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The 2024 Marquette Women’s Lacrosse Season Preview: The Returning Players

The Golden Eagles lose an number of notable names from 2023, the best season in program history, but they bring back a solid spine for 2024.

Marquette’s Tess Osburn
Tess Osburn has a chance to make a huge impact for Marquette in 2024.
Marquette University

HEY.

We’re nine days away from the start of the 2024 Marquette women’s lacrosse season! We should probably do something about that, right?

Let’s fire up the season preview engine, shall we? We’re going to take a look at what head coach Meredith Black has amongst the players returning from the 2023 squad that became the first Marquette team to ever 1) earn a national poll ranking and 2) qualify for the NCAA tournament. While the Golden Eagles are losing a number of players from that roster, there’s more than enough women coming back from the highest achieving team in program history to make an impact in 2024.

We’ll start with the attackers up top. From there, we’ll work backwards to Marquette’s net on the field and take stock of what the Golden Eagles can rely on this year, and what they are going to have to cross their fingers and hope that they get some new development from along the way.

Enough preambling, we’ve got 2,000 words of roster breakdown to get to! Let’s go!

ATTACK

There’s no way to get around this: Marquette has to find a way to replace the top two point scorers in program history AND the top passer in program history. Shea Garcia and Lydia Foust finished the 2023 at #1 and #2 all time in points in program history, in fact, they are the only two women to ever record 200 points in a career. Mary Schumar tallied up 115 assists in her time at Marquette, becoming the all new record holder in that department as well as just the second player to ever hit 100 career assists.

It’s a lot.

But Marquette is not without offensive options. Meg Bireley is MU’s top returning scorer from last season after finishing third on the team in goals with 44 and second on the team in assists with 21. More is going to be asked of her this season, and with 21 assists as a sophomore last year, it’s at least worth wondering if Bireley steps over into Mary Schumar’s role as the distributor on the field. Or maybe head coach Meredith Black reorganizes her offense around the pieces that she has to work with. After all, Bireley is listed as attack/midfield on the roster officially. We’ll see.

Bireley is the only returning attacker to start all 19 games last season, but she’s not the only one to play in all 19. Tess Osburn exploded onto the scene as a freshman last year with 34 goals and seven assists. She’ll get more opportunities merely by moving up the depth chart to a starting spot this season, so watch out for big numbers from her. Hannah Greving returns for her bonus season of eligibility this spring, although I suppose there’s a chance that the NCAA gives her a medical redshirt on 2022 after she blew her knee out two games into the year. In any case, she nearly tied her career high in goals last year, putting 20 into the net, and her 6-foot frame helped her hit a career best in assists with nine. With another year between her and the knee injury, she’s probably in better shape than she was at this time last season, and perhaps primed for a stellar super senior season.

Behind that trio? Things are a little bleak in terms of known quantities. Campbell Brown has appeared in 11 games across her first two seasons in Milwaukee, getting her first career goal against Detroit Mercy last season. Elle Wagner actually played in one less game as a sophomore last year than she did as a freshman (4 vs 5), but her first career goal came in Big East play against Xavier. Not much was expected of Adrianna Commodari as a freshman last season, but she got into four games and scored a goal against Detroit Mercy, firing in a free position attempt.

..... and that’s it for experienced attackers on the roster this season. The four women you leave behind the restraining line on offense aren’t required to be listed as attackers on the roster, so this is an issue of figuring out how the coaching staff fills the spots on the field. Will one of the three deep bench players from last year jump forward to a starting spot? Will a freshman impress in training camp? Orrrrrr......

MIDFIELD

.... will Leigh Steiner be MU’s fourth attacker in deployment. She started all 19 games a year ago, so it’s a safe bet that she’ll be in the lineup every time out again this year. Just like Marquette is going to need more from Bireley, Osburn, and Greving, the same goes for Steiner, who had 24 goals and 12 assists last season.

Steiner’s role of “pretty much guaranteed to play all the minutes she wants, it just depends on where” is set, and Josie Kropp has a spot in the lineup ready and waiting for her. Kropp is Marquette’s leading returning draw control player from last season after snaring 49 a year ago. That jumped her up to 94 for her career and that’s the 10th most in program history. MU might be asking a lot from Kropp this season, and that’s because they have lost Ellie Henry (#2 all time) and Mary Blee (#5 all time) from the draw unit. Those two combined for 187 of Marquette’s 338 draw controls last season, and MU won nearly 57% of their draws a year ago. That goes a long way towards tipping the field towards your offensive end and pushes the game into make it/take it territory, and Kropp is going to have to play a big part there. Leigh Steiner (19 DCs) is the only other player coming back from 2023 with more than 10 draw controls.

There are seven other midfielders returning from last season, but none of them made a major impact on the Golden Eagles in 2023. Isabelle Casucci is probably the closest with seven goals in nine appearances as a freshman. Casucci can make a major physical impact on the game for Marquette, measuring in at 6’2” tall, so we’ll see if MU can find a way to get her in front of the net and throw her the ball where few other defenders can push it away.

