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Mason Woodward Named Big East Preseason Defensive Player of the Year; Marquette Picked Third

The anchor of the Golden Eagle defense was a unanimous selection for the award, and he is joined by two teammates on the preseason all-league team.

Marquette’s Mason Woodward
Mason Woodward seemed like the obvious choice for preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and the Big East coaches agreed
Marcus Snowden/Marquette University

The Big East announced the preseason honors for men’s lacrosse on Thursday afternoon, and it was a notable day for Marquette. The big headline is fifth year defenseman Mason Woodward was the unanimous choice amongst the league’s coaches for Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. That wasn’t the only interesting MU item, as the coaches also picked Marquette to finish third in the conference, and thus in the field for the league tournament at the end the season. In addition, Woodward was joined on the preseason all-Big East team by attackers Devon Cowan and Bobby O’Grady, with Cowan and Woodward both earning recognition as unanimous selections.

Here’s how the Big East wrote up Woodward’s individual honor:

A unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team selection and USILA Third Team All-America honoree, Marquette’s Mason Woodward was unanimously selected as the BIG EAST Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. The graduate student is the program’s all-time leader in ground balls per game (4.71 per contest) and begins his 2024 campaign just six behind Marquette all-time ground ball leader Liam Byrnes (218) with 212. He ended the 2023 regular season second in NCAA Division I among close defensemen in ground balls per game (5.00). Most recently, he was named to the USA Lacrosse Preseason All-America Second Team.

Here’s what Marquette’s press release adds to the discussion on Woodward, who enters 2024 as one of the best all-around players in the country:

Woodward is MU’s first preseason defensive player of the year since Liam Byrnes shared the distinction with Denver’s Christian Burgdorf prior to the 2016 campaign. Woodward and Byrnes are the only two players from rosters outside of Denver or Georgetown to earn BIG EAST offensive of defensive player of the year since 2014, a span of 10 years. In that stretch, Denver (12), Georgetown (7) and Marquette (2) are the only schools with players recognized.

Woodward, who became the first three-time USILA All-American in program history with third team honors last spring, is the only Marquette player to be selected as team captain four times. He was a unanimous All BIG-EAST First Team selection in 2023 and led the team in caused turnovers in all four of his campaigns. He was a unanimous All-BIG EAST First Team selection last season at close defense and was named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List last February, becoming only the third MU player to earn mention on the list. Woodward was also a first team all-league pick during his first conference season in 2021 and was a second team choice in 2022.

It’s an entire deal.

Let’s shift over to the all-Big East honors for a moment. Devon Cowan and Mason Woodward both earning a unanimous nod from the Big East coaches is a little bit of Marquette history, as the Golden Eagles have never had two unanimous selections to the preseason all-league team before. Here’s what MU’s press release said about Cowan and O’Grady:

Cowan (86 career goals) and O’Grady (88 goals) form one of the most productive attack pairings in the country and are each positioned to overtake former USILA All-American Ryan McNamara (102 goals) as Marquette’s all-time scoring leaders this spring. Last season, the Golden Eagles scored a league-best 77 goals in conference play, a 15.40-goals-per-game clip against BIG EAST foes, and boasted the league’s most efficient man-up scoring and penalty killing units. MU also led the conference in shooting percentage (.383) and had a league-low 14.20 turnovers per game (tied with Georgetown).

Cowan was All-BIG EAST First Team selection last year in addition to second team honors in 2022 and first team recognition in 2021. He scored 26 goals last season and added four assists for the second 30-point season of his career (he had 29 points in 11 games in 2022).

The Mount Laurel, New Jersey native became the fourth player in Marquette history to reach 100 career points with two goals against St. John’s on April 8 and his 114 career points rank third all-time at MU behind Ryan McNamara (152) and Conor Gately (140). He also ranks third all-time at MU in goals (86), fourth in game winners and seventh in assists.

O’Grady once again led MU in scoring last year, posting 43 goals and 49 points over 14 games to place him 15th nationally in goals per game (3.07). Through just 29 games of his NCAA career, he’s second in program history in career goals (88) and the all-time leader in man-up scores (19).

The native of Milton, Massachusetts earned six BIG EAST weekly recognitions last year and is the only Marquette player to score 40 goals in a season and has done it twice – 43 this year and a program-record 45 as a true freshman.

