Rob Pannell - California Redwoods

How Rob Pannell plans to use X in the Championship Series

By Jerome Taylor | Jan 30, 2024

Last year, while the California Redwoods and Rob Pannell watched the Championship Series from their homes, Pannell made an observation: 

“This may not come as a surprise to some, but I would go behind the cage all the time in Sixes…” Pannell tweeted

Since then, his 2023 tweet has recirculated as he and the Redwoods gear up for this year’s Championship Series. 

Pannell, one of the greatest attackmen of his generation, has made a career of dissecting defenses from X, whether he’s driving up through GLE to score or pass. But in a sixes format, the calculus for using X changes.  

“There's three scenarios with a shot: the ball goes in the goal, the goalie saves it, or the ball goes out of bounds, and in all 3 of those instances, the ball is going in the other direction [in sixes],” Redwoods’ assistant coach John Grant Jr. said. 

“Not being able to back the cage up kind of changes some things. If you're back there and no one else is, you're further away from your goal. So if there's ever an issue where we got to get back on D, you're the last guy. As a guy who thinks more offensively than defensively, that's still something to consider.”

When everyone has to get back to the box or play defense, and backing up a shot is no longer a consideration, the risk-reward relationship becomes skewed more to the risk side. 

But that doesn’t mean Pannell using X is entirely out of the cards for the ‘Woods, though.

Attacking Short Sticks from X in Sixes

With long poles eliminated from Sixes, one obvious benefit of a player like Panell using X is that he’ll have the opportunity to dodge against short sticks. 

“I think we're going to see a whole new realm of Rob Pannell just on his ability to be free and not have that pressure of that six-foot pole always in his gloves,” Chris Collins, who’ll serve as the Redwoods Head Coach in the Champ Series, said. 

“Rob is always getting the number one defender week in and week out. So I think Rob attacking a short stick is going to be an experience that he's going to love because very seldom has he ever had the chance to dominate a short stick shift, after shift, after shift.” 

Pannell doesn’t quite see it that way, though, as unforeseen challenges always come with novelty. 

“I almost feel at a disadvantage going against the short stick because I don't have to do it ever. I'm not used to it,” Pannell said. “[Longpoles] automatically have space between you and him because he has that stick to make up space… He's got that stick, making him seem bigger than he really is. A short stick doesn't have that length, so he's automatically going to be tighter, more up in your face.”

According to Pannell, short sticks' more intimate defense means he won’t have as much space to feed or create a shot. 

So if the possibility of attacking a short stick, every possession wasn’t what Pannell was so excited to go to X, what was? 

It comes down to the fact that defenses might be less inclined to defend an X ballhandler. Grant Jr. mentioned that “if” you get a defender to guard, you give more space to the four players above GLE. But Pannell still thinks there are opportunities to feed if a defender doesn't guard you. 

“The defense will be looking down as opposed to guarding the shooter, and the shooter catches the ball coming down the field toward the goal,” Pannell said. “If you can get the defense sliding from a dodge behind, there's going to be step-down shooters, and I just think also forcing the goalie to turn around when the balls behind the goal… when the ball moves up top, he's got to turn and rotate, and with quick releases, you can get some good scoring opportunities on goal.” 

With a shortened two-point arc and with players like Romar Dennis and Sergio Perkovic, those step-down shots have the potential to be extremely costly to opposing defenses. 

Pannell also mentioned using X as a time-management strategy will be important in Sixes. 

“30 seconds is still a decently long time. If you get the ball over in a few seconds,” Pannell said. You could go back there and slow the game down to some extent if you want versus running and gunning two-pointer, after two-pointer, or just five-to-10-second possessions.”

Regardless of how Pannell uses X to start in the Championship Series, Collins believes he’ll evolve throughout the tournament to take advantage of the theoretical mismatch. 

“I think it'll be more of a chuckle and a laughing type moment, like, ‘All right, I can probably do a little bit more, maybe a little bit faster than normal’ because he doesn't have to truly separate and run away from the pole,” Collins said. “For me, selfishly, I'm excited for him to have a short stick every single time.”

Come February 14th, when the Redwoods take on the Boston Cannons, we’ll get our first look at how Pannell uses X and if it adds yet another element to the ‘Woods’ sixes group.