Pride in the Ride: An in-depth look at the Redwoods’ ride

By Sarah Griffin | Jul 29, 2022

It’s been a whirlwind of a season so far for the Redwoods. Regarded year in and year out as title contenders, they got off to a not-so-characteristic start to the 2022 season. Coming into the All-Star break, the Woods stood at 1-4, their worst start ever. An offensive juggernaut, from the outside looking in, it was tough to narrow down not so much where, but why things were going wrong.

After recording their first win of the season versus the Chaos in Week 3, they fell to the Whipsnakes in Baltimore and Archers in Minneapolis both by one-goal differences. Two worthy opponents, while “moral victories” made no impact on the win column, slowly but surely it seemed the Redwoods were finding their footing once again. 

“Every game from here on out is a playoff game,” said attackman Rob Pannell following the 10-9 loss to the Archers right before the All-Star break. 

With a high-caliber matchup on deck to return from the break as they took on the 4-1 Atlas, certainly a lot was on the line for the Woods. The Atlas rank amongst the top of the league in transition. Entering the game, the Bulls averaged 4.5 fast breaks per game. 

The Redwoods on the other hand had allowed their opponents to shoot 35.5% on fast breaks against them up to the All-Star break. It seemed to be a recipe for disaster in a must-win Week 7 contest.

Though it might’ve been Myles Jones’ two-pointer that headlined the evening, it was the Woods’ ride that pushed them ahead in a pivotal one-goal victory as they held Atlas to one goal on seven fast break shots. 

The Redwoods’ ride is an element of their game that’s consistently paid off for them in past seasons, just as we saw Saturday as their first line of defense answered to the best team in transition.

“Our ride is something we take a lot of pride in,” said head coach Nat St. Laurent. “Even in a slow start for us this first part of the season, we were riding pretty hard, we just weren’t always capitalizing and converting like we have in the past.”

Controlling the controllables, the ride’s been a point of strength for them even when the shooting isn’t always there. 

The Redwoods ride with probably the most aggression and pressure in all of the PLL. A big part of their success over the last few years has been rooted in their offense’s ability to play defense and put pressure on opponents’ as they attempt to clear the ball and push it into transition past the midfield.

A team effort through-and-through, the Woods’ ride all starts with their attack in Matt Kavanagh, Ryder Garnsey, and Rob Pannell.

“All three of them bring something different to our ride, they all have their own tempo,” said St. Laurent. 

“Kav is Kav. He takes a lot of pride in the way he rides. He’s tough. He’s a ball hawk in the sense he’ll find the ball and be on it with the utmost aggression. I don’t think there’s any one specific guy amongst the three who dictates our ride, but I think Kav sets the tone, and that’s something that goes back to his Notre Dame days.”

“The ride is definitely a group effort, but I think it starts with Kav,” agreed Pannell. “He gets aggressive - he doesn’t mind taking a hit, just like he doesn’t mind throwing a hit.”

For young attackmen at both the high school and college level looking to up their ride, Kavanagh is the archetype.

“I take a lot of pride in my ride,” said Kavanagh. “It’s something you can always control. Some days things aren’t going to go your way as we’ve seen this season. But the way you ride, that’s all dependent on your own effort.”

He explains the major difference he’s learned riding at the pro level compared to college.

“In college, rides are more structured - you’ve got your ten man ride with in-depth scouting of each team and their weaknesses, it’s much more focused. In the pros it’s so much harder. Guys are more athletic so your focus is to again, control what you can control.” 

While a caused turnover leading to a ride back goal is considered the ideal outcome, all three attackmen emphasize it’s not the only possible benefit of riding hard.

“Something I’ve learned from [Kevin] Corrigan at Notre Dame is that a successful ride isn’t measured in this black and white statistic of a failed or successful clear,” explains Garnsey.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of eating up the shot clock to help out our defense. There’s a nuance to it - the harder you ride, the longer it’s going to take your opponent to get the ball past the midfield. So even if they do get there, and it’s going to happen, if you ride with aggression, say there’s only 19 seconds left on the clock for their offense to do something, not only is the pressure on them with the clock running low, but we gave our defense more time to settle into the defensive zone rather than just letting our opponent push into transition at full force.”

Pannell reiterated the same. 

“Both with the Woods and in college, the ride’s been a point of emphasis in my game. At Cornell we’d joke ‘defense starts in the ride,’ but it’s true. You can steal possessions back in the ride, and at the very least, it’s maybe 18 to 20 seconds less time your opponent gets to spend on offense,” said Pannell. “Getting the ball back and capitalizing with a ride back goal is undeniably the best possible result, but sometimes just earning those extra possessions can make all the difference in those one-goal games as we’ve seen this season.” 

As mentioned by St. Laurent, it may be Kavanagh who initially sets the tone, but Garsney and Pannell both bring their own unique elements to the Woods’ ride.

“Ryder’s our spark plug. He gets tough on the ground balls and brings this contagious energy to help carry the tempo,” said St. Laurent.

“Obviously as an attackman you’re probably not going to be the best one out there defensively,” Garnsey laughs. “But it’s the effort you put into it that really matters - the intensity has to be there. Ride hard, and ride with energy. That’s the difference maker.”

If Garnsey’s the spark plug, Pannell’s the one they look to to take it home. 

“He’s the veteran of the group. He’s the one who rides it back and runs it out to convert,” said St. Laurent.

Even with their different roles, all three attackmen emphasized the importance of taking pride in their ride for the benefit of the whole team, something that can be traced back to the bigger picture in the Redwoods’ locker room this season. 

“We have so many guys who have been alphas their whole career,” remarked St. Laurent. “They’ve been the ones making the big plays for their teams. Here, they don’t have to put pressure on themselves to do-it-all, we don’t need selfish play. It’s all about supporting one another. Redwoods don’t grow on their own; they grow in groups to help hold each other up.” 

The Redwoods look to keep a good thing going with a full team effort once again as they take on the Chaos for the second time this season on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET in Dallas.