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The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

2016 MLL Draft one to remember for Marquette Lacrosse

Only three schools had more players drafted than Marquette (Photos courtesy of Alicia Mojica/Marquette Athletics)

Lacrosse practice on Jan. 22 seemed like any other, despite the fact that 793 miles away in Baltimore history was being made.

Three of the vital building blocks for the Marquette program were selected in the Major League Lacrosse Draft: long-stick midfielder Liam Byrnes, midfielder Jake Richard and defenseman B.J. Grill. The trio were the first Golden Eagles to be selected into the league, which features the top field lacrosse players in the world. Byrnes went to the Florida Launch, Richard to the New York Lizards and Grill to the Denver Outlaws.

“I can’t belittle the fact that it’s important,” Marquette head coach Joe Amplo said. “It’s huge. To be recognized like that with three guys who we all feel really good about, for them to get the notoriety they deserve, it’s tremendous for them, for our program, for the guys who have played here and will play here.”

Since now-graduated Tyler Melnyk and Andrew Smistad never played each other in the NLL, fans could see a Marquette alumni face off in action in the professional ranks for the first time.

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Only three schools had more draft picks than Marquette — Maryland (7), Syracuse (4) and North Carolina (4). They had as many selections as historic lacrosse programs like Duke, Johns Hopkins, Virginia and Loyola (MD). It’s quite a feat for a group of guys who helped start a brand-new program.

“We weren’t expecting to play college lacrosse,” Grill said. “We got an opportunity from coach to come to this great place. It just culminated into something good.”

When Byrnes was selected 21st overall by the Florida Launch, Marquette was still in practice at Valley Fields. Byrnes said senior midfielder Brett Hornung let the news slip to him in practice even though he wasn’t supposed to. Amplo then announced it to the whole team.

“I think it’s a testament to what Coach Amplo has tried to create and what he has produced since day one,” Byrnes said. “He’s instilled the work ethic in everybody, from the guys who were here day one to every freshman in the incoming class. I know Marquette’s proud. Coach Amplo’s proud. I’m proud. It means the world.”

Byrnes was the consensus choice in mock drafts when it came to the first Golden Eagle off the board. The question about him was not if, but when. It’s no surprise considering his combination of size and skill. As someone who can play both LSM and close defense, he’s a perfect fit for a league with limited roster spots.

“When you’re playing at this level and you can only dress 19 guys for a game, you need some guys that can play both long-stick and at close defense,” said Launch head coach Stan Ross. “That really helps out. Most teams will dress five long-poles, max. You need guys who can do a little bit of everything.”

Byrnes also addresses a serious need for Florida, who lacked a serious LSM option since moving from Hamilton, Ontario two years ago.

“I like his size,” Ross said. “I like his athleticism. I love the way he gets up and down the field. I think he creates transition. I think he’s great off the ground picking a ball up and moving it.

The Launch have their defensive cornerstone in former Johns Hopkins star Tucker Durkin and added former Outlaws defenseman Ken Clausen in the offseason. However, the loss of former BIG EAST Defender of the Year Casey Ikeda in the Atlanta expansion draft made Ross focused on improving the defensive unit in the draft. Florida selected Notre Dame defenseman Matt Landis, who was considered the top defensive player available, with the second overall pick.

Solidifying the defensive unit was truly the missing link for the Launch, who possess one of the most lethal attack groups in the league. Casey Powell is set to play his final year in the MLL, but was the league’s MVP just two years ago. Miles and Lyle Thompson have become two of the biggest faces of the game. Kieran McArdle was the Rookie of the Year two seasons ago and scored 47 goals last season.

To put it simply, Byrnes could be enjoying plenty of wins in the near future.

Before the draft, Amplo had a conversation with the New York  Lizards about Jake Richard. He said the Lizards told him that if he was on the board, they’d draft him.

“He was our top-rated short-stick (defensive) midfielder in the draft,” said Joe Spallina, the Lizards’ head coach and general manager.

Spallina already coaches two of Amplo’s former players – Steve DeNapoli and Kevin Unterstein – who played at Hofstra while Amplo was an assistant. Both are integral members of a roster that won last year’s Steinfeld Cup, the league’s championship trophy.

“I told the coach of the Lizards, ‘Jake Richard is them, he’s just younger,’” Amplo said.

Spallina took these words very seriously.

“I’ve known Joe since we were six years old, so there’s a lot of trust that I have in him,” Spallina said. “When he tells me a guy is at that level and the game film I’ve watched supports everything he’s saying, I’m pretty confident.”

DeNapoli and Unterstein are just two cogs in one of the deepest defensive midfield units in the league. The way the Lizards roster currently stands, they are pretty much stocked at every position. Spallina said it’s very likely that he makes the final roster and  they expect him to make an impact on the team.

“I’m ready for it,” Richard said. “I have confidence in my athleticism and my ability to play. I’m just going to do my best as I’ve always done and hope it works out.”

He’ll get a chance to learn from the best, allowing him to ease his way into the league.

“He’s not going to be put in a position where he has to do more than he’s capable of,” Spallina said. “We’re going to be in a position with the guys around him to be able to bring him along slowly. We want to make sure we can dip his feet in and get him adequated to the pro game.”

“I can’t wait to just learn,” Richard said. “I’m going to work hard and learn from them and just watch.”

Byrnes and Richard found out their fates after practice, but Grill had to wait a little bit longer.

“I got out of the shower and my phone just blew up with texts of people saying that I got drafted,” Grill said. “I was more shocked than anything else. I didn’t know Denver was even a possibility.”

And thus, the defenseman who almost chose to go to the University of Pittsburgh and not play college lacrosse has a chance to go pro.

“If someone said (this) to me five years ago, my senior year in high school, I probably wouldn’t believe them,” Grill said.

Going into the draft, his size, the reason he was overlooked by many college coaches, looked to be working against him. Even the 5-foot-5 defenseman thought it was unlikely he’d be selected.

“I wasn’t expecting to get drafted,” Grill said. “Coach Amplo and I had a conversation the day before that said ‘You should not expect to get drafted because of your size. Coaches are saying they’re probably going to pick you up after the draft.’”

It turns out the Outlaws were underselling their interest to the Marquette head coach, as they called Grill’s name with the 40th selection in the draft.

“It just means a lot for our program,” Grill said. “That’s the biggest thing. It just shows the amount of growth and effort we put into this, and what Coach Amplo’s built.”

The player who has silenced the doubters since he committed to Marquette now has a new group to win over, but as he pointed out, the fact he was selected means someone in the Denver believes in him. Amplo thinks he has the potential to be a great diamond in the rough pickup.

“BJ proved people wrong forever,” Amplo said. “I would not be surprised if BJ’s a starting defenseman for the Denver Outlaws sometime in July.”

If Grill getting selected wasn’t the biggest surprise on draft day, it’s that attackman Conor Gately was not. The program’s leader in points and assists, Gately was named to the Tewaaraton List last season, which awards college lacrosse’s best player. The large selection of top notch attackmen made it difficult for him to sneak in.

“Conor Gately is a guy that should have been drafted,” Amplo said. “There’s no question in my mind that he’s going to be picked up. Teams are going to be salivating over him at the end of May to try and get on their roster. I told him: ‘You’re in a better position than the other guys because if four teams want you, you can choose where you want to go.’

Midfielder Kyle Whitlow could also get picked up at the end of the season. Amplo suggested that Rochester could be a possible destination for Whitlow due to his style of play.

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