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10 Man Ride: Back-to-back Shipsnakes

By Joe Keegan

PLL Analyst

Aug 10, 2020

CLEAR! The ride is on. After falling down 6-2, the Whipsnakes closed yesterday’s game against Cahos on a 10-0 run to repeat as PLL Champions. We’re recapping the 20th game in 16 days. Let’s ride!

1. Zed Williams: MVP

Trailing by three entering the fourth quarter, the Whipsnakes had their backs against the ropes. They answered, as championship teams do, with six goals in 121 seconds – four of them from MVP Zed Williams.

Zed (6G) led the tournament in goals by a landslide. He can score off any type of shot: Overhand, twister, underhand, underhand twister, and more. His go-to dodge, though, is a swift, powerful inside roll. His footwork on the doorstep is phenomenal; he caught defenders with this move in one-on-one scenarios throughout the tournament. Yesterday, the Whips were setting picks to set up this roll.

Early in the game, that action produced a double team and Zed started some of the Whips’ best ball movement of the day. He dished to John Haus (1G, 1A), who pushed to bait another defender, then swung to Matt Rambo (1G, 3A) who hit Mike Chanenchuk (1G) for a near two-pointer.

Notice how the Whips change the pick’s position at the last moment. Rambo does it here, too. He gets a huge piece of Jack Rowlett, which prevents Chaos from squeezing a double team. Zed rolls inside without any wasted motion. He sinks his hips, explodes out of his turn, and attacks a high percentage area.

Zed’s postgame interview – holding back tears as he dedicated the win to his late father – was perfection. While most Whipsnakes were ready to get their paws on the trophy, Zed was clutching an even more cherished piece: His lacrosse stick. For Zed and the Indigenous peoples, lacrosse is more than a sport. It is spiritual.

Lacrosse is known as the Medicine Game because of its ability to heal. For many of us, these past 16 days were exactly that. I’m grateful that the Iroquois have shared their medicine with us. We need to ensure that they are not excluded from international competitions. If you would like to support Zed and the Iroquois’ battle for inclusion in the 2022 World Games and the 2028 Olympics, please consider contributing here.

2. Michael Ehrhardt’s gravity

Chaos did an incredible job denying transition after offensive possessions. They dumped the ball in the corner and got back on defense, even if it meant Dhane Smith, Jake Froccaro or Sergio Salcido taking a defensive shift. Their offense-to-defense transition was flawless; their faceoff-to-defense transition was not.

Defending faceoff losses is difficult. Fast break shooting percentage is better off wins at the stripe than it is following clean saves. Think about it: You’re already halfway to the goal. A win forces the defense to pick the lesser of two evils. For Chaos, any shot inside the arc was okay, relatively speaking.

After seeing Michael Ehrhardt (5GB, 1CT) drill a pair of two-pointers (both high bouncers!) against the Redwoods on Thursday night, Towers was determined to deny Ehrhardt opportunities from beyond the arc.  “[Make] sure that Ehrhardt isn’t in position to hit any twos,” Towers mentioned as a key entering halftime.

Mission accomplished. Ehrhardt took one shot. But his gravitational pull opened up a true two-on-two for Zed Williams and Jay Carlson here.

Even an airtight gameplan executed to perfection will allow some transition opportunities against a team with Joe Nardella (12-for-19, 63.1 FO%) and Ehrhardt.

3. Crease Collapse of the Day

The Whipsnakes don’t slide often. But when they do, they move as one.

This defense has a hive mind. Everyone is thinking the same thing at all times. TJ Comizio slides to this Austin Staats rollback to squeeze a double team. Rollbacks are always a green light to go for this defense, so his teammates behind him are ready. Tim Muller is left playing one-on-two against Kevin Buchanan and Josh Byrne, but not for long – Bryce Young sinks in from the weakside, allowing Muller to extend to Byrne.

In a matter of seconds, the Whips forced a playmaker to cough the ball up, and all it cost them was a low-angle bid by Byrne. Kyle Bernlohr (16 saves, 72.7%) plays angles as well as any goalie in the league. He saw fewer shots from the hole – and more shots from the pipe – than any other starting goalie in this tournament. That is “Whipsnakes defense.” 

4. DPOY-to-be Matt Dunn

Matt Dunn (1 save, 2 Glicks, 1GB) is a shoo-in for Defensive Player of the Year. He was snubbed of a nomination last summer -- whether it was because he doesn't play offense or because the strength of the Whips' defense is in the team or because attackmen are afraid to dodge Dunn, it doesn't matter. He belonged there last year, and he belongs there again this year.

Game in and game out, Dunn owns his individual matchup to the point that nobody wants to test him. He still manages to make his impact on the game. Whether he is filling the crease, sliding to a rollback, jumping into an empty net to legitimately save a shot, or closing out to a shooter, Dunn plays mistake-free, team-first defense.

Dunn blanked Curtis Dickson in six-on-six sets without sacrificing his help defense. This alley dodge through X is how Chaos got the party started against the Archers. Dunn downloads the field’s data in an instant. Notice how he points to Miles Thompson, sneaking from X. Dunn won’t leave the paint until he’s sure someone has a stick on Thompson. Ehrhardt sinks, and Dunn extends to block Dickson’s shot.

