Can Monmouth Repeat as MAAC Champions?

(Photo Courtesy of Monmouth Athletics)

Monmouth’s rise from newbie to MAAC contender was pretty meteoric. After going 0-13 during their inaugural season in 2014, the Hawks went 6-8 (3-3 MAAC) and made their first-ever postseason appearance during the 2015 campaign. They went 7-7 (3-3 MAAC) and again fell to Marist in the conference semifinals in 2016, but they would finally get over the hump a year later as the Hawks churned out a 14-4 (6-0 MAAC) record, which included a season-opening win over No. 16 Villanova for their first win over a ranked opponent, won the MAAC and saw their season end in a 10-7 defeat against Bryant in the NCAA Tournament play-in game.

In just four short seasons, Monmouth had risen from the bottom to the top of the MAAC and made it known to the entire lacrosse world that they had arrived. They would return to the postseason in 2018 before suffering their first losing season in 2019 (4-8) and then going 2-4 during the shortened 2020 season.

But in 2021 Monmouth returned to form. Facing a MAAC-only regular season schedule, the Hawks went 8-3 and took down No. 7 Siena and No. 6 St. Bonaventure in the MAAC quarterfinals and semifinals before knocking off No. 1 seed Manhattan, 14-9, in the title game to get back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since that 2017. The Hawks fell to No. 1 seed North Carolina, 11-2, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Coming off as successful of a season as they enjoyed this past spring, Monmouth will be looking to do something that hasn’t been done in the MAAC since Providence in 2006 and 2007: repeat as champions. It’s certainly a tall task, especially in a conference in which chaos is almost always bound to happen. But Brian Fischer’s squad, despite some major losses, still returns a roster that if it hits its ceiling could be capable of achieving that goal. At least, it looks very likely that Monmouth can be a contender once again.

Defense has been the cornerstone of this program for multiple years now and was certainly their strong suit last season. After ending the shortened 2020 season ranked 26th in scoring defense, the Hawks returned nearly everybody on that end of the field and trotted out a unit this past spring that ended the year as the second-best defense in the nation, allowing just 8.73 goals per game. They were also a top-25 team in caused turnovers per game (8.18) and tied with Hobart and Marquette as the nation’s 20th-best man-down defense, coming up successful .692% on such situations, and ranked ninth in ground balls per game (34.73).

Things will look a little different on the back end for the Hawks this spring as they lose a pair of starting close defensemen in Chris Hervada, who will be using his final year of eligibility at Villanova, and Conor Tuturice. LSM Dillon Smart is another member of that tremendous defense that is now gone.

Junior Michael Quigg (6GB/3CT), who started all but one game at close last season, and fifth-year goalie Noah Lode are the only two returning starters on defense for this Monmouth squad. Lode has been a starter since his freshman season in 2018 and is coming off a season in which he made 114 saves with a .543% save percentage. Quigg was a first-time starter in 2021.

Monmouth has also added Bellarmine transfer Chase Fairbanks. The Neptune, N.J. native was regularly in the Knights’ defensive rotation through his three years in Louisville, playing in 31 games with 18 starts. That includes all but one game in 2020 and six contests this past season. Fairbanks should be a strong contender to take one of those starting spots at close.

In addition, Monmouth does return a pretty strong stable of SSDMs with seniors Scooter Whiteside (25GB/9CT) and Garret Klurman (26GB/8CT) returning to lead the way at the spot. Junior Jack Gertie (14GB/3CT) and James Lisignoli (2GB/1CT) are the two of the Hawks’ top returning reserve poles from a year ago and could very well find themselves contributing heavily at close or amongst the rope unit this spring.

Whether this Monmouth defense can return to form as a top-three unit nationally or not, they shouldn’t have too much trouble keeping the ball away from their opponent with Matt Soutar returning at the faceoff dot. The junior is coming off a strong campaign this past spring in which he went 152-for-222 (.685%) and ended the season ranked atop the conference and fourth in DI in faceoff win percentage. Simply put, Soutar was the x-factor for this Hawks squad in 2021 and that should be the case once again in 2022.

Offensively, Monmouth was a pretty middle-of-the-road unit nationally, averaging 9.45 goals per game (46th nationally). However, in a defensive-heavy MAAC, the Hawks ranked third in that category. They ranked seventh in the conference in points per game (13.82) and the 5th-best in shooting percentage (.244%).

The MAAC-only regular-season schedule certainly skewed many of these statistics across the conference, but offense hasn’t been a strong suit for the Hawks in multiple seasons. They ranked 72nd nationally in scoring offense during the shortened 2020 season and in 2019.

Monmouth brings back four of their top six offensive weapons from last season, including leading scorer Cade Stratton. The senior attackman has been a starter since his freshman season and looks to be the leader of this offense once again in 2022 after tallying a team-high 30 points (17G/13A) last season. Junior attackman Connor Macrae (14G/5A), who had a breakout season as a first-time starter in 2021, and fifth-year midfielders Max Brooks (12G/7A) and David Cormack (6G/8A) also return this spring and should be impact players once again.

The only two major losses on this offense are Zach Clemente and Dwayne Mattushik who were the Hawks’ fourth and fifth-leading scorers last season as fifth-year players. A number of players could step in and fill the shoes left by those two, including senior attackman Mike McIntyre (9G), who was a full-time starter in 2020, and Andrew Duswalt (5G), who stepped up as a solid reserve contributor last season.

Offense certainly hasn’t been the strongest part of this Monmouth team for multiple years now. But with as much as they bring back, especially guys who took a sizable step last season, and with the possession advantage that Soutar gives them, there is certainly going to be some growth on the offensive end for Monmouth this season. And if they can, at least, break into the top half of DI amongst scoring offenses that will very well be seen as a win.

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