Bill Tierney, Alex Stathik

Waterdogs add two familiar faces after first draft of Bill Tierney era

By Wyatt Miller | May 14, 2024

The Philadelphia Waterdogs added two Denver Pioneers as undrafted rookies, reuniting faceoff specialist Alec Stathakis and LSM AJ Mercurio with their old coach, Bill Tierney. 

In his first season as the Waterdogs head coach and general manager, Tierney wanted to ensure he brought in players that fit the selfless culture the ‘Dogs built under Andy Copelan. Stathakis and Mercurio both fit that mold, and Tierney knows that for a fact, having recruited and then coached them for multiple years at DU.

“One of the reasons I was so excited about taking on this team was it had such a great built-in culture already, and so we did our homework on the guys that we drafted,” Tierney said. “We want to make sure we are bringing someone in the door that is as high-quality as the guy going, unfortunately, out the door and make sure that culture doesn’t get changed one bit.”

Stathakis is the only faceoff specialist on the Waterdogs’ roster, so he’ll surely earn a spot on the 25-man squad. Meanwhile, Mercurio will have to earn his keep in a crowded defensive unit. Tierney knows, regardless of talent and production, these are two of the most driven and resilient players he’s coached, and that fits in the Waterdogs’ locker room. That was the most important consideration for these post-draft additions.

Tierney acknowledged Philadelphia likely won’t dress a specialist every game. For that reason, it didn’t make sense to draft one when Tierney could scoop up a physically gifted familiar face after the draft. 

Stathakis is like a minivan with a souped-up engine. At 5-foot-11, 220 pounds, Tierney said he was the strongest player in the Denver weight room but also ran a 5:30 mile. That’s absurd athleticism. Stathakis is a fierce competitor in every aspect of life, and Tierney compared him to another former Pio and current Waterdog.

Jack Hannah is the most competitive person I’ve ever met,” Tierney said. “But if there’s a second, it’s Alec Stathakis.”

Trailing only Trevor Baptiste, Stathakis ranks second all-time in faceoff wins at Denver. His career win rate is 60.2%, with 533 ground balls on 949 career wins. Plus, his ceiling is even higher in the PLL, Tierney said, because Stathakis doesn’t prefer the neutral grip that is required in college. He’s much better using the moto grip, as he can leverage his compact strength better in that position. 

On the back end, Mercurio will have to do more than Stathakis to earn a spot, but adversity is nothing new to him. Mercurio survived a rare condition as a child called Langerhans cell histiocytosis (LCH) and is still legally blind in his left eye. Even that couldn’t stop him from reaching his goal of playing Division I lacrosse, and now he’ll get a shot to play professionally for the same coach who gave him that opportunity.

Beyond his resiliency, Mercurio brings a lot to the table as a two-way LSM. One piece of advice Tierney received repeatedly after taking his first pro job was to make sure he could defend the two and shoot the two. Mercurio can do both at an extremely high level.

“I don’t know how many goals AJ has scored in his career,” Tierney said. “But I know every one of them would be a two-pointer in our league.”

The answer is 13 goals since 2020.

Both Mercurio and Stathakis have attributes that can instantly improve a Waterdogs team that’s been to two straight PLL championship games.