Lacrosse Season Preview: Goalies
Feb. 16, 2017
Replacing the building blocks of Marquette's first NCAA tournament roster may appear daunting, but the foundation laid by its 2016 senior class has set the program up for continued success entering the 2017 campaign.
Head coach Joe Amplo returns all but one starter in his offensive unit, though the former defensive coordinator is tasked with replacing three USILA All-Americans on the other side of the ball in MLL players Liam Byrnes, Jacob Richard and B.J. Grill.
Last year's 19 seniors culminated their careers with an NCAA playoff game at Valley Fields against eventual NCAA Champion North Carolina, and helped the program capture its first-ever BIG EAST tournament title last May at No. 1 Denver.
Now that leadership mantle falls to its returners, including 11 players in their final seasons of eligibility, chief among them All-American attackman Ryan McNamara. Just as last year's team adjusted to increased expectations following a surprising run into the national polls during 2015, this year's team will have opponents' full attention come opening face-off.
"It's hard to say right now (that the team is aware of the target on its back from last year's success)," Amplo said following the conclusion of fall practice. "Honestly I don't see that, and that's a little bit scary. I think we are going to have to get smacked in the face a bit to see what this team is made of. The first four weeks of the season (the preseason and the first game of the regular season) will tell what kind of heart and soul this team has. I haven't seen yet the attitude to defend what we earned last year."
The Golden Eagles’ success may ultimately lie with the steadiness of face-off specialist Zachary Melillo and goalie Cole Blazer in keeping opponents at bay and the offense on the field. Melillo and Blazer were each All-BIG EAST Second Team honorees last season and earned All-BIG EAST Championship recognition while lifting MU to its first conference crown.
“You start in the middle of the field,” Amplo said. “If you are good in the middle you are going to be in a lot of games. We are good in the cage, we have consistency there, and we think we have one of the better faceoff guys in the country. And we have one of the best offensive players in the middle of the field in Ryan McNamara.
“Those three positions are majorly influential and we have guys who have done it, proven that they have been successful at this level. One or two of those guys can be among the best in their positions in the country. So if we can do a good job of hiding our youth a little bit in the ancillary positions, and let the guys who have been around step up their game, we can be more competitive that some people give us credit for.”
“I think we are blessed in that we have three guys who we can put in the cage and have an opportunity to beat anyone on our schedule,” Amplo said of his triumvirate in net.
Blazer’s emergence in middle of last season was a big story as the Libertyville, Illinois native earned NCAA National Player of the Week honors after making 13 saves and holding No. 5 Villanova to three goals in his first career start on April 2. He went on to earn All-BIG EAST Second Team accolades and was named the top goalie at the BIG EAST tournament in May. While his 9.59 goals against average and .503 save percentage might not jump out, seven of his nine starts came against top-16 opponents boasting some of the nation’s best offenses.
“Cole Blazer is ‘Consistent Cole,’ he saves 55 to 60 percent of the shots he faces and is a steady, calming influence. He’s a guy who has won a lot of big games for us and he’s trying to raise his game to another level,” Amplo said.
Danaher has made 312 saves in a program-record 34 career starts and has plenty of big game experience, while Rolfing has acquitted himself in short order since arriving at Marquette in August.
“We have three starting-level goalies,” Amplo said. “Jimmy has certainly had minutes between the pipes and there are days that he is the best goalie. Chris Rolfing may have had the most impressive fall out of the group, but he’s a freshman.”
GOMARQUETTE.COM THE OFFICIAL HOME OF MARQUETTE ATHLETICS