The Waterdogs’ Marquette duo faces a familiar uphill battle after an 0-3 start

Philadelphia Waterdogs defensemen Jake Richard And Liam Byrnes made two contrasting first impressions on former Marquette head coach Joe Amplo, but they had two distinct similarities

Richard invited Amplo into his home, where his six siblings, his mother and his grandfather were waiting to greet him. They talked, among other things, about Richard’s older brother, Christopher, who was injured at birth and was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The entire family revolved around Christopher, Amplo said, but they spoke of the circumstances with joy and compassion.

“The warmth and love of family grabbed me right away,” Amplo said. “I got the feeling from that moment on that this type of person (Jake) was the right one, and I remember leaving there and calling my wife and saying, ‘I just found the best person in the world. We’re going around the program build this boy up.’”

A year earlier, Amplo met Byrnes at a restaurant, having never seen him play, and the two of them spoke. With hair falling to his shoulders, very little game film and a quiet but fun character, Amplo recalled thinking of Byrnes: “Who is this crazy human sitting in front of me? I want to win with him.”

Yet Byrnes and Richard had two similarities: they were both unapologetically themselves and they were fantastic athletes who couldn’t even properly hold a lacrosse stick but still wanted to be great. So they worked together, pushing each other forward with their drive to succeed and unique leadership styles. By the end of their time at Marquette, they were two of the best defensemen in college lacrosse and Big East champions.

Years later, with the Waterdogs starting 0-3 for the second time in the past three seasons, Richard and Byrnes find themselves in a similar spot.

They went through what Amplo called “probably the worst environment imaginable” and came out the other side as champions. The Waterdogs rely on that true veteran presence to right the ship, and no one does that better than Marquette’s defensive duo because they’ve done it before on a bigger scale.

“(They) set the standard for the kind of people you need to win,” said Amplo, who now coaches in the Navy. “I recruited both guys because of the people they are… and the values ​​they are built on. … But what it emphasized even more, and it still resonates with me, is that you have to bet on people, and those two people are exactly the kind of people you want in organizations when you’re trying to strive for excellence. ”

Amplo built Marquette’s program from the ground up, starting in 2012, when Byrnes arrived with the first recruiting class. By 2016, they were a successful Division I team and their defensive stars were ready for the pros. Richard and Byrnes still rank in the top six all-time in ground balls, turnovers and games played in Marquette history.

All of their lacrosse skills came from Amplo’s lessons over time, but their personalities immediately shaped the team’s moral compass.

In 2012, Marquette didn’t compete, but instead lifted weights and practiced five days a week. It was such a brutal schedule that nearly half the team quit by the end of it. Still, Byrnes’s goofy, easygoing attitude was a magnet for teammates. He was so driven to succeed that others followed his lead.

Byrnes said the training didn’t get any easier in Year 2. But with races looming and starting spots up for grabs, everyone was taking things a little more seriously, and Richard was the North Star. He was and still is a family man who went to church and didn’t like to party, and the rest of the team would definitely have a noisy bunch.

So when people weren’t sure how to act, they looked to Richard because, as Amplo put it, “this guy is probably going to make the right decision.”

“He never made guys feel bad about their choices,” the coach said, “but it certainly raised the standard for what was right and wrong.”

“He was great for what Marquette represented from a Jesuit university standpoint,” Byrnes said. “Service, leadership, involvement in your community – Jake was always one of the guys who went the extra mile in that regard. That’s difficult for a young student; most just want to party and chase girls.

They led in different but equally effective ways, and the love of competition was at the heart of it. Neither had other Division I offers, and they felt the need to prove they belonged. When one played well, the other wanted to make a better play. Yet they didn’t hit .500 until Year 3.

By the time Richard was a junior, he led from the front and became the poster child for hard work and humanity at Marquette. He got to know his teammates better than most guys, Byrnes explained, and connected with them before sharing his insights or advice as captain.

“I think people are honestly wondering if it’s real,” Amplo said. “I’ve seen people put up their antenna and think, can this really be true? Can this man really be like this? And it’s true. His authentic self is the standard we all strive for.”

Meanwhile, Byrnes was easy-going but highly motivated; he was still the same guy rocking huge retro Jordans when Richard met him on a recruiting visit. But he believed he could do anything, and his priorities changed during his time at Marquette. He began to realize how much his actions affected others and began to use that to advantage.

“(Richard) just let his natural self shine through, and for some people that’s easier than for others,” Byrnes said. “For myself, it took a while to see what a good leader is.”

Amplo said the 2016 conference championship will forever be his greatest coaching achievement, even better than leading Team USA to a gold medal at last year’s World Lacrosse Championships, because “it’s unlike any other experience (he) would can duplicate.”

Four years after Marquette’s Big East title, the Waterdogs’ first season took place in the bubble. Richard’s brother, Noah Richard, also went to Marquette and was part of the Waterdogs’ defense along with Byrnes. So Richard, a member of the Atlas at the time, was constantly hanging around the newest PLL team.

The Dogs were building something from the ground up, much like Amplo did at Marquette, and the circumstances were similar in many ways.

“Those guys all had a chip on their shoulder and they were excited to build something together and make something special,” Richard said of the Waterdogs’ first team. “They have that similar, unique gift that those Marquette guys had when I was there: being able to relax and let go and not always keep a serious tone, but when it’s time to compete and light to do and big moments in the game, everyone is there.”

Richard loved the Atlas for their close-knit locker room, so picking a new team last season wasn’t something he took lightly. During the process, he recalled how connected the Water Dogs were from the beginning, how they played with purpose and implicitly accepted each other. That bond has only grown over the years, and the similarities with Marquette’s core have in turn grown greater.

“There are some parallels,” Byrnes said. “The biggest thing is just kind of guys figuring each other out and bringing that culture together. Get the team identity resolved as quickly as possible, because once you know who you are, you can start worrying about the other things.

Richard wanted a similar dressing room that radiated solidarity, loyalty and trust. Those are things you need if you want to build a championship team from scratch, and that culture was shared by Amplo and former Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan from Day 1. That’s why so many Golden Eagles stars found themselves in the purple at some point in their pro careers.

“It’s not just Liam. BJ GrillJake Richard, guys that were part of a new upcoming build, they stayed loyal to Coach Amplo, stayed loyal to Marquette and they wanted to see that thing through and that speaks volumes for those guys,” Copelan said last year. “That tells you those guys are hooked up all the right way.”

The Waterdogs are currently in seventh place and would miss the playoffs if the season ended today. But no one’s hitting the panic button because, like Michael Sowers promised after their most recent loss, everyone has confidence in the players and coaches around them.

Richard is the “translator” for the new staff, head coach Bill Tierney said, because he speaks the language of coaches and players. As the current head coach of his alma mater, Richard’s natural leadership has been a welcome addition.

All Marquette alumni went through the wringer to create a winning program in the 2010s. Now in 2024, Richard and Byrnes are a big reason why no one in the Dogs’ locker room is concerned about a slow start.

“We had seen it all, done it all, and nothing could faze us (at Marquette),” Richard said. “And when we look at this challenge in front of us and are 0-3, it feels the same. No one in the locker room blinks and everyone is looking straight ahead, looking at the next challenge, ready to go.”