Brian Kavanagh Archers

Brian Kavanagh: The mastermind that makes the Archers “the best substituting team in the league”

By Zach Carey

Aug 18, 2023

Brian Kavanagh was 26 when he started as an assistant coach for the Archers Lacrosse Club. That season, in 2019, he was younger than more than half of the club’s roster. Both Tom Schreiber and Ryan Ambler are, in fact, former college teammates of Kavanagh’s who both also started with the club from its inception. 

Brian Kavangh's background with the Archers

Five years later, Kavanagh has established himself as a critical part of the Archers’ club and as one of the best assistants in the league. “Coach Kavanagh doesn’t get the credit he deserves,” said Waterdogs Lacrosse Club Head Coach Andy Copelan after the Archers beat them in Dallas earlier this summer. “In my opinion they’re the best substituting team in the league,” he added. 

Kavanagh’s coaching persona has developed since he joined the professional coaching ranks in 2019, a result of his commitment, tactical acumen, and growing comfort as a coach of professionals. But a critical component of that process was the presence of Schreiber and Ambler in that first season.

“Those guys have been great and I owe a lot to them,” comments Kavanagh. “I had some imposter syndrome going into that first season. So I owe a lot to Tom and Ryan for giving me respect in front of the rest of the team and asking my opinion when I might’ve been too shy to give it. To have those guys that are veterans that are my age or older give me the respect that I wasn’t sure I necessarily deserved was huge for me.” 

How the Archers make a difference via the substitution game

Today, Kavanagh commands the substitution box for the Archers, providing a valuable and commanding presence on the sideline and alongside Archers Head Coach Chris Bates and Defensive Coordinator Tony Resch. 

In a league where the margins between the best and the worst teams are razor thin, the details matter to an extreme degree. Fortunately for the Archers, Kavanagh thrives in the specifics. He runs the substitution box and finds ways to give the team slight advantages which add up after 48 minutes of play. 

“There’s a lot that goes into it,” says Kavanagh about running the box. “It seems to be different every game. You can plan as much as you want, but it’s constant adjustments, improvising, and thinking on the fly. It’s a reason why our staff works so well; my focus is best spent just between the lines. If you’re really focused on that you can make a difference instead of just letting the players doing their thing and substitute on their own. If you can focus on what’s going on in the box, you can get one or two goals which is a huge difference in a game.” 

That focus — and the fact that Bates and Resch have such a command over the offense and the defense — has paid off for the Archers in a major way this season. Not only is the team 7-1 and in first place with a two-game buffer on second, but the Archers have blown the rest of the league away in offensive 32-second efficiency, and Kavanagh has played a meaningful part in optimizing the full clock after Mike Sisselberger wins. 

“Having 'Siss' is a luxury,” he says. “We knew what we were getting in terms of a guy who could win the clamps which we hadn’t had before. But I don’t think we knew what we were getting in terms of athleticism and ball security. That’s been a really pleasant surprise for us.”

What that “pleasant surprise,” has meant is that Kavanagh and the staff have been able to focus on taking advantage of the full 32 seconds. “Where originally I thought it would be about creating scenarios to support him and get the ball out of his stick sooner, it’s really been more about how we optimize that clock, constantly looking to optimize that 32 when we’re playing offense and not waiting until there’s 15 to 18 seconds left like some other teams are," Kavanagh comments. 

The Archers have experimented with a variety of different strategies around the stripe. Against prevent faceoff strategies, they’ve used a “launch guy,” or an offensive short stick who starts on defense and then provides an early outlet for Sisselberger after the win.

Kavanagh has also largely been placing their LSM on the box-side wing on faceoffs in order to get an early sub after wins, and the club has been using more offensive shorties or swing guys on the opposite wing to get into offense as quickly as possible. Kavanagh additionally emphasizes using all 20 yards of the box as much as possible, trying to cut down the distance that players subbing onto the field half to cover to get back on defense or get into the offense

“It’s all about finding ways to optimize the rules as they’re written is what we’re looking to do,” he says. 

The persona Kavanagh brings to the sideline

It’s not only the strategy that the Archers employ that makes them successful. Kavanagh’s approach to running the box and the way he communicates with his players is central to the club’s success. 

“I try to be as efficient and as clear with my word choice as possible,” Kavanagh says of his approach. “In Charlotte, Connor DeSimone was coming out of the box for maybe the first time in his career and I said ‘No!’ and he heard ‘Go!’ so we had too many guys on the field. That was one for the next week where we switched so you either get a “Stay!” or a “Go!” call. Being calm helps too, being clear and concise and being commanding with early communication.”

Kavanagh's commitment to winning

For Kavanagh and for the Archers, the role he plays on game days makes a tangible difference and he’s committed to doing whatever he can to accomplish that. “Everybody puts a ton into this,” he says. “So if there’s something I can be doing on game days where I’m having an impact on the game, if we score an extra goal per game or get an extra stop per game… this league is so tight, the margin of error is so thin so if I can do something that can have an impact and put the work in like these guys are then I’m happy to do it. It does make a difference and that’s the role I can play.”

Bates, Kavanagh’s college coach at Princeton, adds that “‘Kav’ does a really good job. He commands respect in the box. He’s got a great overall view of what’s happening. That doesn’t mean our guys always listen. But at the end of the day he’s as valuable as anybody. To give him credit is very well deserved. He’s as good as anybody there and we’re happy to have him.”

For the Archers to capitalize on what is the most complete roster in the league and on a season that has already been filled with plenty of success, they’ll need to continue to make the difference in the subtle areas of the game. Suffice it to say, Brian Kavanagh and the focus the team puts into the substitution game will remain a crucial component for the Archers in a potential run to claiming their first PLL Championship.

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