Andy Copelan Waterdogs Faceoff

Waterdogs Elect to Not Dress a Faceoff Specialist Versus Chrome

By Wyatt Miller

Jul 7, 2023

To combat the shorter shot clock, head coach Andy Copelan won’t dress a faceoff specialist against the Chrome, whose 58% faceoff clip ranks third in the league. No team has started a PLL game without a faceoff specialist in 2023, but the ‘Dogs will do so against Connor Farrell and company on Saturday. 

This is a new concept for the players, but it’s something that Copelan and his staff have been discussing since the inception of the 32-second clock. And after Atlas’ Trevor Baptiste dominated to the tune of 84% last game, Copelan had seen enough from the faceoff specialists.

“You just got to the point where you feel the faceoff guy you dressed wasn’t necessarily having an impact on the game,” Copelan said. “And then you're down to 18 active players with a backup goalie, so it just hurts your sheer numbers… I don’t know if this is a sustainable formula, but right now, we are going to give it a go.”

The Waterdogs own the PLL’s worst faceoff percentage through three weeks (28%), and last year’s starter – Jake Withers – is unlikely to return. Going without a specialist against Chrome will give the Waterdogs a post-clamp advantage on both sides of the ball, and the outcome could set the foundation for strategizing around the shorter shot clock. 

Out of respect for Farrell’s talent, Copelan said he’s coming into the matchup with three different plans, trying to use the new rule to their advantage. Eli Gobrecht and Zach Currier will man the stripe this week, but the team’s faceoff strategy won’t change with the personnel. 

“I don’t know if our faceoff methodology has really shifted,” Copelan said. “Even going back to these last couple years… I don’t know that we were really winning the clamp, I think it was more so being really disruptive after the fact and that’s what we’re trying to do here.” Last season, Withers had the second-highest win rate after a clamp loss among qualified FOGOs.

This is uncharted territory in the sport of lacrosse, so there are countless variables that Copelan will monitor in order to adjust successfully. What’s working? What’s not working? Are we winning the clamp? Are they winning the ball? To what parts of the field? Those are just a few he named.

As these are answered throughout the game, Copelan will shift the wings accordingly. He also said that putting a wing at attack is an option if the Chrome consistently win faceoffs backwards.

The Waterdogs have abandoned their faceoff specialist twice in three games this season, trusting Gobrecht, Currier and Ryland Rees to supplement the losses on ground balls. Both games were wins. And although Gobrecht went just 2-for-20 against Baptiste, the Waterdogs somehow concocted a long-ball led, comeback victory. 

“I mean, that was a huge part of our comeback against the Atlas, and we just wanted to tinker around with that a little bit more,” Copelan said about the change at the stripe.

Future Plans

With two inexperienced faceoff specialists and the best wing unit in the league, Copelan has an unprecedented decision to make: Will he add another specialist, ride with the young guns or forgo the position altogether?  

Right now, Copelan said the staff is comfortable with the guys in the locker room and haven’t considered adding another specialist. Roster decisions will be matchup-based, and any potential personnel adjustments will depend on the production of each tactic. This is an experiment, essentially, and the results of this weekend will have to be analyzed before next steps are determined. 

“I think, right now, we aren’t hitting the alarm,” Copeland said. “This will definitely be a week-to-week thing and we’ll just have to see what happens.”

Yet, Copelan has been adamant about his faith in specialist James Reilly. The rookie from Georgetown has a 38% faceoff percentage in two games, facing both Team USA faceoff men. That’s not the production Copelan wants, but he does prize Reilly’s diverse skill set that compliments the ‘Dogs fast-paced offense and is eager to develop that. 

“I honestly thought he [Reilly] fared very well against TD [Ierlan], and then obviously Baptise was just a whole different animal and it was a tricky matchup for him,” Copelan said. “I like everything about James – his personality, his athleticism, offensive acumen, I think he’s a pretty good one.”

Meanwhile, Zac Tucci only scraped 29% from the stripe in week one, and was replaced by nonspecialists in the later stages. Together, they’ve won just 18-of-51 faceoff attempts this season (35%), which would be the worst individual faceoff percentage in the league.

Copelan is still determining the team’s best option at the stripe, and that will include some trials and tribulations. The first trial will be on Saturday, and the result could help inform coaches on how to adapt (or how not to adapt) to the shorter shock clock. 

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