Matchup Preview: Brendan Nichtern vs. Matt Dunn
By Adam Lamberti | Jul 28, 2022
Brendan Nichtern has emerged as one of the league’s best attackmen as just a rookie.
After using the 1st overall pick on 2022 Tewaaraton Winner and National Champion Logan Wisnauskas, the Chrome LC figured Nichtern would be gone by the time they picked again at 9th overall. Nichtern, who was also a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, led the NCAA in points per game and was second in overall points, making him a highly regarded prospect coming out of Army West Point.
So when a player of Nichtern’s caliber and pedigree fell to them in the second round, head coach and general manager Tim Soudan couldn’t believe his luck.
“We never thought we would get him where we ended up getting him,” said Soudan.
A prototypical quarterback from X, Nichtern burst onto the professional scene immediately. Pacing the team with 24 points (12G, 12A) and being selected a 2022 All-Star, Nichtern has filled the void at X left by Jordan Wolf's retirement.
But, he faces his toughest one-on-one test yet in Whipsnakes LC defender Matt Dunn.
The 2020 Defensive Player of the Year, Dunn couples his size, athleticism, and quick feet to shutdown opposing attackmen that try to test him.
But it’s Dunn’s intelligence and commitment to his craft that impresses defensive coordinator P.T. Ricci so much.
“He’s a film junkie. Whatever I bring in front of him or we talk about as a group, he already knows exactly what we’re talking about. All the clips, anything his matchup is gonna do, he’s over-prepared every time he plays,” said Ricci.
Despite never having played each other, both Nichtern and Dunn held each other in high regard as one of the best players at their positions.
“He’s a do-it-all defender, so I think that just makes him so tough to beat,” Nichtern said of Dunn. “Finding a weakness in his game is going to be pretty tough.”
Likewise, Dunn didn’t point out one specific ability Nichtern possesses as a player, but rather a combination of those abilities that make him so good as a quarterback of the Chrome offense.
“I think there’s an intangible component of being a good lacrosse player and kind of knowing when to dodge, using picks well, and he just seems to have an ability to make plays and go to the goal,” Dunn said of the rookie.
The biggest challenge for Dunn will be defending Nichtern in the two-man game. Five of Nichtern’s 12 goals (41.7%) are a result of the two-man game, whether that be getting a step on his defender or getting a switch onto a short-stick and attacking.
Although Soudan knew from scouting Nichtern leading up to the draft that he would be effective in the two-man game, it was how quickly he translated that to the professional game that impressed his coach.
“His ability not only to read the situation and make the right play whether it’s feed or dodge was very clear starting right in training camp,” said Soudan.
As good as Nichtern is in the two-man game, especially with converted attackman Jackson Morrill and midfielder Jordan MacIntosh as pickers, Ricci thinks Dunn is suited to defend the pick game as well as any defender in the league.
“One thing Dunn does a good job of is he usually gets his hands on guys before he gets to the picker, so he’s able to push through and get over the top a lot of times,” said Ricci. “Plus, he’s just so long, so even if guys have a step, he’s usually able to recover and or get underneath that pick.”
Because of his size and intelligence defending the pick game, Dunn more often than not is able to stay with his matchup. The Whipsnakes have allowed only 10 shots off two-man games at X through six games, tied for fewest in the league. While there is probably not a better defender fighting through picks than Dunn, inevitably there will be times where he does get picked off. If or when that happens on Saturday, he would rather the short-stick jump out switch onto Nichtern rather than let him turn the corner and score like he’s been doing so regularly.
“I don’t think we’re gonna overthink it, our plan is gonna be to play the ball and we’ll communicate through the pick,” said Dunn. “If it ever seems that I’m picked off or lose a step trying to get around the pick, we’re happy to switch it. We’ve done that all year.”
For Nichtern, using a pick to get a switch onto a short-stick is a positive for two reasons - not only can he generate his own shot more easily, but he can feed open teammates as well.
“I love dodging shorties because typically that means a fast slide and then I’ll just have my head up,” Nichtern said.
However, that might not be the case this Saturday.
In past games this season, Nichtern would be right about a quick slide from the Whipsnakes. When Dunn’s matchup got a switch onto a short-stick, he would usually try to slide quickly to flush it out. But, in the past few games, that’s backfired on the Whipsnakes.
“Some of these guys at this level, it’s just hard to flush it out because they’re also good feeders and there’s so many threats around the field that if you go too early and they see it coming, they have a lot of looks,” said Dunn.
In addition to the highly-anticipated 1v1 clash between rookie and veteran, the game also marks a battle for control atop the league standings. With four weeks left in the regular season, the Whipsnakes sit in first place with a 5-1 record, but Chrome are right behind them with a 4-2 record.
For the first time this 2022 season, watch the Whipsnakes LC take on the Chrome LC in Dallas on ESPN+ on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. CT.