Historic Season one of Unfinished Business for Men's Lacrosse
May 6, 2015
MILWAUKEE -- Though they fell short of their ultimate goal of an NCAA Championship appearance, the Marquette University men's lacrosse program, led by head coach Joe Amplo, made tremendous strides in just its third season of competition in 2015.
"I'm satisfied that we were able to win some games early, but I'm sick to my stomach that we didn't reach our full potential towards the end of the year," Amplo said of the season. "We're young in years, but man we've got a lot of experience on this team. While this program is still in its infancy, this upcoming senior group is going to have the most experience I've ever been around. For them their expectation is they should be playing in an NCAA tournament and if they don't next year, for me that would be a failure."
The Golden Eagles notched a new program record with 10 triumphs in 2015 and reached a ranking as high as ninth nationally in the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll after beginning the year with seven-straight victories. Marquette's hot start was highlighted by four one-goal wins, including a pair over ranked opponents, and thrilling come-from-behind wins at Richmond in overtime and Ohio State, an NCAA tournament team, in early March.
Dubbed "Marquette Magic" by the national media during its early season run, the Golden Eagles' flair for the dramatic culminated in four victories in which they responded from four-goal deficits and five total one-goal wins.
Marquette opened the year with its first victory over a ranked opponent, then-No. 18/16 Lehigh, 10-9, on Feb. 7 and captured an 11-10 win at Hofstra on Feb. 14 (Watch Highlights). MU recovered from two four-goal deficits at Hofstra and outscored the Pride 7-2 over the final 21:34, led by a career-best four goals from All-BIG EAST First Team midfielder Kyle Whitlow. The win was the second in as many career games for Amplo against his alma mater.
The Golden Eagles then traveled to Richmond for a Sunday, Feb. 22 clash against the Richmond Spiders, a second-year program that had won the Atlantic Sun title to advance to the NCAA tournament in its first season in 2014.
Graduate attackman Jordan Greenfield, a transfer from Fairfield, led Marquette back from an 8-4 deficit with four of his program-record six goals in the fourth quarter and overtime as MU escaped with an 11-10 win (Watch Highlights). The All-BIG EAST Second Team selection potted his sixth and final goal with 2:55 remaining in the first overtime period after Richmond's Mitch Goldberg scored with seven seconds left in regulation to push the contest to an extra period.
Greenfield, who notched a Marquette single-season record 52 points (34 goals, 18 assists) in 2015, was named the BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Week for his play against Richmond and was also honored as the national player of the week by Inside Lacrosse and the USILA.
Sitting at 3-0, MU headed to Louisville, Kentucky to take part in the inaugural Midwest Lacrosse Classic and picked up a pair of wins over Detroit, 12-6, and Ohio State, 10-9 (Watch Highlights). The Golden Eagles trailed the Buckeyes 9-5 entering the fourth quarter and posted all five goals in the final frame for the win, led by a pair from sophomore attackman Kyran Clarke, who scored the game-winner with 11 seconds remaining on the right side of the crease on a Ryan McNamara feed.
"They were giving us the zone look, so we moved the ball and made sure everyone got touches," Clarke told Inside Lacrosse following the victory. "There wasn't any specific plays run. We had a good feel of what we were doing out there, so we decided to stick to the game plan, and luckily I was open on the crease and able to finish for the team."
Ohio State won the ensuing face-off after Clarke's tally and pushed it ahead to attackman Jesse King with time running out and a chance to tie. MU defenders Liam Byrnes and Logan Tousaw converged on King and knocked the ball loose on the right side of the net before King picked it up and whipped a behind-the-back pass to Carter Brown. MU goalie Jimmy Danaher's 12th save of the day sealed the win as he stonewalled Brown's shot from the edge of the crease with one second remaining.
Byrnes showed his vast impact and versatility against the Buckeyes that earned him the BIG EAST's lone unanimous all-conference selection at long stick midfield. The redshirt junior made his lone start of the season as a close defender to check King, who scored six points in the last meeting between the two squads, and limited the USILA All-American without a point over the final 43:17 of play as MU made its comeback.
Byrnes caused four turnovers on the day and scored his second goal of the year to pull Marquette within one, 6-5, right before halftime. The West Islip, New York native ended the season as MU's co-leader in ground balls (52), with Jacob Richard, and its sole caused turnover leader (26). His four goals and two assists in 2015 also rank him among the top-10 active players in NCAA Division I in long pole scoring with 14 career points.
