10 Man Ride: Championship Preview
CLEAR! The ride is on. It's Championship Weekend. After leading 6-3 through three quarters of the 2020 Championship, Chaos LC collapsed. Zed Williams and Whipsnakes LC roared back with a 9-0 final frame.
The rematch is set for Sunday at 12PM ET on NBC. Let's cover the whole field with 10 things to watch for:
1. The Great Dhane
Chaos LC midfielder Dhane Smith squeezes more passes into tight areas than anyone in the league. Of his 45 assist opportunities, 21 were to the doorstep or hole.
Dhane has a dangerous first step off the dodge from the righty side. When Chaos initiates from the lefty side, he’s often the hinge on their two-pass pick-and-roll looks.
Chaos boasts a 56% assist rate (i.e. the percentage of their shots that are assisted on) -- by far the highest in the league (next highest is 51%). Dhane’s vision, unselfishness, and trust in his teammates to catch in close (especially when only defended by a short-stick) is a big reason why.
2. Chaos' on-ball bullies
The Chaos defense does not slide often. They take pride in their individual matchups -- an easier-said-than-done approach.
They triple-poled the Atlas midfield, daring Jake Carraway and Eric Law to run by short-sticks. What will they do on Sunday?
Expect Chaos to mix in some double pole looks, with a short-stick on Jay Carlson. Every Whipsnakes midfielder can beat you off the dodge; but unless you want to short-stick either Zed or Rambo, one of those midfielders is getting a shortie.
My pick: Mike Chanenchuk, who is better when slinging sidearm curveballs at the end of the rainbow than he is off the dribble. Since 2019, Channy has shot 13.6% (11-for-81) on unassisted shots. He’s a less threatening party starter than John Haus, Brad Smith, Justin Guterding or Connor Kirst.
3. Back-to-back(-to-back?!) Oren Lyons Goalie of the Year Blaze Riorden
Blaze Riorden impacts both ends of the field from inside his crease. He dished two assists and a second assist in the semifinals; his clean saves lead to transition.
“The idea of running by one of their middies and dodging down the alley and shooting against Blaze is a little bit of fool’s gold,” said Whipsnakes LC head coach Jim Stagnitta. “He’s just going to eat those up and it’s going to create offense going the other way. Part of our approach in being able to defend them starts on the offensive end.”
Blaze’s butterfly technique -- borrowed from hockey goalies -- clogs angles from both sides. Most goalies are better on one pipe than the other. Blaze is lights out on both. He has saved 60.0% of shots from the lefty side and 60.7% from the righty side.
The Whipsnakes will need to draw slides -- it’ll make saves messier for Blaze and breakouts slower for his outlets.
4. Zed off pick-n-rolls
I asked Jack Rowlett the difference between Zed and Rambo as dodgers.
“One is a righty and one is a lefty,” he joked.
But seriously, they are both bulldozers from X on opposite sides of the field. Zed is especially dangerous running off slam picks on GLE.
In ‘20-’21, Zed has shot 17.4% (8-for-46) unassisted off isolation dodges; he’s 42.1% (16-for-38) unassisted off pick-n-rolls.
Expect Rowlett to draw this matchup in a rematch within the rematch.
Read more about the Whipsnakes’ slam picks (last time I’ll plug this breakdown… until next summer).
5. Rambo's poise
Teammates have finished 41.3% (52-for-126) of Matt Rambo’s assist opportunities in a Whipsnakes uniform. He’s the rare superstar who takes exactly what the defense gives him, every time.
In the 2019 postseason, Chaos shut off Rambo with Jarrod Neumann -- so he walked above GLE while the Whipsnakes inverted. He understands the math: 5-on-5 is an advantage for the offense, even if he’s not one of those five. If his defender isn’t willing to slide, he’ll go inside and let a teammate work an advantageous one-on-one.
