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Men’s lacrosse ready for tough sophomore year

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Trib File Photo

Trib File Photo

No longer the new kids on the block, the men’s lacrosse players are excited for the season to begin and to build on last season’s success.

In the inaugural campaign the team surprised many finishing 5-8, which was unheard of for a first-year program in lacrosse.

Fortunately for the team last year, it did not face many of the Big East teams like former-affiliate No. 2 Syracuse and current member No. 18 Villanova because of its independent status. Now in the Big East Conference, the competition becomes a lot tougher.

The league is still strong, even with the loss of Syracuse and No. 4 Notre Dame. The addition of No. 5 Denver over the summer as a men’s lacrosse-only member, along with current members Villanova and No. 16 St. John’s, makes this conference one of the strongest in the nation.

One of the benefits of joining a conference is more home games. While only playing two home games total last year, the team will play five this year. Due to scheduling conflicts, Marquette will not play all five games at Hart Park like last year. As many as two games will not be at Hart Park, but their locations have yet to be decided.

“We’re really excited to play a Big East schedule this year and get after it a little bit more and have something to compete for,” sophomore attackman Henry Nelson said. “(There are) obviously more games this year, so it’ll be exciting to get some of those Big East teams out here in front of the home crowd.”

In addition to playing in a tough league, the non-conference schedule is significantly more difficult. There are plenty of familiar names like No. 1 Duke, No. 7 Ohio State and Notre Dame, all of whom qualified for the NCAA Tournament last year, and play a role in why Marquette has the 14th toughest schedule, according to Inside Lacrosse.

“We don’t want to be playing the lower competition,” sophomore defender Sal Vitale said. “The hardest possible schedule is the best case scenario for us.”

This tougher schedule means the team needs some major improvements on both sides of the ball if it wants to continue to build on last year’s success.

Offensively and defensively, the team ranked in the bottom fourth in the nation in goals per game and goals against per game last season. There were moments when the team looked good, but there were many times the team struggled. This year, the team is much further along in the process and could improve earlier than last season.

“It’s not even close to what we looked like last year,” coach Joe Amplo said. “We look like the Bad News Bears last year compared to where we are this year. That’s why I’m so impressed with this group. It’s a sign that there is some leadership and the culture is really starting to establish itself.”

The attack is by far the most established on the team. The trio of redshirt senior Tyler Melnyk, sophomore Conor Gately and redshirt senior Bryan Badolato make up a balanced scoring threat, and the three will quarterback the offense.

In the midfield, there is much more depth than last season. Outside the first line, there are no lines set in stone. Redshirt senior faceoff specialist Cullen Cassidy has to improve his faceoff percentage, as he was second to last in the NCAA with a .410. Amplo said he would like to see Cassidy at least above 50 percent this season.

Defense is up in the air right now. Redshirt sophomore defender B.J. Grill is considered the top defender and will most likely draw opponents’ top attackers. Junior Logan Tousaw and sophomore Brian Porter are the likely starters alongside Grill.

In net, senior goalie JJ Sagl is another player who needs to improve this year. He was also second to last in the nation a year ago with a .447 save percentage and needs to be stronger between the pipes.

Overall, the team is stronger than their inaugural season, despite problems with consistency in the preseason. The team no longer consists of all rookies and is better prepared for the upcoming season than it was at this point last year. The action begins Saturday at 11 a.m. CT, as the team travels to face Lehigh in the season opener.

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