The following game at Jacksonville highlighted the increased contributions of sophomore midfielder Ryan McNamara, who ended the season third on the squad with 36 points on 23 goals and 13 assists. McNamara scored a career-high four goals in the win, including three in the fourth quarter after MU entered the final period tied for the first time in 2015.
After a win at Mercer pushed their record to a perfect 7-0, they vaulted into the top 10 of the media poll for the first time in program history on March 16. The Golden Eagles spent the week of Marquette's spring break training at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World.
They opened BIG EAST play at Georgetown on March 21 and fell behind 8-2 at halftime before rallying to tie the game 9-9 with six minutes remaining. After a pair of MU penalties allowed the Hoyas to reclaim the lead, a Blaine Fleming shot to tie ricocheted low off the far post with 10 seconds left to hand the Golden Eagles their first loss of the season.
Fleming, who previously scored the game-winning goal at Hofstra on Feb. 14, was able to redeem himself a week later on a winning tally as Marquette captured its first BIG EAST win at Villanova, 9-8 (Watch Highlights). The junior was MU's fifth-leading goal scorer in 2015 with 18 and scored the winner against the Wildcats with just 1:58 remaining.
A midweek trip back to Louisville on Tuesday, March 31 resulted in a 9-3 loss to Bellarmine in which the Golden Eagles' offense was stymied and held without a goal in the second and fourth quarters. MU did score both third quarter goals and pulled within one, 4-3, at the end of the third before the Knights scored five unanswered in the final frame.
After 10 road games to begin the season, a stretch four games longer than any other team in NCAA Division I, the Golden Eagles hosted their first home game on April 4 at Hart Park and rolled to a 14-12 win over conference-foe St. John's. Marquette alternated a loss and a win in its next two games at No. 1 Notre Dame, 14-7, in which MU took an early 2-0 lead and a 14-10 win at Providence (Watch Highlights) in which the Golden Eagles rallied from an early 4-0 hole.
In the defeat to the Fighting Irish, redshirt junior B.J. Grill further cemented his place among the NCAA's top defensemen, holding All-American attackman Matt Kavanagh without a goal for the only time this season. Grill has not allowed Kavanagh to score in the last two meetings, the only two games in his last 22 that the junior has been held scoreless.
The final two games of the regular season featured Marquette's first two nationally televised games in program history as CBS Sports Network covered home games against No. 6 Duke and No. 5 Denver at Hart Park. The April 18 contest against the Blue Devils was the HEAD Coaches Classic played in support of the HEADstrong Foundation.
Whitlow and junior attackman Conor Gately continued to make their ascent up MU's career leaderboard throughout the year as Gately became the program's all-time leader in points and notched his 100th career point against Duke. Whitlow broke Tyler Melnyk's goal record with his 60th career marker at Providence and ended the year third on the squad with 24 goals.
Gately also became MU's first player listed on the Tewaaraton Award Watch List in late February and was Marquette's second-leading scorer with 25 goals and 14 assists as a junior.
A 12-8 loss to No. 13/12 Georgetown in the BIG EAST semifinals on April 30 at Villanova marked a disappointing end to an otherwise positive season, as Marquette held hopes for an NCAA at-large berth until the season's final days.
"I knew after the Georgetown loss on Thursday and after how things shook out with the other conference tournaments over the weekend that we were going to be out," Amplo said. "We have to take away positives, but if we are going to get to that next level then I've got to focus more on what we didn't do and the negatives; things like being 3-6 down the stretch and not playing well against some big teams. To get to the NCAA tournament and hear our names called on a Sunday night at the beginning of May we've got to focus on what we need to do better."
The Golden Eagles expect to contend once again for a BIG EAST Championship and potential NCAA berth in 2016 thanks to eight returning starters and a bevy of experienced returners in prominent roles.
"If we assume that we are going to be right in the thick of things then we are going to miss," Amplo said. "That is the challenge that I face as a coach, my staff faces and these kids face. Just because we return a lot of experience and good players, it doesn't mean that we are going to be in the same position we were in this year or better. We've got to be hard on ourselves and critical of what we need to do to improve and hopefully we can attempt to get to that next level."
Another step forward is the expectation within the fourth-year program.
"It's on the senior class, what they do from today until September and then September to the start of the season," Amplo said. "If they want to do the things that they set out to do when they came here, and that is make the NCAA tournament and compete for a national championship, then they will take care of their business today. I hope that they are angry, disappointed and frustrated that they came so close."
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