1. Connor Fields vs. Matt Dunn, Round 1
Tim Muller drew the Connor Fields assignment in the first two matchups between these teams. Muller won Round 1, holding Fields to 2-for-6 shooting, no assists, and four turnovers in a Whipsnakes win. Fields and the Chaos countered in Round 2 with two goals, one assist, and one between-the-legs shot attempt.
We didn’t see Round 3 of Muller vs. Fields on Saturday night. Instead, we saw Round 1 of Matt Dunn vs. Fields. Although they changed the matchup, they didn’t change their off-ball gameplan: Do not slide to Fields.
Fields took Dunn to the cage after rolling and re-rolling (and re-rolling) early in the game. Then the matchup settled down. The ball stuck in Fields’ stick for too long. Fields (2G, 2A) may have had more points than any previous matchup with the Whipsnakes, but Dunn won the fight.
As Fields held for extended periods – and two midfield lines took equal runs – the rest of the Chaos offense failed to find a rhythm. Myles Jones only took two shots. Josh Byrne only took one before leaving the game early. Dunn won’t be famous after that matchup, but he’ll be in Philadelphia awaiting a potential Round 2 with Fields.
2. Beast’s best game yet
Greg Gurenlian came out of retirement to compete. He has battled through injury for most of the summer, missing two games and most of a third. The Redwoods’ hot start may have afforded him some time to recover. And now that he’s back in the lineup, the Redwoods are rolling.
In his last two games, Gurenlian has won 55.8% of his faceoffs with two goals and an assist. He absolutely dominated a helter-skelter third quarter on Friday night, burying a goal and assisting Wes Berg on another. The PLL Bracket Challenge included a bonus pick: Will Gurenlian win 55.0% or more of his faceoffs? Easy answer. Yes. Whatever that number is set at this week, I’ll take the over again. Gurenlian is emptying the tank for this squad.
3. Adam Ghitelman’s dive out
Dive outs. Assisted groundballs. “One more” passes. This Archers team regularly makes the selfless plays. Ghitelman and the Utah lacrosse coaching staff love hustle plays – specifically dive outs. They keep a folder on their ScoreBreak account full of dive outs to the endline and sidelines. Two or three times per game, a Ute will launch himself in the direction of the “when and where” spot. Their coaches preach that culture, and they practice it on the field in the PLL.
4. Archers’ offense sans Schreiber
When Schreiber left with a shoulder injury after the first quarter, the Archers offense could have stalled out. Losing your leader is emotional. Losing your Jim Brown Most Valuable Player Award candidate (and my vote for the award) is a mental hurdle. And then there’s the schematic aspect of replacing your best passer on the fly. I mean, there is only one person on the planet who can do this.
But the Archers never stalled. The rest of the offense stepped up in Schreiber’s absence. Ryan Ambler, Dan Eipp, Christian Cuccinello and Joey Sankey dodged hard to create shots for themselves and for teammates.
“I think we did a great job in that quarter to be honest. I felt like we were pretty efficient when we had the ball,” Marcus Holman told Paul Burmeister heading into halftime. “We’re a team offense. Even with Tom, he shares the ball so much, we all feel like we’re included. We just gotta keep moving the rock and finishing our shots.”
Holman and Will Manny don’t get enough credit for their gravity. Both release shots in the blink of an eye. You cannot even thinkabout helping from them. The Archers’ sets leverage that gravity by putting Holman or Manny’s man in help positions. Manny mirrors Ambler here. Garrett Epple tries to spook Ambler into coughing it up, but Ambler drives hard to take topside.
5. Transition defense
Entering the postseason, I floated a question out on Twitter: What’s the common denominator between the four postseason teams? There were some solid answers: short-stick defensive midfielders, coaching, goaltending. The answer I was looking for: transition defense.
The rules of this league – a shorter field, a shorter shot clock – put an emphasis on transition. Most 2-point goals come on fast breaks. Games are won and lost between the arcs. The best teams are the best transition teams. On Saturday night, the Whipsnakes beat the Chaos by preventing fast breaks. Turnovers lead to the best transition looks; the Whips offense committed only nine of them. Their offensive midfielders got into the hole, forced the Chaos to substitute, and killed the clock.
6. Connor Twoczek
Connor Buczek a.k.a. Connor Twoczek a.k.a. The Cincinnati Sniper made history in his return home to Ohio. Buczek (6G, 3T) set the single-game points record (9). He had a hat trick of goals and then a hat trick of 2-point goals on top of that hat trick. On the season, Buczek has shot 5-for-20 (25.0%) from deep – the equivalent of shooting 50.0% from inside the arc. Where’s Buczek’s sticker?! By the way…
7. WHERE’S CHANENCHUK’S STICKER?
Speaking of stickers, Chanenchuk gave the Chaos a dose of their own medicine. King Channy is 9-for-28 (32.1%) from beyond the arc this season. He’s a one-man bomb squad. Jake Bernhardt and the Whipsnakes sidelines made sure to ask the Chaos bench where Chanenchuk’s sticker was.
8. Ben Reeves being assertive
Earlier in the season, Ben Reeves was benched for passing out of short-stick matchups. He can blow by anyone on the wing; Coach Stagnitta wanted him to start exploiting those mismatches.
This Whipsnakes settled offense hits a new gear when the 2018 Tewaaraton Award winner is attacking. Reeves (2G, 1A) initiated more on Saturday night than he has all summer – and he was able to get to the rim untouched.
9. Slippin’ Dhane
Dhane Smith and Miles Thompson are starting to develop telekinetic pick-and-roll chemistry. In Albany, Smith assisted Thompson on the roll. This week, Smith did a fly by as the defense prepared for him to pick for Thompson.
More of this, please. Dhane Smith deserves more dodging opportunities. He’s one of the best shot creators in box lacrosse; he has the tools to translate that to the field game. Short-sticks won’t be able to keep Dhane from the middle of the field.
10. Crease Collapse of the Week
Turn your back to this Archers defense, and you’re inviting a double team. As Sergio Salcido rolls back, Jackson Place slides to his topside shoulder. Salcido thinks Place’s man is open – but Matt McMahon fills to the crease and arrives on hands.