The complete complement: Where Xander Dickson fits on Atlas’ attack

By Lauren Merola

May 23, 2023

There’s a reason Xander Dickson broke Virginia’s single-season scoring record this past season.

It’s also why Atlas drafted him with the No. 11 pick in the 2023 College Draft.

“Because he’s a pain in the butt,” Atlas offensive coordinator Steven Brooks said.

And meant with the utmost admiration. 

On any lacrosse field, Dickson isn’t one to sit still. He’s constantly reading and reacting to unfolding plays around him, and almost always moving. He is, simply put, a headache for any defender who draws him.

He’s also just what Atlas needed. 

With attackmen Chris Gray and Jeff Teat, Atlas has two savvy feeders, who both tied for the seventh-most assists (16) in 2022. Above the arc, midfielders Bryan Costabile and Romar Dennis can be found dodging around defenders. Atlas can pass, dodge and shoot. The team finished third in the league with 12.8 scores last season and first in two-point goals made (13).

Looking at the roster, Brooks said the type of player not listed was one who “could be effective without having the ball in his stick.”

So, heading into the 2023 Draft, Atlas coach Mike Pressler said he was prepared to trade down if he didn’t think Dickson, who he calls “an underrated dodger and arguably the best off-ball player from the draft,” would be available to take with the 11th pick. 

Atlas had pick Nos. 1, 3, 11, 18 and 27. Pressler was set on building defensive depth with Atlas’ first two picks, which were used to draft Cornell’s Gavin Adler and Maryland’s Brett Makar, but was willing to make a draft-day trade for Dickson if necessary. Luckily, it wasn’t. 

“We had our eye on him the entire time at No. 11,” Pressler said.

Atlas added, what Brooks and Pressler classify as, a “complementary player.”

“Dickson can roll in and out of the offense and be a pain in the butt for other defenses because if he goes in the middle, then all of a sudden his guy is ready to slide,” Brooks said. “He’s so smart in understanding where the slide’s going and where the second slide is coming from. With that said, he’ll be able to stretch a defense to the point where you have to follow him and respect him – and if you do that, he’ll open up somebody else on the backside – or if you stay off of him, he can catch and shoot in the matter of a second.”

Similar to attackman Eric Law, Dickson’s primary role will be to play off-ball and find open pockets to catch and shoot, Brooks said. While the Atlas attack unit (Law, Gray and Teat) has been “outstanding,” Brooks said, the team will use the 2023 training camp to experiment with its newest addition. 

“It’s about allowing our attackmen to have the ability to play midfield and try and throw some wrinkles out there on the field, like an invert or getting an attackman up against a short-stick midfielder,” Brooks said. “For us now, it’s about figuring out our depth and seeing which is the best unit to put out there that can help complement us to win games.”

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