Dunn and Bryce Young play sides here on the inside as Dickson and Josh Byrne exchange. Byrne positions himself to seal Dunn, who recognizes, fights through, and blocks this stepdown two-point attempt.

5. Tim Muller, wrecking powerplays

Entering the Championship, Chaos had converted its last three powerplay opportunities. This unit was rolling with Josh Byrne playing top center. Byrne can hit every pass on the field. His 360-degree stick fakes and behind-the-back passes buy time for shooters.

Both of Tim Muller’s (1GB, 2CT) caused turnovers came on the penalty kill – and his fourth quarter strip against Byrne squashed a huge chance for Chaos to swing the momentum. A bottom-hand poke jarred the ball free, and then Muller dislodged Byrne’s stick as Ehrhardt finished the play with a groundball.

6. Whips identifying and attacking mismatches

Midfield versatility wins games in this league. That requires two components: Players who can play both end of the field, and players who can recognize when an opponent is trapped.

The Whips don’t run many players on both ends by design. But they identify those mismatches better than any team. Some attempts to exploit offensive midfielders didn’t pan out (i.e. inverting Dhane Smith), but this one did.

First Rambo dodges Sergio Salcido. He draws a slide, and Salcido peels, so Rambo hits a single. It’s Haus’s turn to make a play and expose Salcido. Jake Bernhardt picks to pull Salcido out of the slide package. Haus rejects the pick, and draws a double, leaving Zed wide open inside.

Chaos had chances to do the same. As the first half came to a close, Dhane Smith had Mike Chanenchuk covering him. They never got Dhane the ball. Jake Froccaro dodged and took a long shot. Chanenchuk was never dodged, or even put in position to help. There are only a handful of opportunities like this in every game, and the Whips seem to seize almost all of them.

7. Give Blaze Riorden two Goalie of the Year Awards 

Blaze Riorden saw and stopped more shots than any goalie in the league. He saw and stopped more shots from the doorstep than any goalie in the league – and his three doorstep saves yesterday against Zed, Jay Carlson, and John Haus kept Chaos in the game.

Any save that can provoke a Ryan Boyle hoot is special. Typically, those reactions are reserved for offensive moments; most goalies are only ever on the wrong end of them. This stuff by Blaze – one-on-one with Jay Carlson, who shot 46% during the series – earned a hearty laugh from Boyle and from all of us watching at home.

8. Jack Rowlett, an unconditional competitor

Jack Rowlett’s (1CT, 2GB) motor is nonstop. He hustled around the field for 48 minutes yesterday, leaving it all out there. This sequence stood out. As Rambo rolls inside, Rowlett slides; then as the Whips hit singles, Rowlett peels, sprints to the crease, and sprints to contest (and alter) Max Tuttle’s stepdown shot.

Rowlett punishes his man with cross checks and reverse V-holds (a Jamie Munro-ism). Garrett Epple, a lefty, used a natural V-hold to turn Rambo on Thursday night. That hold puts pressure on Rambo and eliminates skip passes; he needs to throw everything from the hip. Rowlett, a righty, uses a reverse V-hold here to tie up Rambo’s hands as he posts up at the island.

9. Tyson Bell taking SSDM and LSM runs 

Leading up to the Championship Series, coaches emphasized the importance of positional versatility in a two-week sprint. World games experience carried weight when making roster decisions. Defensemen who can pick up a short-stick or a pole – Kevin Unterstein, Kyle Hartzell, James Barclay, Tyler Dunn, Tyson Bell – were at a premium.

Bell might be the best of that versatile bunch. The St. Catharines product defended with a short-stick for Team Canada in 2018 and with a long-stick at Onondaga Community College. He has no position. He’s just a lacrosse player. A tough, physical lacrosse player.

Chaos’ invert defense was a question mark entering the game. They tightened it up by putting more trust in their short-sticks. Bell (who probably split SSDM and LSM runs evenly yesterday) and Patrick Resch were asked to defend on an island while their teammates matched feet above GLE. They won most of their one-on-ones. And this play, Bell wins one-on-two. Chaos half slides to him, leaving Zed open; so Bell turns his head and closes out to Zed to block a stepdown shot. There’s no real double or peel call or anything – just Bell making a play.

10. Thank you, Kevin Buchanan

Kevin Buchanan (1G, 1 pick assist) has played his final PLL game. An all-time great, Bucky played a huge role on the lefty side for a Chaos LC team that was missing Deemer Class (lower body injury) for the entire Championship Series.

The Kidney Pad Kid midfield line (Dhane Smith, Austin Staats, and Bucky) produced Chaos’s best shots. Bucky’s box background helped him blend in with Smith (Canadian) and Staats (Iroquois). American attackmen and midfielders looking to extend their careers could take notes from Bucky – his understanding of slow-playing two-man games, shooting with deception, and increasing his angle has allowed him to compete at a high level for a long time.

This answer move needs to be added to every dodging midfielder’s repertoire. After winning down the alley, Bucky flips his hips and boosts his percentages by bringing his stick to the inside – and a screen from Byrne helps Bucky find the back of the net.

Thanks for reading!

Spread the word, submit any questions you want to see answered in this space to me on Twitter (@joekeegs), and I’ll talk to you tomorrow!

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