Marquette Wire

Transfer Melillo finds success after winless NJIT season

Sophomore went 11-for-16 from face-off X in MU debut

Melillo+uses+the+pinch-and-pop+technique%2C+cramping+down+on+the+ball+and+driving+it+forward+%28Photo+courtesy+of+Doug+Peters%2FMarquette+Athletics%29
Melillo uses the pinch-and-pop technique, cramping down on the ball and driving it forward (Photo courtesy of Doug Peters/Marquette Athletics)

Melillo uses the pinch-and-pop technique, cramping down on the ball and driving it forward (Photo courtesy of Doug Peters/Marquette Athletics)

Melillo uses the pinch-and-pop technique, cramping down on the ball and driving it forward (Photo courtesy of Doug Peters/Marquette Athletics)

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Sophomore face-off specialist Zack Melillo walked off the field with a huge smile after Marquette’s 9-7 win against Bellarmine Saturday. The gamr was a long time coming for the sophomore transfer, who waited a year to get his first collegiate victory.

Melillo transferred to Marquette from NJIT, a program that has struggled in its infancy. The Highlanders went 0-12 last year, their first season as a Division I program. They managed to hang with some teams, only losing by a handful of goals to Monmouth, Manhattan and Dartmouth but still lost five games by 10 or more goals.

“You face a lot of adversity,” Melillo said. “It really tests your character and patience … Statistics don’t show effort.”

The season wasn’t without benefits for Melillo, who said the experience helped him mature as a player.

“Coming in with a chip on my shoulder, not having a win under my college belt, becoming a part of Marquette just gritty and blue collar,” he said. “I think that was helpful in building my character.”

It’s no mystery why Melillo found Marquette an attractive landing spot once he decided to transfer. He could immediately sense the family mentality that’s helped the Golden Eagles build a nationally respected program in four years. During Melillo’s visit, Marquette head coach Joe Amplo took the whole team to Bro-Yo following an inter-squad scrimmage. He went out to dinner with other players, who all placed their phones on the center of the table in order to focus on each other.

“It’s a trickle-down effect,” Melillo said. “It starts directly with Amplo, Coach (Andrew) Stimmel, Coach (Stephen) Brundage, (Jason Pereles), all of them. They definitely show and lead.”

Marquette has had plenty of talent on the team the past three years, but face-off has never been consistent. Melillo had a higher win percentage than the Marquette unit as a whole last season despite playing with inferior talent at the wings. He said he could picture himself as that missing piece when looking at Marquette, but Amplo wasn’t promising him anything.

“He told me right away, ‘Listen, there are talented guys here,'” Mellilo said. “‘Do we think you can contribute? Yes. But is the spot given to you? No.’ It’s been a competition every day in practice.”

He’s fought alongside Marquette’s other face-off specialists since coming to campus: Owen Weselak, Gryphin Kelly and Brett Molina. It’s a nice change of pace from NJIT, where he was the team’s only face-off specialist. He had no one to practice with and was treated like any other midfielder. Now he works on his craft every practice, bouncing ideas off his teammates.

The work paid off in his Marquette debut. Melillo had an enormous impact, going 11-for-16 at the face-off X and changing the tide after Bellarmine scored the first three goals. His style is known as pinch-and-pop, where he clamps the ball down and gets it forward. He won multiple draws like this as clean as anyone could.

Despite the hot start, Amplo still isn’t promising Melillo that starting role for this weekend’s game against Richmond, a team he had issues with last season. He went 9-for-25 in a 21-3 NJIT loss.

“This is a big challenge for Zack this week,” Amplo said. “If Zack can’t beat this kid, then we’re going to need someone else to.”

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