March 7, 2020 marks the last game the Marist Men’s Lacrosse team played before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the United States. The game resulted in a devastating 15-14 loss against the Delaware Blue Hens. It was not the way anyone envisioned the season would end, but it remains in the back of the minds of many of the members of the team now.
Before the season was canceled, the Red Foxes possessed a solid 3-3 record with two promising wins. One was a matchup against #9/7 ranked Army West Point Black Knights where the Red Foxes won 17-9. The other victory came against the Hartford Hawks with a final score of 14-6.
After winning the MAAC Championship in 2019, the goal for the Red Foxes remained the same in 2020 and most definitely remains the same for 2021 as well. The race to the top starts this Saturday at 1:00 p.m at Tenney Stadium with a game against the Detroit-Mercy Titans. This game will not count towards the Red Foxes MAAC record.
The good news for the Red Foxes is that they have many of their core pieces returning on both sides of the field.
On defense, Sam Ahlgrim will be returning for the Red Foxes. The 6-foot-2 graduate student was a focal point to Marist’s defense last year, totaling 11 ground balls and causing five turnovers. He started in all six games for the Red Foxes. Sophomore defenseman Kurt Wessner, another big part of Marist’s defense, will also be back for the Red Foxes. He totaled a career-high three ground balls against Army West Point and was a major element in keeping the #9/7 ranked team scoreless for 30 minutes.
JT Roselle will be the final factor to Marist’s defense lineup. The 6-foot-1 junior started in all six games as well and was ranked ninth in the NCAA and first in MAAC rankings for caused turnovers per game at 2.17. While the starting defense looks to remain the same for the most part, look for junior goalie Anthony Novellano to make the start in goal this season. Novellano appeared in two games last season marking a save percentage of .500. He will have big shoes to fill between the pipes.
There are many key returners on offense too, including junior attackman Jojo Pirreca, junior attackman Jamison Embury and midfield graduate student Joe Tierney, who opted to take his fifth year of eligibility after the shutdown and will be a major leader for Marist heading into the season. Tierney played in all six games for the Red Foxes last season, making four starts. He totaled 10 goals and seven assists in the six game span. He will be wearing #34 for the second consecutive season, which is a jersey number awarded to an athlete who demonstrates qualities of leadership, passion and determination in honor of the late Eddie Coombs.
With many of the core pieces returning on the offensive side of the ball, production should be strong for the Red Foxes. Embury totaled 13 goals and eight assists in the six game span, starting every game. Pirreca also started in all six games, recording 14 goals and nine assists. Look for players such as midfielders Jason Intermesoli, Jon Constant and Tyler Ammirato to have their roles increased for the new season.
A major void to fill for the Red Foxes will be at the face-off circle. With the loss of Peyton Smith – currently the star face-off specialist for Redwoods Lacrosse Club of the PLL who finished his final collegiate season season with a .638 face-off percentage, which ranked 11th in NCAA standings and 1st in MAAC standings – the Red Foxes are going to have some big shoes to fill at the center of the field.
Look for senior face-off specialist Andrew Evans to take over. Evans appeared in two games off the bench in 2020, going five-for-12 on face-offs against Bucknell. Freshman face-off specialist John Kelly could also carve a spot in the rotation. In high school, Kelly won 71 percent of face-offs at Paul VI Catholic High School before his senior-year season was canceled. He finished his high school career with a win percentage of 64 percent over 240 collected ground balls. It will be interesting to see how Kelly can transition his high school success to the collegiate level.
Marist popped up on national radars before the start of the season. In MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Polls, the Red Foxes were ranked first and Tierney was named the Preseason Player of the Year. Pirreca was also named to the Preseason All-Conference Team. The Red Foxes also finished in the Top 20 teams for Inside Lacrosse’s Media Poll and USILA Lacrosse Coaches Poll for two consecutive weeks. Head coach Keegan Wilkinson, who has won MAAC Coach of the Year three times (2013, 2015, 2019), will be looking to lead Marist to his third MAAC Championship.
The Red Foxes just started practices this week due to Marist College’s delayed start to on-campus instruction. It will be interesting to see if the delayed start in practice reps will hurt the Red Foxes early in the season. This season will look a little different for the Red Foxes this year. With the pandemic still raging on, the Red Foxes are slated to play eight games, seven of which will count towards their MAAC record. The regular season is mapped to end the weekend of April 24 with the MAAC Championships scheduled for the weekend of May 6 through May 9.
Overall, a lot of key pieces will return for Marist this season. With that, the Red Foxes’ future is surely bright. They were making a strong run before the season canceled last year and I can only imagine how much fuel that added to the fire. I think the Red Foxes will pick up right where they left off and be fun to watch this season.
Edited by Sam DiGiovanni
Photo Credit: Marist Athletics