With Plenty of Returners, Men’s Lacrosse Hopes to Return to the Top of the MAAC

The 2022 season did not end on a high note for Marist mens lacrosse; they lost 13-12 in the MAAC tournament semifinals to the three-seed and eventual champion Manhattan College Jaspers.

They faced adversity all season long, dropping six of their first seven games before bouncing back in MAAC play to post a 5-1 regular season conference record. Complicating matters was the injury to star attackman Jamison Embury, who went down in the first game of the season against Rutgers with a fully-torn ACL and a partially-torn meniscus that would sideline him for the remainder of the year. 

After months of rehab, Embury finally got cleared to return to game action in the fall.

“It feels really good, early on we just started practice and we were doing doubles so that was kind of my first real reps,” Embury said. “I’ve been really happy and it’s been moving really well, I feel completely back to normal.”

The Red Foxes are gearing up in anticipation for much smoother sailing this season. The team was ranked first in the 2023 MAAC Preseason Poll, garnering six out of 10 first-place votes while narrowly beating out Manhattan for the top spot ahead of the season.

The team has two players who earned All-MAAC Preseason Honors: JoJo Pirreca, who earned MAAC Preseason Player of the Year, and James Lyons, who earned a spot on the All-MAAC Preseason.

When looking at the conference as a whole, the MAAC added five new schools for lacrosse; Sacred Heart, Wagner, Long Island University, Virginia Military Institution, and Mount St. Mary’s. The Mountaineers are the only institution to join the conference as a full member, while the other four programs joined on a partial basis.

On the other hand, the conference is losing 2022 MAAC Championship runner-up, St. Bonaventure, as they are returning to the Atlantic 10 conference. With the conference undergoing a large amount of turnover, head coach Keegan Wilkinson believes his team’s new adversaries will be eager to establish themselves.

“It is really interesting to have these new schools added to the conference,” Wilkinson said. “ It is going to be a unique challenge for us… We expect them to be very hungry to prove themselves in the new conference.”

Marist only played six conference games last season, but with the new additions, the Red Foxes are slated to play nine MAAC contests in 2023. Mount St. Mary’s and LIU were the highest-regarded new teams in the Preseason Poll, finishing fourth and fifth respectively.

The Red Foxes will have some key starters returning for this season, which should be a huge help for this team down the stretch and into the conference tournament. These include James Lyons, JoJo Pirreca, Kyle Stofko, Hunter and Jamison Embury, and Tyler Ammirato. Lyons wanted to come back for another year, believing that he has more to prove.

“I love this place and I obviously have had a lot of fun here,” Lyons said. “With COVID, we kind of got two years stripped from us. A lot of kids in my class came back for another year as well.”

The coaching staff remains the same this year with Wilkinson at the helm. Working alongside him is assistant coaches Dave Scarcello and JD Colarusso, the latter of whom is a former professional lacrosse player. Wilkinson, who has been named MAAC Coach of the Year on three occasions (2013, 2015, 2019), will attempt to lead his team to his third MAAC Championship.

“Our expectations always remain the same, typically to play as hard as we can and represent the school and the program to the best of our ability and compete for a championship,” Wilkinson said. “Last year, after losing a heartbreaker to Manhattan in the semi-finals, we had no shortage of motivation.”

A big question for this team last year was who would step up as the Faceoff X, one of the most important positions on the field. Sophomore Dylan Bedell rose to the occasion, improving as the season went along, which helped Marist set the tone down the stretch. In doing so, Bedell solidified his spot as the number-one guy for years to come.

The biggest question mark currently is who will replace Anthony Novellano in between the cage for the Red Foxes. Novellano ranked sixth in the nation in save percentage for most of last season, so his shoes will be big ones to fill. 

Senior goalie Daniel O’ Meara saw two games of action last season, one in garbage time and another one in a one-goal regular-season game against Manhattan when Novellano received a penalty and had to exit the game. After being thrust into action, O’Meara made a big save for the team, leading them to victory. Other options on the roster include sophomore goalies Bryant O’ Donnelly and Noble Smith; it’ll be fascinating to see who gets the nod

While plenty of experience returns, Marist lost arguably the best long stick midfielder in the MAAC last year in JT Roselle, who transferred to North Carolina for his last year of eligibility. Graduate student captain Tyler Ammirato, who was a standout for Marist on the wing, will look to continue his strong play last year when he had career highs in caused turnovers with seven and ground balls with 29. 

For the second year in a row, James Lyons is set to wear the prestigious number 34 jersey for the Red Foxes. The jersey is awarded to an athlete who demonstrates high qualities of leadership and determination in honor of the late Eddie Combs. Lyons was tied for second on the team with 37 points last season.

“It is definitely an honor, I am very honored that I was awarded the jersey last year and this year,” Lyons said. “It is kind of crazy. I have worn number 34 all my life, from PAL (Police Athletic League) Football to PAL Lacrosse, and all throughout high school I was number 34. When I came here it was definitely my goal to get that number.”

The back line for Marist will look the same this year, as their big three is back. Defensemen Kyle Stofko highlights the returners, along with 6-foot-4 junior defenseman Kurt Wesner, who will be looking to replicate his lockdown defense from a season ago. Larry Cangro will also be looking for a repeat of his strong play from last year.

“We (Larry and Kurt) built a good repertoire together last year. We definitely have some good chemistry between us,” Stofko said. “Coming back with the same group of guys, and not just the close guys, but on defense in general. Chemistry is a big thing on defense, so it will be great. We have a lot of other poles who are going to do great things as well.”

Due to the new arrivals in the MAAC, the team only has five non-conference games on its slate this season. As was the case in 2022, there are some challenging games with road trips to nationally-ranked Rutgers and Jacksonville consisting of two of Marist’s first three games this season.

And now for my record prediction: I believe the Red Foxes will go 9-5 overall, as they should fare well in the MAAC with a 6-3 record in conference play. This team brings back a lot of starters from last year. I believe they can win the MAAC and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2019. 

The team will face Rutgers for the second year in a row in their much-anticipated season-opener on Feb. 4 at 1 p.m.

Edited by Jonathan Kinane and Luke Sassa

Photo from Marist Athletics

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