Michael Sowers

Film Study: Sowers and Carraway help Waterdogs find pick-and-roll identity

By Wyatt Miller | Jul 13, 2023

The Waterdogs offense has thrived on screens this season. Scoring 17 goals at 37% on two-man initiations, they have the most goals and third-highest shooting percentage in that context. 

Yet, 45% of the Waterdogs’ initiations have been from X, and they have the PLL’s second-worst conversion rate from that spot. The ‘Dogs rank third-to-last in scoring as a result. But on Saturday, Michael Sowers led the Waterdogs to 4-of-9 shooting on pick-and-rolls from X, combining two of the team’s most significant schemes to raise their efficiency. 

The Chrome defense hadn’t allowed a single goal against the two-man game prior to Saturday. They allowed five to the Waterdogs and four were from X, indicating that this offense is finally finding its identity behind the pick-and-roll for Sowers. But without Connor Kelly or a faceoff specialist, head coach Andy Copelan said he also planned for a versatile shooter to step up. 

Jake Carraway had a breakout game as a picker, while Sowers established why the Waterdogs’ offense is so electric in his hands. 

The Michael Sowers Effect

The second goal of the game was Sowers’ first of four assists, and three were initiated from X. Going to his left behind the cage, Sowers took advantage of a solid screen from Christian Scarpello before settling behind the crease on the right. That caused Greg Weyl to switch off of Sowers, who was picked up by Justin Anderson on the opposite side. 

But Nick Grill, who had been guarding Ethan Walker, came over to play help-side defense. Grill pointed at Eli Salama to switch onto Walker, but Salama stayed on his man up top. That’s when Sowers sped to his right and around the crease before tossing it across the formation to a wide-open Walker, who whipped it low-to-high into the close corner.

Goalie Sean Sconone was clearly expecting Sowers’ classic low shot off the crease roll, which he’d just done minutes earlier, but it got called off on a violation. 

Sowers’ presence at the crease was enough to draw three defenders and the goalie to his side. That’s the Michael Sowers effect. Every time he attacks the goal, it puts opposing defenses on high alert, and they make mistakes. That has led Sowers to a 40% assist success rate, which is tied for the second-highest in the league for players with 15+ opportunities.

After leading the ‘Dogs in one-point goals in his sophomore season, Sowers has drawn more doubles, and adopted a pass-first mindset. His goals-to-assists ratio was basically 2-to-1 last year, but that’s been flipped through four games, and it’s worked to the team’s advantage. He notched four assists and no goals against the Chrome, and the team led the whole game.

Near the start of the second half, Sowers created another easy score. With Terefenko draped on him near the goal line, Sowers and Jeff Conner pulled off a magnificent screen fake. As he sprinted in from the sideline, Conner passed to Sowers and then set up a back pick on his left, behind Terefenko. 

But Conner switched sides as the dodge began, and Sowers pivoted to use the screen. Seeing this, Alex Smith came off his man so Sowers couldn’t get a clear path to the crease. He then spun backwards out of the dodge to find a wide-open Conner at X, who fed Kieran McArdle on the doorstep for an easy goal to make it 8-2. Once again, Sowers drew the double and identified the open man before the defense could adjust.

Jake Carraway “turned the corner”

Well, it was really Sowers who turned the corner on this play, but Jake Carraway set the screen. Before training camp even started, Copelan acknowledged that Carraway and Walker could spend some time in the midfield. This week, Carraway flourished in that role, and his presence was felt all over the field. 

With four minutes left in the first half, the Waterdogs were up 5-1 when Copelan called a timeout to draw up a play. 

“Give him [Sowers] an up pick here and let’s just play,” Copelan said. And then Sowers added, “Listen, let’s go with whoever is not [guarded by Ryan] Terefenko.”

Terefenko lined up on Sowers, who made his way to the bottom right of the arc. Carraway came down from the top and set a full-contact screen for Sowers, who curled up and around the defense. Spotting Walker cutting unmarked from the left wing, Sowers zipped him a lead pass for an easy finish. Once again, Sconone was lasered-in on Sowers, who gave up the shot opportunity for a slam-dunk goal. 

Carraway took the Terefenko assignment by setting the screen, forcing the switch and giving Sowers time to scan the field. He knew he was drawing the best defender, essentially taking him out of the play. But in reality, the effort he put into that pick made that goal happen.

This play demonstrates Carraway’s assimilation to the Waterdogs’ selfless culture. That’s exactly what Copelan expected from him after their free agency discussions, and it’s something his teammates have come to appreciate.

“Not only is he on a new team, but he started out as an attackman and now he’s excelling as a middie. Making that transition is extremely hard, and just him being selfless… and then producing on top of that it’s pretty special to watch,” McArdle said. “I walked into the locker room and said to Mikey Sowers, ‘damn, Jake turned the corner. He’s really going to be big for us.’” 

The team’s big free agent addition has hit his stride. Offensively, Carraway had his best game of the season with four points on three goals and 75% shooting, including a two-bomb in the first half that made it 5-0. He also scored a clutch power play goal with two minutes remaining, sinking the dagger in a one-possession game.

It was quick. Sowers got a pass back from McArdle at X and Will Haus completely abandoned Carraway on the left wing, so he cut hard. The pass was right on his stick head, and Carraway finished off the turf for the score. 

All this success goes back to Copelan’s creative collaboration. Every time the microphone picks him up in the huddle, he’s asking the team for their set ideas and then steering them in the right direction. He’s built an inclusive environment of trust and chemistry all around. 

And after moving to 3-1 on the season, Carraway said that Copelan’s game plan was the x-factor because of how seamlessly everyone bought in.

“I think it was just committing to the plan,” Carraway said. “Coming off the break, guys were just excited to get out here and play together as a group.”