None of the other six played in more than eight games, and the one who did play eight ended up with a surprisingly small amount of playing time. Samantha Galvin played in 29 games across her first two seasons, including three starts in 2022, and she attlied seven goals and three assists. Last year: 8 games, one goal, two shots. If more of what we saw in 2021 and 2022 is available, then she could carve out a nice role on this roster.

MU has three juniors waiting to break through to a major role: Hannah Bodner, Lorelai Van Guilder, and Lily Dietrich. Bodner has five goals in 11 games through two years, Van Guilder has six games played in total, and Dietrich went from 10 appearances as a freshman with one start along with three goals and an assist to just five appearances in 2023. Seems not great, but she made the best use of her time with two goals last spring.

Taylor Kotschevar might have the edge on playing time between the two sophomores who had deep bench roles as freshmen last year. She appeared in six games, which isn’t anything to write home about, but she had two goals, three ground balls, and three caused turnovers. That’s more than A Thing Per Game on average, which is more than we can say for Sayla Lotysz. Nothing against her, of course, but the stats — two goals and two draw controls in five games — and thus the on-field experience are what the stats say they are. Playing time is clearly available for the last six women we’ve mentioned here, it’s just a matter of who grabs it, or perhaps just who fits Marquette’s needs the best.

DEFENSE

While there are questions to be asked about what’s going on with Marquette’s offensive end heading into 2024, the good news is that it looks like the defensive end is pretty much settled. If not settled, then Marquette definitely has options as to who will be the four starters and might even be able to swing a solid rotation to keep legs fresh.

That list starts with Audrey Brett and Molly Powers, both of whom started all 19 games a year ago. Brett is one of two women returning after putting up at least 20 ground balls a year ago, while Powers hit double digits in both ground balls and caused turnovers. You have to figure that both women go right back into the starting lineup again.

Faith Chmielewski is the other 20 ground ball player, scooping up a returning field player best 26 ground balls last year. She also leads returning players with 15 caused turnovers, and she did all this while coming off the bench in 17 of her 19 games. The only thing truly stopping me from saying I expect her to start is that Marquette has two other women returning who started more than Chmielewski did last season. One of them is Kaitlyn Huber, who had 10 starts in 17 appearances, and the other is Sofia Santana, who had nine starts in 17 games played as a freshman. On one hand, Chmielewski played in every game and they didn’t. On the other hand, they both earned the starting spot ahead of Chmielewski. Having five options for four starting spots is still better than having three, though. I don’t know if it means anything for a starting gig, but Chmielewski was tabbed as one of three captains on the roster alongside Audrey Brett and Leigh Steiner.

The Golden Eagles will have some returning depth options past those five as well. Jasmine Marval got in-game action for the first time in her three years on campus last season, appearing in six games and recording her first career point with an assist against Xavier. Maeve Dooley returns for her sophomore campaign after three freshman year appearances.

GOALKEEPER

With 16 wins in 19 starts, Brynna Nixon is the winningest goalie in Marquette women’s lacrosse history. Okay, yes, she’s not the wins leader, but she’s got Sarah Priem and Jules Horning beat in the winning percentage department by a long run. With a minimum of 50 saves, Nixon posted the fifth best save percentage in program history last season, and with a minimum of 200 minutes played, she had the fourth best goals-against average in program history. She did this while becoming the first MU goalie to log 900 minutes in a season and then log 1,000 minutes in a season, but that is the kind of thing you get to do when you get to be the first Marquette goalkeeper to play in an NCAA tournament game.

By everything I know about sports, Nixon is the clear and obvious starter heading into 2024. Except I have to match that information with the fact that I haven’t seen her in any pictures or video that the team has posted to social media since October, and she’s the only one not wearing a white jersey in her picture on the team roster page. I know, I know, it’s not much, and there’s lots of potential explanations, and it’s not perfect, but it did include more than one what appeared to be full team pictures during various fall ball and team retreat events.

I’m just saying it raised my curiosity, and thus I have to wonder if we’re going to be seeing a lot of Ava Sprinkel when the season starts on February 11th against Cincinnati. The 5’5” Maryland native appeared in five games as a freshman last season for a total of 75 minutes. Her goals-against average in that short burst of time was perfectly fine, slightly better than Nixon’s to be honest, but she wasn’t great when teams actually tried to take shots at her. Sprinkel had a save percentage of just .222, but 10 of the 14 goals she let in came during relief stints when Marquette had the game well in hand. The other four came against Butler when head coach Meredith Black pulled Nixon after the Bulldogs wiped away a 7-1 lead and pulled even at 9-9 with 10:16 left in the second quarter. MU responded the way you’d think they might, pushing out to a 14-10 lead before BU scored the final three goals of the quarter. Nixon went back in after halftime and Marquette gutted out a 22-16 victory.