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Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Wagner gaining valuable experience in freshman season

Ontario native will play for Canada at U-19 Tournament
Photo by Doug Peters
Junior attacker John Wagner scored the winning goal in Saturday’s season opener. (Photo courtesy of Doug Peters/Marquette Athletics)

There’s been a lot for John Wagner to learn this year. He’s the only freshman to get consistent playing time on the Marquette lacrosse offensive unit, he’s playing midfield for the first time in his life and, on top of all this, he’s one of the players on the team with the least field lacrosse experience.

“That’s the type of kid he is,” said head coach Joe Amplo. “He’s not married to any specific role. He just wants to help the team.”

Wagner played box lacrosse growing up, but didn’t move to the outdoor game until he attended Cranbrook-Kingswood boarding school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Amplo and his staff knew coming into the season that Wagner would get on the field early. First of all, he filled a position of need after Marquette lost its lefty attackman and leading scorer from last season, Jordan Greenfield, to graduation.

Wagner also fit well into the system that Marquette offensive coordinator Steve Brundage runs. The 6-foot-2 St. Davids, Ontario native works well for the tw0-man game, which emphasizes off-ball movement and pick-and-rolls. Most players with box experience come to college more prepared than field players in this aspect due to the importance of screens on the smaller box surface.

“For teaching an American player, it takes some time for him to get comfortable,” Brundage said. “He grows up playing in a wider set with longer runs and more space. The Canadian players, a lot of them play box, so they’re in tight and used to that setting … It’s why we have eight Canadians on the team right now.”

The Canadian trend isn’t happening just at Marquette. College coaches around the country are seeing the benefit of players with an indoor background. Denver has had its fair share, including Mark Matthews and Wesley Berg. The Canadians defeated the U.S. at the World Lacrosse Championship in 2014, earning their third title.

Having previous experience being “in tight with vision and close range game … definitely helps,” Wagner said. “It’s a little different … There’s a lot more running, a lot more dodging, but you get used to it.”

Wagner started two games at his natural attack position early in the year due to injuries but was moved to midfield the past few games in order to help him get more comfortable on the field. Although the position was new to him, it gave him a better matchup, facing a defensive midfielder instead of a close defenseman.

“I think switching to midfield was a big change, especially being able to dodge on the short-sticks,” Wagner said. “It helps my confidence.”

Wagner has gotten playing time, but the production hasn’t come yet. He has two goals and two assists through 10 games, and he’s made some slight mental mistakes along the way. Although it isn’t all there right now, both Amplo and Brundage see him as the team’s lefty attackman of the future.

“He’s had his opportunities and hasn’t capitalized on them,” Brundage said. “He hasn’t produced like we really wanted him to, and that’s disappointing, but I’m also really confident in this kid’s career. He’s going to be really good.”

Wagner has another opportunity to gain valuable experience this summer, but this time it’s on the world stage. He’s one of 24 players selected to Canada’s U-19 team that will compete at the Federation of International Lacrosse World Championship this summer in British Columbia. The field was narrowed down from 200 players through a camp and exhibition game last summer.

“I worked hard for it,” Wagner said. “The first tryout we had, it was six hours a day for four days straight. By the second day, your legs are dead and you still have two more days to go.”

Canada, which is looking for its first U-19 Championship, is led by coach Matt Brown, Denver’s associate head coach.

“What a great experience for him to be around those coaches,” Amplo said. “Matt Brown and (assistant coach) Taylor Wray are two of the best out there. I think they’ll influence him and help his confidence moving forward.”

Although the year hasn’t been perfect, it’s been a process for Wagner. Brundage compared his situation to that of midfielder Tanner Thomson, who has taken a big step forward this sophomore year. He said he’s starting to see the things Thomson is doing at practice in game-time situations, and the same will soon happen for Wagner.

Working out the kinks now, while there are other offensive players there to carry the load, prepares him for the rest of his Marquette career, when he’s expected to be one of the leaders of the attack unit.

“Hopefully this year we make it to the tournament, so as a freshman to see pretty much every possible scenario and play for team Canada and get whatever experience I get there … hopefully I can carry it over to next year,” Wagner said.

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