The Waterdogs’ Point Guard: Michael Sowers
By Sarah Griffin | Jul 1, 2022
If you were to ask a team of youth lacrosse players who their favorite professional player is, chances are you’re going to hear the name Michael Sowers quite a bit. He’s young, he’s quick on his feet, and his dodges leave his defenders posterized.
Cool as he might be, Michael Sowers was once and still is one of those young, lacrosse-crazed kids himself.
“I’ve always loved the game. When I was younger my dad never let me play year round, that way I’d always enjoy it. I was always itching to pick up a stick and play.”
Sowers grew up about forty minutes outside Philadelphia in a town called Dresher. He attended Upper Dublin High School where he played both lacrosse and football.
A well-rounded attackman, he said it was skills he acquired on the football field that helped mold him into the offensive talent we know him to be today.
“I grew up in a football family. My dad was actually my coach in football and lacrosse,” he said. “I got a lot of my lacrosse moves from football. It’s unique, but it works.”
Unique as it is, to say his approach to lacrosse “works” seems to be quite the understatement.
Sowers transitioned seamlessly from high school to college level lacrosse, where he turned heads nationwide.
Joining the same program that produced Matt Striebel, a member of the inaugural Pro Lacrosse Hall of Fame class, Ryan Boyle, the all-time leader in assists in pro lacrosse with 292, and Tom Schreiber, the Archers’ current offensive catalyst with 166 assists in his pro career ranking tenth all-time and climbing, Sowers’ standards were set high at Princeton.
He collected accolades on accolades in his four years, as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 302 points, as well as the Tigers’ record-holder in career assists with 181. He ranks fifth all-time in points scored in Ivy League lacrosse history.
“I have been with the team for 31 years, and we have a lot of great, hall of fame guys, but I consider Michael the best player I’ve ever seen,” Princeton’s senior historian Jerry Price told USA Lacrosse Magazine back in March 2020.
After COVID abruptly ended Sowers’ and the Tigers’ season in spring 2020 as the team got off to a roaring 5-0 start, Sowers hoped to return for a complete final season in 2021 back at Princeton. Unfortunately, Princeton did not allow spring-athletes to withdraw and re-enroll to preserve their undergrad status, and the Ivy League upheld their rule of no graduate students permitted to compete in athletics.
An already storied college career, Sowers made the decision to enter the transfer portal and fulfill a childhood dream of his to attend Duke.
In the 2021 season, he led the Blue Devils with 37 goals and 44 assists for 81 points, helping guide them to a Final Four appearance. He was named a Tewaaraton Award finalist, and solidified his reputation as one of the best to ever play at the college level.
Transition to the pros
With high expectations set for the young star as he made the transition to the pros, Sowers’ game and humility never wavered.
“For someone who has all these skills and came to the professional level with all these accolades, he’s so humble,” said teammate Connor Kelly, a midfielder for the Waterdogs.
Taken second overall in the 2021 College Draft, Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan could not have been more thrilled to welcome Sowers to the squad.
“I think the world of him. He’s exceeded my expectations for him,” Copelan gushed. “He’s such a balanced player, and a total professional. He only continues to get better each week.”
Certainly for Sowers to exceed the expectations set for him, he’s got to be something special. Often described as a quarterback from X, Sowers’ opted instead to call himself a point guard on attack, something teammate and fellow attackman Ryan Brown can attest to.
“He’s such a dynamic player. He’s extremely quick. 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, Kelly, and Copelan all emphasized three major aspects of Sowers’ game that makes him such a lethal attackman - speed, skill, and a high lacrosse IQ.
While the speed aspect is obvious, perhaps the most pronounced trait of Sowers’ game is his skills as a dodger.
“It’s his ability to create separation on dodges with ease. He’s just so skilled,” says Kelly. “You can’t teach it, can’t coach it, he just has this athleticism.”
If you look up Sowers’ name on YouTube, one of the top results that pops up is a video dedicated to learning how to dodge like him. While there may not be one drill in particular to crack the code, I did ask him what he’d describe his dodging approach as, and his answer was very on-brand.
