Denver Outlaws midfielder Graham Bundy Jr.

How Outlaws rookie Graham Bundy Jr. broke the Redwoods

By Topher Adams | Jul 1, 2024

After a two-week hiatus, the Denver Outlaws returned to the field Saturday with tremendous hype around rookie sensation Brennan O’Neill. But in a Western Conference clash with the California Redwoods, it was another rookie who took center stage.

Graham Bundy Jr. fully burst into the PLL spotlight with a five-point (4G, 1T) night in a 13-8 Outlaws win in Minneapolis. He also did his work efficiently, scoring on four of his seven shots (57.1%). 

The second-round pick showed flashes in his first two pro games, but he finally blossomed against California.

The Redwoods like to slide defensively, and they slid aggressively to Denver’s best dodgers. O’Neill -- after a seven-goal outing in his last game -- was at the center of California’s defensive game plan.

From the opening whistle, the Redwoods were throwing slides, double teams and hedges at O’Neill. He’s one of the best one-on-one dodgers in the world, and California decided not to let him have those opportunities. 

A similar slide package was applied to Sam Handley, Denver’s second-best creator off the dodge. The Redwoods decided to make the Outlaws win with ball movement and off-ball shooting.

In the second half, Denver’s ball movement and off-ball shooting won. And that was due in large part to Bundy. 

The Outlaws moved O’Neill to different spots, typically closer to the goal or even behind the cage, to open up more space up top. When Handley initiated dodges from midfield, he’d drive deeper toward goal line extended.

When the Redwoods inevitably slid to support the matchup -- while keeping eyes on the nearby O’Neill -- Handley had open skip lanes to Bundy on the backside.

California’s slides were sloppier as the game wore on. As the Redwoods continued to help to Handley or hedge toward O’Neill, there were no recoveries or second slides to open shooters like Bundy.

This game highlighted both O’Neill’s and Handley’s underrated abilities as playmakers. Both are dodge-to-score players first, but they’re also deceptively talented passers. When flanked by elite finishers like Bundy, good things tend to happen.

Bundy was the best outside shooter in the PLL College Draft this offseason. He scored 158 goals at Georgetown and was one of the most feared shooters in college lacrosse. That hadn’t clicked through two weeks of pro action.

Despite a ridiculous around-the-world finish for his first career goal, Bundy hadn’t found his shooting stroke for Denver. He shot 1-for-14 in the first two games of his career.

Bundy thought those shooting struggles would continue into Minnesota. At practice, he couldn’t find the cage. Head coach Tim Soudan joked with the rookie midfielder to use his other stick instead.

“I was like, ‘Dude, where's your other stick, get rid of that stick,’” Soudan said postgame. “He was like, ‘It’s all warped and bent.’ I was like, ‘That doesn't matter, just pick it up.’”

Whether it was a change in equipment, change in attitude or just settling into the speed of the pro game, Bundy finally delivered on his promise as a lethal outside shooter. And that field spacing allowed Denver to break the Redwoods defense and win its second game in a row.