Matchup Preview: Rowlett vs. Sowers
By Sarah Griffin | Sep 15, 2022
Then there were two.
The reigning champion Chaos LC returns to the title game for the third year in a row to take on the Waterdogs in their first championship appearance.
Since their inaugural season in 2020, Andy Copelan’s club has been building for this moment. The Dogs find themselves put to the test against Andy Towers’ vetted group who show time and time again they thrive under the bright lights and intensity of the playoffs.
Highly-regarded for their versatility and next-man-up mentality, the Waterdogs offense is a battle-tested group with a “pick your poison” type situation on attack as described by Coach Copelan.
In the team’s second meeting with the Chaos, Sowers, a Philadelphia native looking to secure the title in front of a home crowd, is one in particular to keep an eye on with his expected one-on-one matchup with defenseman Jack Rowlett.
Since his professional rookie season in 2019, Rowlett’s made a name for himself as one of the top defenders in the league.
A force to be reckoned with, Rowlett combines his athleticism, defensive IQ, and high-level of compete to produce what he calls perhaps “not the most technically sound” defensive approach.
To say Rowlett’s not afraid to be aggressive is an understatement. His goal is to put more pressure on his attackman than they do on him. Forcing guys to react to his own play rather than vice versa has paid off dividends for Rowlett in the past.
Fellow teammate Chris Cloutier mentioned the significance of even just being able to practice one-on-one with Rowlett.
“You’ll see guys like me, Josh [Byrne], getting our last reps in before games one-on-one against Jack. If you can go one-on-one against Jack, you can go one-on-one against anyone.”
Whether it’s an over-the-head check, a diving trail check, or simply utilizing his pure speed and physicality, a quintessential takeaway defender, Rowlett does it all to disrupt the dodger.
Known for his on-ball defense, Coach Towers lauds Rowlett for his improved off-ball play over the course of his professional career.
“The last three years in the league what Jack’s really done an unbelievable job of as a team defender is generating turnovers as a slide guy in different ways than he has in the past, where he was primarily generating turnovers as a cover guy.”
Matching up with Sowers a second time this season, certainly Rowlett’s going to need that ability to play defense both on and off-ball.
The last time the Waterdogs and Chaos met was Week 4 of the regular season in Baltimore. The only two teams remaining in the league without a win at that point, the Waterdogs proved victorious in a dominating 18-9 win.
Sowers recorded four points with 2 goals and 2 assists, shooting 67% versus Blaze Riorden. A perfectly balanced stat line, his 2 goals and 2 assists embody his versatility as an attackman quite well.
When I spoke with Coach Copelan and Sowers’ teammates earlier in the season for a feature on the budding young star, they all emphasized three components of his game - speed, skill, and a high lacrosse IQ.
“He’s such a dynamic player. He’s extremely quick,” said fellow attackman Ryan Brown. “He draws so much attention as an off-ball guy allowing you to get free, and then when the ball is in his stick, his speed and skill puts defenders in such a tough position that makes it easier for us to get open.”
Brown was the primary beneficiary of Sowers’ speed and playmaking skills when the Waterdogs first met the Chaos this year. Both of Sowers’ assists came on two of Brown’s four goals. In the Waterdogs’ highest-scoring game in team history up until their 19 goals versus the Atlas in the quarterfinals a couple weeks ago, the Chaos defense was stumped by the Dogs offense.
“You know everyone goes into their matchups with a game plan, everyone in this league is familiar with the other team. So to start the game it felt like the Chaos wanted to not slide at all,” remarked Brown following the win on June 24th.
“I was getting short-sticked, they didn’t want to slide and let us spin the ball and get stepdown opportunities. And then CK [Connor Kelly] comes out and bangs a couple two-pointers, guys are winning their matchups and scoring, and it seemed like their game plan got kind of busted,” throwing the Chaos defense off their game for the remainder of the contest, Brown said.
In the second half, it was evident the Chaos defense had to change up their schemes on the fly, and the results favored the Waterdogs with an eight goal second half, including a two-pointer from Ryland Rees.
“A lot of unselfish cuts, a lot of off-ball screens for Brownie, those are the plays that go unnoticed,” said Sowers postgame. “Little unselfish plays like that lead to results like tonight.”
Unselfish seems to be Sowers’ M.O. along with the rest of the Waterdogs offense.
Sowers and McArdle both ranked amongst the top in the league in assist opportunities in the regular season. McArdle was number one with 22 assists on 56 assist opportunities for a 39.29% assist success rate. Sowers ranked eighth, with 11 assists on 44 AO for a 25% success rate.
The Waterdogs offense as a whole was second only to the Archers in assisted opportunities, with an assist rate of 50.5% with 72 assisted goals total and shooting 33%.
“Playing with Michael Sowers and Kieran McArdle, it’s kind of a hand-in-hand thing,” said Brown. “When you’re an off-ball guy, to know that the two guys you’re playing with will find you if you get open, it incentives you to work that much harder.”
With Brown battling injury this season, he played in just five games in the regular season and has yet to appear in a playoff game. Without the Waterdogs’ top goal scorer last season, Sowers stepped up to the plate in his absence and showcased his strength as a do-it-all attackman.
Sowers led his team in the regular season with 21 goals, and currently leads them in the playoffs with 6. As much of a threat as he is off-ball, he’s just as dangerous on-ball.
He shot 26.75% off the dodge in the regular season with 12 goals on 45 shots, the fourth-best in the league. As a dodger, he possesses the speed and footwork to leave his defenders posterized.
“It’s his ability to create separation on dodges with ease. He’s just so skilled,” said teammate Connor Kelly. “You can’t teach it, you can’t coach it, he just has the athleticism.”
Two guys with natural athleticism, Sowers may have won the matchup between him and Rowlett the first time, but as we all know, playoff Chaos is a whole different animal.
“As we tell our group, this is about Chaos, not anybody else,” said Coach Towers. “It’s about us eliminating the opportunity for anybody outside of our locker room to write how the end of our season goes.”
If the Chaos have it their way, they’ll be writing “back-to-back champions” as the ending to their 2022 season.