Maryland Whipsnakes defenseman Ajax Zappitello

Film study: How Ajax Zappitello showcased potential in Michael Sowers matchup

By Adam Lamberti | Jun 26, 2024

Maryland Whipsnakes rookie defender Ajax Zappitello was drafted No. 3 overall in the 2024 College Draft for a very specific reason.

After the Whips' Week 3 victory over the Philadelphia Waterdogs, that reason was revealed during the postgame press conference with head coach Jim Stagnitta.

“One of the things I’ve always said is we need someone that can cover Michael Sowers because I’m not sure anyone really can,” Stagnitta said after his team won 15-14 in overtime in Philly. “I thought Ajax did as good a job as you can today.”

While Sowers finished the game with a hat trick, Zappitello held him to just one goal while defending him, which could even be debated as a goal Zappitello gave up because Sowers was aided by a pick. 

In fact, Sowers was using picks all day long instead of attacking one-on-one. Sowers has always thrived while using a pick, so this isn’t unusual, but it’s an interesting note because last year, Sowers had no qualms about going at the Whipsnakes’ defenders one-on-one.

And to the Waterdogs’ credit, it worked, as Sowers did a lot of damage once he got a switch onto a short-stick matchup. Looking back at the film, I think the Whipsnakes switched too easily. They should have trusted Zappitello more to recover to Sowers. By switching that easily, you allow Sowers to attack an easier short-stick matchup to get a shot or a quick slide which generates offense for the Waterdogs.

While Zappitello struggled against a bigger, more physical dodger in New York Atlas attacker Dylan Molloy in the Whipsnakes’ opener, he matched up well against Sowers because he’s equipped with “technician” footwork. For example, even when Sowers would get a step off a pick, Zappitello would use exceptional angle-play to cut off Sowers and eliminate a dangerous opportunity.

This was a very fun cat-and-mouse game to watch, especially going through the film a second time. Expect another terrific matchup between these two when the Whipsnakes and Waterdogs meet again in August.