“Well it’s not the most fundamental approach,” he said. “I took inspiration from juking in football. LeSean McCoy, he was a running back at Pitt and also played for the Eagles. The way he moved on the football field is something I took inspiration from in my own game in lacrosse.”
Like he said, football-inspired lacrosse moves. It works.
As fun and exciting as it is to watch Sowers leave defenders with their ankles criss-crossed (and believe me, it’s a lot of fun), for his teammates, coach, and himself, his IQ on the field is what they believe really sets him apart from other attackmen.
“He has this first-step ability. He sees the game so well, even when defenders think they know where he’s going, he’s one-step ahead of them,” said Kelly. “It helps him play the game in so many different ways, and helps out those of us around him.”
The Waterdogs’ point guard
Sowers was sidelined a majority of his first year with the Waterdogs due to an injury sustained in the first game of the season versus the Cannons. He did not suit up again until the semifinals versus the Whipsnakes in a homecoming in Philadelphia. The Dogs' season ended as they fell short 14-10 to the Whips.
Undeniably not the start to his pro career he was looking for, Sowers held his head up high with sights set on the 2022 season.
Surrounded by so much talent in guys like Brown, Kelly, Kieran McArdle, and Mikie Schlosser just to name a few, Sowers has assimilated into his role as the point guard from X for this offense harmoniously, with the numbers to back it up.
On 19 assist opportunities in three games, Sowers has 7 assists; in other words, teammates are shooting 36.8% off his passes. The Waterdogs’ offense itself leads the league with the best assist rate (i.e. the percentage of shots that are assisted), sitting at 53.4%.
Sowers’ seven assists is tied with McArdle for third-best in the league, even with one less game played under his belt.
Copelan described him as a pass-and-shoot kind of guy in the sense when he feeds you the ball, by then he’s already set you up for the finish, and there’s no better person to be on the other end of that for Sowers than Brown.
“When you’re playing with a guy like Ryan Brown, it makes the reads pretty simple because, it’s like, find Brownie first. If he’s open, pass him the ball,” Sowers said postgame last weekend. “We have a very role-oriented offense, and we all feel very comfortable in those roles.”
In a commanding 18-9 win last weekend versus the Chaos, the Waterdogs notched their first victory of the season and Sowers’ first professional victory.
“What’s cool is this is only week four and we still have ways to go in terms of the group and chemistry wise, and I think that’s one of the most exciting things. We’re just going to keep getting better and better every week.”
Building team chemistry
It’s clear he’s fit into his role on the field for the Waterdogs, but equally as important, he’s fit into his role as a teammate.
“Sometimes you have these hot shot young guys come in with a big head and that’s always a red flag,” said Copelan. “That’s not Michael. He came in here with humility. He asks questions, he wants to listen and learn. He’s surrounded by guys like McArdle and Brown who have been around the block and he fits so well in our locker room because of his humility and personality. He’s a team first guy.”
“He’s as great of a teammate as he is a player,” Kelly remarked. “He’s got a steady confidence that uplifts you.”
Sowers mentioned the positive influence his teammates have had on him.
“It’s just a very positive group. There’s no dwelling on the bad. We have the talent, but so does everyone else and we know that. We want to keep getting better each week and building that chemistry. We’ve got a great blend of guys, and I’ve been able to learn something from all of them.”
Of course, there’s one guy in particular who helps keep Sowers in line.
“I played with [Zach] Currier at Princeton and he’s like an older brother to me,” he said. “I’m someone that’ll forget my bag, or wear the wrong shorts to practice and stuff like that, and he’ll always help me out.”
Forgetful as he might be, Copelan was right. In a little over a year in an up-and-down start to his professional career, Sowers has proven to be a consummate professional through and through.
As we discussed the Waterdogs upcoming matchup this weekend in a rematch against the Whipsnakes in Minneapolis, Sowers reiterated the importance of chemistry in lacrosse.
“It’s like basketball, you need that chemistry on and off the floor to get into a flow as a team.”
And just like in basketball, every team needs their point guard to get that flow going.