In the 2019 Championship, the Redwoods switched pick-n-rolls and tried to slide to flush matchups. Rambo made them pay with big-littles behind the cage, finding John Haus and company on the interior off screens, seals, and cuts.
Whatever scheme Chaos LC defensive coordinator Ryan Curtis cooks up for Sunday, Rambo will poke a hole in it. He can win as a passer, as a dodge-to-shoot threat, or off-ball while teammates feast.
6. Whipsnakes' pre-pick defense
The Whipsnakes’ pick defense starts before the pick is set. Their short-sticks will shadow the picker, getting as close as possible (and sometimes shoving them a bit) to allow their poles to fight through. Opponents have only been able to create 8.7 shots off pick-n-rolls per game against the Whips -- second lowest in the league.
“Their pick play is just so unpredictable,” said Whipsnakes LC LSM Michael Ehrhardt. “We gotta be aggressive on those picks. It’s just a matter of getting our guys all on the same page.”
7. The Stripe
After leading 6-3 through three quarters, the 2020 Championship slipped away from Chaos -- starting at the stripe.
Joe Nardella sparked a 9-0 fourth quarter for the Whipsnakes. He won faceoffs and fed Zed. Then won more faceoffs. And fed Zed again.
The Whipsnakes’ transition is lethal, especially off faceoff wins. Nardella throws low passes right into Zed’s wheelhouse for wormburners and underhand twisters.
To prevent runs like that, Chaos LC head coach Andy Towers drafted Max Adler in the first round of the 2021 Entry Draft. Adler has won 61.5% (40-for-65) of his faceoffs in his last three games. Towers says no player in the league has improved more since training camp. He’ll go against his training partner, Nardella, and look to level the playing field that typically tilts in the Whips’ favor.
8. Meet the Fraze
Anything Nelson Rice writes is a must-read. His feature on Chase Fraser is no exception.
Prior to this summer, Fraser hadn’t played field lacrosse since April 2017. Josh Byrne told Andy Towers that Fraser is like a “right-handed version of me.”
In the same way that Zed and Rambo attack off slam picks from opposite sides of the field, Fraser and Byrne play similar roles on separate sides in Chaos’ pairs offense. They can both dodge from the wing or catch-and-finish inside. Fraser has shot 33.3% (9-for-27) off the catch and 26.3% (5-for-19) off the dodge sliding into Curtis Dickson’s role on the righty side. He’s balanced -- like everyone in Chaos’ pick, re-pick, and react offense.
9. Michael Ehrhardt staying and playing
Whether he’s hovering around the 2-point arc, picking for Rambo, or faking a substitution, Michael Ehrhardt is involved in the offense deep into the shot clock.
Two-man games during that time period with :31-:40 seconds remaining on the shot clock cause headaches for defense. Switch? Fight through? SWITCH?! They aren’t just big-littles; they’re big-offensive midfielders.
10. "Our ghosts aren't even being learned"
Cannons LC attackman Lyle Thompson is on the cover of Sports Illustrated today. The cover and Ben Pickman’s story on the cultural genocide against Indigenous peoples are powerful. As recently as the late 1990s, Indigenous youths were taken to residential schools to be systematically stripped of their Native culture, language and spirit. Children in those schools faced abuse and violence; thousands of unmarked graves have been found.
After 200-plus unmarked graves were discovered at the Kamloops Indian Residential School in June, Lyle began wearing an orange ribbon in his braid to raise awareness.
“Our ancestors, they deserve the recognition,” Zed told SI. “They deserve the voice they never had.”
Lacrosse was leveraged by these schools as an assimilative tool.
It’s important to remember and to celebrate the true roots of lacrosse.
“Where it originated from—and where the heart and soul of lacrosse is—is on reservations. These people live for lacrosse. They’re so passionate about it.”
Please read Ben’s story on SI -- with insight from Lyle, Zed, Franky Brown, and Randy Staats. It’s worth your time. And you’ll appreciate the passion and emotion with which Zed plays even more come Sunday.