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Redwoods Lacrosse Club Add Depth and Versatility with 2023 Draft Class

By Jerome Taylor

May 15, 2023

As the dust settles after the PLL Draft, one thing is certain – it was definitely the year of the defenseman, with nine going off the board on Tuesday night. 

And the Redwoods made sure they weren’t left out of the defensive gold rush. They walked away with two of the draft's most defensively-versatile and transition-friendly picks: Owen Grant and Brian Tevlin. And they added some much-needed depth at other positions in the later rounds and with their undrafted free agent signings.

Owen Grant: The Future of the Redwoods Defense

Owen Grant, from Delaware, was the Redwoods' first pick. Grant's impressive performance helped lead the Blue Hens past Marist in Wednesday's NCAA Tournament play-in game. And his highlight feed to the crease is just one of the reasons the Redwoods staff and players are so excited about him.

“Our attack guys on offense were texting me about how excited they were for him,” Redwoods head coach and GM Nat St. Laurent said. “Defenders are going to have to make a decision. Do we slide to him, or do we hold on to our attackmen? And if they do that, he's going to go right to the rack.”

Another thing that sets Grant apart is his knack for ground balls. He finished his career with 178 GBs, and his ability to secure possession for his team and get the ball upfield is unique.

"I just haven't seen many players in 10 years of coaching pro lacrosse get the ball off the ground like him,” St. Laurent said. “His stick is amazing… we want guys who can create that transition and have a great stick to get the ball up off the ground, and he excels at ground balls.”

And that’s just what he does as an offensive player. 

On the defensive side, he’s a 6’3, 220lb left-handed pole with phenomenal footwork and speed. His handiness gives him a natural advantage when defending right-handed offensive players. And early in his career, he’ll be able to play LSM with John Sexton as they attempt to fill the void left by Kyle Hartzell. And he can potentially be a close defender on future Redwoods teams.

Brian Tevlin: The Redwoods' Swiss Army Knife

The Redwoods' next pick, Brian Tevlin, a two-way midfielder from Notre Dame, is versatility personified. He’s played six different roles throughout his college career at Yale and Notre Dame. And in the PLL, playing at multiple spots is crucial. 

“If he needs to take an LSM run, he can do that and spot us at the midfield… we loved what we did with Nakeie [Montgomery] last year and have him be a two-way guy. And now we've got another guy,” St. Laurent said.

Like Grant, because he can be an effective player on both sides of the ball, he will make the Redwoods transition game more fluid. Additionally, he’ll help add depth to the SSDM position, one of the ‘Woods' biggest needs after Pat Harbeson retired this summer. 

Not to mention, he’s already going to have chemistry with three guys on the team. At Yale, he played with TD Ierlan, and in high school, he played with Jules Heningburg and another member of the 2023 draft class, Cole Kirst, at Seton Hall Prep in New Jersey. 

Cole Kirst: Questionable Fit, Unquestionable Potential 

Speaking of – Cole Kirst, a midfielder from Syracuse, was the Redwoods' third pick. And the most controversial pick in certain segments of the Redwoods fan base. And there’s some valid reasons for doubt, three Redwoods midfielders were top 50 players (Heningburg, Charlie Bertrand, and Myles Jones) last year. And unlike Tevlin, Kirst doesn’t provide as much on the defensive end, so where does he fit? 

"I understand that some of the Redwoods’ fan base didn't love [the pick]," St. Laurent said, "But there's a lot that did, including our team. In fact, Rob Pannell was the first person to text me when we picked up Cole.” 

In defense of the Kirst pick, he does provide offensive versatility.

He can play both attack and midfield. At 6’2, 210 lbs, he fits the mold of the big offensive midfielders already on the Redwoods roster and has the talent too. His 78 goals over his time at Lehigh and Syracuse prove he has the scoring prowess to provide scoring depth to a team that will lose four offensive players to their respective countries during the World Games (Pannell, Bertrand, Ryan Lee, and Wes Berg). And possibly more important is how he gets his goals. 

“We need less ball-dominant guys, and he's a guy that can dodge from the wings, play off-ball, midfield, attack, and just brings a ton of positive energy with him,” St. Laurent said. 

Add all that to his already-established chemistry with his two former high school teammates, and he may fit better than some Redwood fans initially thought.

Zach Cole: Redwoods’ Faceoff Safety Net

Continuing the theme of adding depth, the Redwoods' final pick was Zach Cole, a faceoff specialist from St. Joseph’s. The Redwoods already have a top-tier faceoff specialist in Ierlan, but he’ll be picking up a lot of miles on his tires this year because of his other lacrosse obligations, including playing for Team USA in the World Games this summer. 

At 6’0, 211lbs, Cole has a different faceoff style than Ierlan, so Cole may see some time at the stripe even when Ierlan is dressed. 

“TD [Ierlan] is the best in the game at exits, and being a technician, he's probably the best I've seen at getting better as the game goes on, he figures everybody out,” St. Laurent said. “Zach is big, strong, and has a great base. So, we've looked at options of dressing both at the same time just to take some of the load off from TD because it is such a long year for him.”

A cross-sport comparison that might be apt here is the 2005 USC team’s thunder & lightning backfield, Reggie Bush and Lendale White. Or for wrestling fans, think of Ierlan as Shawn Michaels (technician) and Cole as Triple H (powerhouse). 

No matter how the Redwoods decide to use Cole, the 66.2% faceoff percentage he posted at Hawk Hill will be welcomed. 

Undrafted Additions: Corey Kale and Justin Joseph

The Redwoods added more depth after the draft and announced the signings of Hofstra’s Corey Kale and Drexel’s Justin Joseph on Friday.

Joseph will be the second Big-5 faceoff athlete to join the Redwoods this season (Cole is the other). This season he registeed a 56.7% faceoff percentage for the Dragons, good for 20th in the nation. 

Kale will join the SSDM unit after causing 27 turnovers and scooping up 107 ground balls over his career.

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