Matchup Preview: Michael Sowers vs. JT Giles-Harris

By Sarah Griffin | Jul 22, 2022

As the Waterdogs and Chrome prepare to face off against one another Sunday night for the second time this season, a battle of speed and smarts between two former Blue Devils headlines the evening.

Michael Sowers and JT Giles-Harris played together at Duke in 2021 as the two helped lead the Blue Devils back to the Final Four. Both were taken in the first round of the 2021 College Draft by their respective teams but due to injuries, never played one another last year.

With Sowers out the first time the Dogs and Chrome met this season back in Week 3, Sunday marks the first time the two will compete against each other in the pros.

Despite never playing against one another at the pro or college level, Sowers mentioned this actually isn’t the first time the two have played against each other. 

“He might not remember it, but we actually played each other in high school in the summer,” he said. “I was having a good season my junior year until I had to match up with JT,” he laughs. 

Certainly Giles-Harris proves to be a defensive force to be reckoned with for any attackman. 

Chrome defensive coordinator Jacques Monte raved not only about Giles-Harris’s speed and athleticism, but his intelligence as a player that sets him apart.

“Yes, he’s fast, and he’s athletic, but everyone in this league is athletic, you have to be. What really separates JT is how smart he is,” Monte said. “He has a high lacrosse IQ - he uses all his experience playing different guys in different matchups, he studies up for them, he’s just always conceptually dialed in.” 

At just 24 years old, Giles-Harris has assimilated into the Chrome’s backend seamlessly this season amongst veterans Mike Manley and Jesse Bernhardt. He’s proven to be a difference maker for their defense, especially from X.

Chrome has allowed only 1.8 goals per game off initiations from X, a league-best. When asked what’s been the biggest factor for his defense in stopping opponents’ offenses from X, Monte didn’t beat around the bush.

“Easy - JT,” he said. “He’s so good on-ball, you know he’s got his guy covered at X which helps out Manley and Bernhardt off-ball. It’s all about supporting your buddy and figuring out what you need to do to make the unit as a whole successful and so far it’s working for us.”

Giles-Harris reiterated the same.

“We have confidence in each other - not needing extra help 1-on-1 [on defense] is great and that’s what we want, but we’re also not afraid to communicate with one another. You help each other out when needed,” he said.

Of course, Giles-Harris isn’t the only one who’s a difference maker from X for his team.

The Waterdogs’ offense ranks number one in the league off initiations from X with 19 goals initiated from there so far this season, averaging 3.8 goals from X per game, with their offense shooting 34%. 

Sowers has been regarded as possibly the best attackman from X at the college level ever in his time at Princeton and Duke, and his game has transitioned beautifully at the pro level just as the numbers reflect. 

The point guard of the Waterdogs’ offense, he’s dished 22 assist opportunities so far this season, for an impressive average of 5.5 per game. Lethal both on and off-ball, the dynamic combination of him, Ryan Brown, and Kieran McArdle on attack leaves very little room for error for defenses.

Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan discussed the threat Sowers poses for any defender, and why he’s only getting more dangerous as his pro game develops. 

“His game has already evolved so much since he’s started playing in the PLL. He came in regarded as this on-ball dominant attackman and he’s grown so much since then,” Copelan said. “He moves really well whether it’s on attack or in the midfield. He’s just as smart off-ball as he is on. Playing the two-man game or running him out the box as we’ve been doing a bit of lately, he has the skills needed to do it all.”  

Copelan emphasized the versatility of his attack group in Sowers, Brown, and McArdle.

“It’s kind of a pick your poison situation for opposing defenses when it comes to our guys. We’ve got every skill set you want in your offense. You pair Michael and Kieran, two dodging attackmen with Brownie who plays a completely different style, it puts a lot of pressure on defenses on and off-ball.”

Monte and the Chrome defense recognize the challenge the Waterdogs’ attack poses. 

“They’re so great in moving the ball and can attack from all over the field, they’re a very dynamic offense,” Monte said. “They put defenses in compromising positions. You’ve got to always be moving with them.”

As for how Giles-Harris is to stop Sowers 1-on-1? 

“You don’t,” Giles-Harris says. “You just try to contain him. You need to be perfect with your footwork and keep up with his speed - head always on a swivel.”

Monte mentioned the same. “You have to try and take away those areas he’s strongest from if you’re going to contain him.”

While Sowers poses a threat from anywhere on the field these days, again, it’s from X defenders really have to focus on him, both on and off-ball. 

In addition to his 31.82% assist success rate, Sowers has shot 31.6% off the dodge this season. Known for his dodging skills, speed and footwork wise, he’s the perfect matchup for Giles-Harris.

Of course, game recognizes game, and being so familiar with Giles-Harris’s defense, Sowers knows what a difficult task it’s going to be to beat him out. 

“The plan with him is to just run as fast as you can,” Sowers laughs. “It’s hard to beat him outright - you have to win in the margins and off-ball. Force him into transition, get him in those gray areas. 1-on-1, he’s one of the best defenders for a reason.”

As the two prepare for battle, the Waterdogs will be seeking revenge after falling to the Chrome 17-14 back in Week 3 on Long Island without Sowers. The Chrome on the other hand will be looking to get back in the win column, after taking their first loss of the season to the Atlas in Week 5. 

The two tams will face off against one another at 4:30 PM ET in Fairfield on ESPN2 and ESPN+ on Sunday.