Coach Stagnitta’s 4 Keys to the Championship Series
If there’s one thing the Whipsnakes know about, it’s winning championships. The first-ever PLL champions, twelve Whips head to D.C. with hopes of becoming the first-ever winners of the Championship Series. With the most versatile roster in the tournament, their biggest concern lies in their shooting percentage. I spoke with head coach Jim Stagnitta about the process behind-the-scenes in assembling the Whipsnakes Championship Series roster.
New style of play brings new challenges
A sentiment shared amongst all four coaching staffs, the new style of play comes with new challenges.
“This style of the game is new for everyone for the most part,” said Stagnitta. “There’s a few guys with some experience from The World Games, but for the most part, especially as coaches no one really knows exactly what to expect.”
Despite the question marks, Stagnitta is sure about one thing: the value of two-way players.
“You’ve got to have guys with multiple skill sets,” he explained. “If you want to do well in this game, you need to have the ability to run the field up-and-down and survive on the defensive end of the field.”
The Whipsnakes boast the advantage of a mainly midfield-oriented roster. Jay Carlson is their only true one-way player.
However, it’s less about standing out defensively than it is surviving. Given the short period of time the Championship Series will be played in, the Whips don’t plan to transform their roster into twelve Tyler Warners.
“We’re not going to teach these guys to play shutdown defense in that period of time. We’re going to help them find other ways to make it work, and that’s a largely individual thing that varies from player to player. We have no expectation that these guys are going to go out and play exceptional defense.”
A midfielder’s game
The Whipsnakes do have some experience on their side with Justin Guterding who represented Team USA in The World Games last summer in Alabama. Aside from him, there’s a few guys Stagnitta has his eyes on that could really stand out in the Olympic format.
“Brad Smith jumps right out,” said Stagnitta. Regarded as one of the top midfielders in the game right now, Smith has gone from “the greatest lacrosse player you’ve never heard of,” to a Gait Brothers Midfielder of the Year nominee in 2022, and now a fan-favorite early pick for MVP for the upcoming Championship Series given his multi-faceted play in the field game.
Stagnitta also mentioned a couple young faces on the roster he’s looking forward to seeing play in the tournament.
Two rookie midfielders in-and-out of the Whipsnakes roster over the summer, Stagnitta views the Championship Series as a prime opportunity to see their highest potential in a version of the game accommodated to their skill sets.
A couple of returning faces
While 10 of the 12 Whipsnakes headed to D.C. played with the club this past summer, two guys will be making their first appearance in a scale-sequenced uniform since 2021.
“Will [Perry]’s been right on the cusp for us in camp these past couple of years, and obviously two years ago he played for us in-season a little bit, so this will give him a really fair look and evaluation for the summer,” remarked Stagnitta.
While ultimately there was not a fit for him in the midfield group this last year, Stagnitta believes he’ll be a valuable addition in the Olympic format. Cut by the Whipsnakes in training camp last May, the team signed Perry to a Championship Series contract in late November.
“Will’s a very good shooter and we have not been a great shooting team. He’ll be a great asset in hopefully changing that and it’s a great opportunity to reintroduce him in our lineup and really spend some time with him and work with him. He has a skill set that I think we could really use and that will hopefully help us in this Championship Series.”
Stagnitta specifically mentioned Perry utilizing the shortened 13-yard two-point arc.
Along with Perry, the Whipsnakes picked up veteran SSDM Matt Abbott. The career leader in groundballs amongst short-stick defenders and four-time MLL champion with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, Abbott played in 8 games for the Whipsnakes in 2021 and most recently spent time with the Cannons this past summer. With thirteen years of professional lacrosse under his belt, he’ll be an asset for the Whips on the defensive side of the ball.
Whipsnakes’ shooting woes
With so many changes in the Olympic format, I asked Stagnitta which change he believes to be most significant from a coaching standpoint.
“The 30-second shot clock is interesting to me for two reasons. One being just how much time it is, and the second is how fast you’re forced to play with that.”
He said it’s definitely a point of emphasis for the Whips going into the Championship Series as they haven’t been where they want to be as shooters these last two years. The combination of the 30-second shot clock along with no shot backup - meaning if the ball goes out of bounds when a player shoots, his team automatically loses possession and the ball’s given to the opposing defense - statistically is a valid concern for them.
“Shooting hasn’t been a strength of ours these past couple seasons. You look at the shooting percentage and it hasn’t been great,” explains Stagnitta. “In sixes if you shoot and miss, the other team gets the ball so it’s really important to put the ball on cage in this game.”
The Whipsnakes ranked amongst the bottom of the league in shooting in 2022, with the worst assisted shooting percentage at 27.6%, and the third-worst in unassisted shooting at 25.2%.