Cannons Offense

How A Resurgent Cannons Offense Has Exploded

By Grant DelVecchio

Jul 29, 2023

Back in May, there were a lot of unknowns for the Cannons. 

How would the team fare without Lyle Thompson? How long would it take for all of the new additions to build a rapport? How would a coaching staff with zero professional experience combined fare in a new environment? 

Now that the first half of the season is in the rearview, one thing has become clear: This Cannons offense is a force to be reckoned with. Offensive Coordinator Jim Mitchell is the maestro of what’s been a harmonious and explosive offensive unit. 

Spreading the love

Five games into the season, the Cannons have shared the ball better than any other team in the league. They are the only team that has four players who each have six or more assists. 

It isn’t easy to perform at such a high level offensively in the PLL, but the Cannons haven’t made it complicated for themselves, either. They’ve relied on off-ball movement and pinpoint passing. Sometimes swinging the ball around and allowing everyone to play to their strengths is the best structure there is. It’s difficult to defend a team that can win one-on-one matchups with the ball in constant motion.

“Our goal as an offense is really just to create the most consistent high percentage scoring opportunities possible,” Coach Mitchell affirmed.

“It feels good to move the ball. It’s amazing how it works. Without even drawing slides sometimes, if you just move the ball quickly from one side of the field to the other it gives you that micro-advantage. Between [Asher Nolting's] decision making at X, the ability to attack up top with our midfielders and then play the pick game, it makes it more like a chess match where you can support from as a defense.”

The Cannons have scored the most goals in settled opportunities (53), and with 43 team assists are already just 12 assists shy of their full season total in 2022. In other words, on the average Cannons possession, all six guys are touching the rock.

Nolting, Marcus Holman, Ryan Drenner and Matt Kavanagh all rank in the top 20 in assist opportunities and passes per game.

Nolting has excelled as the quarterback behind the cage, but the Cannons have also tortured defenses with speed and power from up top. No other team has four midfielders(Drenner/Aslanian/Campbell/Donville) with double digit points each.

Whether it be Nolting’s ability to win his matchup, Holman’s goal scoring capability, Kavanagh’s craftiness or Drenner’s deadly accuracy – not to mention the evolution of Chris Aslanian, Jonathan Donville and Matt Campbell – the Cannons have had good reason to make sure everybody eats. 

A lot of what the Cannons are able to do in between the lines is made possible by the relationships they’ve cultivated outside of them.

When asked what has stood out to him about the o-unit thus far, Coach Mitchell didn’t hesitate: “The bonds that have formed. I feel like I’ve known this group for a long time. Just how quickly everyone’s come together, it’s felt very much like a family in the way that a college team does. 

“There's no doubt that the credit as far as putting the team's culture together and the environment that we're performing in is through Coach Holman and his passion for creating a positive, authentic and honest team culture. He's been very good in that regard; keeping guys in touch, and focusing on genuine relationship building. It has made it more rewarding for everybody.”

Veteran Versatility

Two of the unsung heroes of the Boom Squad’s offensive success this season are Ryan Drenner and Chris Aslanian. Both members of the Cannons old guard, the two college attackmen turned professional midfielders have been playing some of the best lacrosse of their careers. 

Drenner has already racked up six assists and 15 points – on pace to surpass his career highs (10 and 25, respectively). He’s been able to beat defenders on catch and shoot opportunities cutting down the alley and also by inverting from X.

Aslanian, who coaches with Coach Mitchell at Princeton, has taken advantage of arguably his first opportunity to be a consistent, every-game presence on the field in his third year in the PLL. 

He hadn’t scored a two-pointer in his career prior to this season, but has two this season. His seven goals are the most he’s scored since he was a member of the Denver Outlaws in 2020.

“I share an office with Chris at Princeton, and his work ethic is all the time, 365 days a year,” Coach Mitchell said of Aslanian.

“From putting in the reps in the weight room, to asking the right questions, to making himself available to our guys to help them with their game. It’s no surprise that he’s having a strong year.”

Rising Stars

The Cannons had the least draft capital to work with this offseason. Just two picks. None in the first round. And yet somehow, Brian Holman left ESPN’s headquarters with one of the best players in the draft à la Matt Campbell.

Or Soup, as he’s affectionately referred to by his teammates. And Soup has been hot all season long. Campbell is second among rookies in both points (12) and goals (7). Few first year players come into the league as physically imposing as Campbell, who at 6’2” and well over 200 pounds has been able to both muscle his way through defenders and speed past them.

Campbell was the player who surprisingly slid out of the first round in this year’s draft. The same thing happened in the 2022 Draft for the Cannons, when Asher Nolting fell into their lap in the second round. Nolting is currently tied for the league lead in points, just played in his second straight All-Star game to begin his career and is a favorite to win MVP. 

Then there’s Jonathan Donville, who Coach Holman described earlier this season as “a lacrosse coach's dream.” The second-year Maryland product has already set a new career high in points (11) with half of the season still left to play. He’s also shooting 30%. 

A native of Ontario, Donville plays with a high off-ball motor and isn’t afraid to get into tight areas or bang bodies. He’s a nifty finisher with excellent stick skills.

While it’s worth noting that the Cannons three wins are against two of the league’s bottom defenses in terms of defensive efficiency and total goals allowed, it’s no accident that this team is scoring more goals than any other. 

The Cannons on field successes have been the product of an unselfish group that is comprised of the right combination of savvy, veteran leadership and young, burgeoning stars in the making. 

As Coach Holman has said all season long, it’s not about buying in, it’s about believing in. The Cannons all believe in one another, from the top down. Now that the rest of us are seeing for ourselves, we have no choice but to start believing too.

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