In short: All three men are very deserving of their preseason honors from the league. In fact, the only question I have is which one of the Big East coaches not named Andrew Stimmel — coaches can’t vote for their own players — didn’t vote for Bobby O’Grady to the preseason all-conference team. It would seem to me that the best returning goal scorer in the league and the guy tied with his own teammate (Jake Stegman, for the record) for second best returning points per game mark in the conference is deserving of a preseason all-league honor, but at least one of the other five coaches disagrees with that idea.

Let’s talk about the team poll before we wrap up with the non-Marquette related portions of the awards.

Georgetown is the preseason pick to win the league, and a unanimous pick as well. The Hoyas have won five straight Big East tournament titles as well as back-to-back regular season titles, so it’s a pretty safe bet to just ride with the Hoyas until they prove that they don’t deserve the nod here. Denver was just four points behind Georgetown in the poll while picking up the stray first place vote from GU head coach Kevin Warne. That’s no surprise either, as the Pioneers have been a national power for years and years now, but they do have a new head coach after the retirement of college lacrosse legend Bill Tierney.

Marquette rolls in at #3 with 16 points, edging out fourth place Villanova with 14 points. MU missed the Big East tournament last season, so putting them at #3 in a league with a four team conference tournament is a fairly bold statement, but then again, you just read all that stuff about how great Mason Woodward, Devin Cowan, and Bobby O’Grady are, and that doesn’t even touch how much the Golden Eagles return from last season’s squad. It’s a veteran group used to playing with each other, and the Big East coaches are trusting that idea.

Providence is the team that figures to fall out of the conference tournament race this season even though they have three guys on the preseason all-conference team, including the best netminder in the Big East heading into the year. St. John’s is in last place in the poll, and with just five points, it appears that they were picked to finish last by all five coaches that could vote for the Red Storm.

Midfielder Graham Bundy was the unanimous choice for Preseason Offensive Player of the Year….. and I don’t like it. Okay, yes, I get that if Woodward is the DPOY and the Hoyas are the preseason pick to win, then their expected top scorer should maaaaaaaybe be the preseason OPOY. But Bundy’s not the top returning goal scorer in the Big East. He’s not second behind Bobby O’Grady, either. Bundy comes in tied for seventh amongst returning goal scorers, and he’s not top five if you look at points per game, either. Even the Big East’s write up on his honor is flimsy, telling you how many points he had last year and noting where he stands on Georgetown’s all-time scoring list. That’s not empirical evidence that he’s the best offensive player in the league to start the year, and it’s rude to say otherwise to both top returning goal scorer Bobby O’Grady as well as Providence’s Ryan Bell, who tied for the best points per game average last season and returns for 2024.

Can you tell that Bell was my pick and I’m salty about the coaches going “durrr, pick a Hoya” here?

Eight men, including Woodward and Cowan, were unanimous selection for the preseason all-Big East team. That’s not that surprising, as I thought it was mostly pretty easy to pick my 13 guys for the all-Big East squad. In fact, I went 11-for-13 on my picks, and it appears that labeling players and identifying positions was my biggest problem. I had Denver’s AJ Mercurio as a long stick midfielder and separate from my three picks on defense, because that’s where he was on the end of year awards last season. Thus, teammate Jack DiBenedetto gets shoved aside and with no LSM on the preseason team, I draw a strike by way of a fourth midfielder, in this case, Georgetown grad student Alex Vardaro. I feel like I can’t be faulted for not noticing the All-American grad transfer from the Ivy League on the Hoyas’ roster.

My other miss came by way of positional question as well. I had Ryan Bell as an attacker as he was listed on the end of year awards last year. The Big East called him a midfielder here, and so that means Denver’s Michael Lampert goes out and Pioneer attackman JJ Sillstrop gets in on offense. Can’t argue the point, not with Sillstrop having a better goals per game average than Graham Bundy last season.

Here’s the full All-Big East team list to get us out of here. The asterisks are for the unanimous picks.

Preseason All-Big East Team

AJ Mercurio, Denver, D *
JJ Sillstrop, Denver, A
Alec Stathakis, Denver, FOS *
Graham Bundy Jr., Georgetown, M *
Dylan Hess, Georgetown, SSD
Alex Vardaro, Georgetown, M *
Devon Cowan, Marquette, A *
Bobby O’Grady, Marquette, A
Mason Woodward, Marquette, D *
Ryan Bell, Providence, M
Michael Chabra, Providence, M
James Corasaniti, Providence, GK *
Reid Colwell, Villanova, D *