(Photo Courtesy of Marquette Athletics)
Andrew Simmel came to Marquette as one of the most sought-after assistant coaches in the nation. After all, he had just helped lead Yale to a national title in 2018 and an NCAA title game appearance in 2019 as the Elis’ offensive coordinator.
Coming back to Marquette, where he served as an assistant in 2016, Stimmel was familiar with the program’s growth under inaugural head coach Joe Amplo and how high the Golden Eagles could soar, being part of the program’s best season ever. The Golden Eagles went 11-5, won the Big East, and lost by one goal, 10-9, to eventual national champion North Carolina in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
However, Stimmel’s first two years at the helm haven’t been the smoothest.
The first year of the Stimmel era was cut short and saw the Golden Eagles go 3-4 with a fairly young roster compared to their Big East counterparts. They followed that up with a 4-8 campaign in 2021, which marks the lowest win total and percentage (.333) in program history. It also marks the second consecutive full season in which the Golden Eagles have missed the postseason.
In addition to the lack of success in the win column, the Golden Eagles featured one of the conference’s worst offenses, ranking second-to-last in goals per game (9.17) and last in both assists per game (5.08), and points per game (14.25). They also had the second-worst shooting percentage (.234) in the Big East. Marquette had just as much trouble keeping the ball out of their own goal as much as they did scoring themselves, allowing 12.17 goals per game as the 43rd defense in the nation (fifth in Big East).
Despite the direction their season ultimately went and the struggles the Golden Eagles faced on both ends of the field, there were positive signs that a brighter future could be ahead for this program heading into its ninth year in existence and looking to get back to the top of the Big East. Marquette started the season with five straight losses but only fell by greater than four goals twice during that stretch, which included a one-goal loss to Denver in the season opener and a two-goal loss to Villanova. Marquette later gave eventual big East champion Georgetown a run for their money, falling 10-8 in their second meeting of the season against the Hoyas.
Now entering year three, Stimmel, who has spent time under two excellent program builders in Andy Shay and Joe Amplo, is knee-deep in the process of elevating this still young Marquette program back to a point where they can consistently compete for Big East titles and be in the NCAA Tournament discussion year in and year out. With 2022 being the first real normal season of the Stimmel era, is it the year Marquette gets back on track and starts to rise once again? With a decent amount of major contributors, especially on the offensive end, from last season graduated and the core of this squad likely to be on the younger side once again, a truly normal season might be exactly what they need to get this train back on the tracks.
Defense certainly wasn’t the weakest part of this Marquette team last, but that doesn’t mean they were great either. However, this end of the field is the one area where the Golden Eagles look like they could realistically make a pretty decent jump this spring.
Following a season in which the Golden Eagles regressed defensively, dropping from 22nd to 43rd nationally in scoring defense, among other categories, this defense returns their top two close defensemen in Mason Woodward (54GB/18CT) and Zach Granger (15GB/16CT), as well as SSDM Jacob Hallam (20GB/10CT), who will be returning for his redshirt senior season. Woodward and Granger, who earned All-Big East honors this past season, are capable and can certainly be leaders of this defense heading into the 2022 season. The questions arise at who gets that third starting spot at close.
Redshirt sophomore Noah Verlinde (16GB/5CT) served as the Golden Eagles’ top reserve pole last season, and saw one start. He could very well get that starting nod this spring.
One area on the back end where there is likely to not be much of a question mark at all is in between the pipes. Johnny Hulsman and Gabe Stein have both graduated, leaving redshirt junior Sean Richard without major competition coming into the season as the only goalie with starting experience for the Golden Eagles. Richard served as the No. 1 goalie for Marquette last season, playing in nine games with eight starts while making 99 saves with a .553% save percentage.
With as much returning as the Golden Eagles have on the back end, and what should be a stable situation in cage, this defense could very well take a step forward after taking steps backward on that end of the field over the past two seasons.
Offensively, things look a little different for the Golden Eagles as they will be led by first-year offensive coordinator Bo Lori on that end of the field, and will only see two major contributors from last season. But after the performance this offense put up last season, a practically clean slate might actually be a good thing.
Following a solid freshman campaign in 2020, Devon Cowan stepped up and led this Marquette offense with 30 goals and eight assists for 38 points while earning first team All-Big East honors. The redshirt sophomore attackman was the X-factor for this offense last season and will likely hold much of the same role in 2022 as this unit’s top returner.
Russell Melendez (7G/4A) and Garrett Moya (3G/8A) are the other top returners for this Marquette offense after seeing multiple starts this past spring. Additionally, the UMass transfer Luke Blanc is a player who could make a significant impact on this offense. The redshirt freshman didn’t see any action with the Minutemen last season, but came into college as a 4-Star and ranked as the No. 48 incoming freshmen by Inside Lacrosse.
The faceoff dot was another area where the Golden Eagles struggled mightily last season, ending the season ranked 56th nationally in faceoff with percentage (.383). Thomas Washington, who has served as the Golden Eagles’ top option at the dot for the past two seasons, returns in 2022 after going 85-for-212 (.401%) this past season. Luke Williams served as the backup and went 25-for-60 (.417%). Whether its one of the aforementioned two or someone else, Marquette needs drastic improvement at the faceoff dot or it could hamper any significant improvement they see elsewhere on the field.