefer, that’s 36.2 goals per 100 possessions for and 38.8 goals per 100 possessions against.
We can take the numbers out, too: Marquette got outscored even though they had more offensive possessions across the entire season. That’s not good! What’s the fun of having more possessions than the other team if you’re not using that advantage to limit the number of goals that the other team is scoring?
To answer the question of how much of an improvement to we need to see? Marquette averaged 38.7 defensive possessions per game last season. With that in mind, and MU giving up 2.6 goals per 100 possessions more than they scored? Maybe two goals per game on average. Maybe less, if the Marquette offense can find a little bit more efficiency on their end....
QUESTION #3: Can Mary Schumar, Shea Garcia, and Lydia Foust break some offensive records?
.... and that brings us to the offensive season that we saw from the Golden Eagles in 2022. Mary Schumar finished the year tied with Grace Gabriel and Riley Hill for the most points in a single Marquette season.... but let’s not forget that Shea Garcia was just four points behind her with 63 last spring.... or that Lydia Foust finished the year with 58 points after missing two games and coming off the bench in a third. Garcia (45 & 18) and Foust (40 & 18) got to their numbers by mixing goals and assists together pretty well, while Schumar was a walking passing drill, tying Cate Soccodato for the most assists in a single season with 43.
One more point would have gotten Schumar that record, one more assist would have gotten her both records. Garcia wasn’t that far away from getting the points record herself, and her 45 goals last season ended up as the fourth most in a season in program history. Foust averaged 3.6 points per game last season, and if she had gotten another seven with the two contests that she missed? That could have had her right in between Schumar and Garcia with 65.
It could be a situation where a rising tide floats all boats, and all three of them end up working in sync to help get each other further and further up that scoring chart. The flip side of that is we don’t know how much those three needed to score last season because Marquette lost Hannah Greving and Leigh Steiner so early in the year. Were the point totals elevated because the goals had to come from somewhere and it was those three? Does returning Greving and Steiner to the lineup mean MU’s goals get spread out a little more now.... or does it mean that Marquette’s offense never hit its true potential last year and two more scoring threats means that the Golden Eagles can put up even bigger numbers in 2023?