Waterdogs Win the Offseason
The final horn of the Championship Series signaled the start of the offseason. A time for self reflection, evaluation, and roster management. Coaches swapped the X&O’s for general manager mindsets. Andy Copelan, like his colleagues, focused on addressing areas of need. The Waterdogs showed flashes of promise in 2020 but could not execute in the opportune moments. It’s time for the ‘Dogs to take the next step.
- Assisted Shooting
- Defending the Dodge
- Dillon Ward (Goalie)
- Ryan Brown (Attack)
- Michael Sowers (Attack)
- Ethan Walker (Attack)
- Michael Kraus (Attack)
- Mikie Schlosser (Midfield)
- Christian Scarpello (Midfield)
- Matt Witcher (SSDM)
- Ben Randall (Defense)
- Eli Gobrecht (Defense)
- Liam Byrnes (Defense)
- Brian Karalunas (LSM)
- Casey Dowd (Faceoff)
- Brodie Merrill (Defense)
- Drew Simoneau (Faceoff)
- Ryan Drenner (Attack)
- Patrick Foley (Defense)
- Wes Berg (Attack)
- Tate Boyce (Goalie)
The Waterdogs were last in the league in assisted shooting percentage. For a team that had the highest assist rate in the league they converted very few of those opportunities (22%). The league average on assisted shots is (31%). They spent more time chasing errant shots to the endline than celebrating goals. It doesn’t take a stats nerd to recognize that was an area dire for improvement. The ball movement was there but finishing was not. The ‘Dogs needed to find a sharpshooter. So on March 2nd, Copelan bartered with Ben Rubeor and Atlas: In exchange for the 11th pick in the 2021 College Draft, the Waterdogs received Ryan Brown.
“A lot of moving parts, but we traded for Brownie with a plan that we were gonna identify Sowers or Teat here in the College Draft so we could support him appropriately,” said Copelan, explaining the strategy behind the trade. Ryan Brown is one of the best shooters in the world. He had 23 assisted goals in 2019, tied for the league lead. His left is almost indistinguishable from his right. More importantly he can shoot from distance. The two-pointer in the PLL can flip the momentum in the game with a single shot.
Brown’s presence will take defenders an extra couple steps away from ball handlers. Connor Kelly and Kieran McArdle will be elated with the extra space they will see after beating their defender. Kelly can now play full-time in the midfield and take advantage of those longer approaches. Brown and McArdle will be reunited. They had some real chemistry in 2019; the pair was the best passer-shooter combo in the league. McArdle had seven assists to Brown on 18 assist opportunities. Expected them to pick up right where they left off.
Ryan Brown is a tremendous asset but essentially one dimensional. He needs tangential dodgers to create opportunities. When Jeff Teat was selected number one overall in the College Draft, Michael Sowers fell into the Waterdogs’ lap. Sowers is the perfect fit for this offense. He will most certainly turn defender heads toward the endline and draw slides. Sowers will get to know Ryan Brown very quickly.
Beefing Up the Defense
Flip side of the field: the ‘Dogs were last in the league in goalie save percentage. That’s not a complete reflection of their keepers last year, but it had to be a point of emphasis headed into year two. Defense is a group effort and the unit had the worst unassisted shooting percentage allowed. Opponents shot (30%) off the dodge. Many factors, including limited training camp, played a role in the team not being as sharp as they could have been. Excuses aside, the defense needed to improve.
“Honestly maybe our biggest additions were on the defensive end. Eli Gobrecht, Ben Randall, Liam Byrnes and most recently Dillon Ward. Now we have a chance to be one of the better defenses in the league,” said Copelan.
When they lost Brodie Merrill via the Expansion Draft, they had to be defensive-minded in the Entry Draft. Size is definitely a big factor in the PLL. Teams need guys that can stand their ground against brawny attackmen. Copelan selected 6-foot-3, 200 lb. Liam Byrnes with the fourth pick. His size and length will cause all sorts of disruption.The former Big East Defensive Player of the Year at Marquette has a high lacrosse IQ and tremendous instincts. He times his slides very well and is a great communicator. A guy that can be the glue to their defense. In the same draft they also select Ben Randall, a legitimate #1 cover guy.
Their biggest upgrade was undoubtedly the position between the pipes. The Waterdogs acquired two-time Team Canada goalie, Dillon Ward, in a trade with Chaos. “It certainly came at a steep price tag for us, I tried to do this at all cost without giving up Wes Berg but we were willing to do so for a guy who we think is arguably the best out there.”
Copelan has had his eyes on Ward for a while now; “I competed against Dillon when he was at Bellarmine. We walked off the field losing the game and [he] had 25 or 26 saves... He’s an unbelievable guy, calm presence, great demeanor, he’s been around the block and is battle tested.”
A single save can be the difference between a win and a loss. The Waterdogs lost three games by one possession in the bubble. Ward is the type of goalie that can turn those L’s into W’s.
Beyond the lines, Copelan added pro lacrosse legend Matt Bocklet to his staff. Bocklet is one of the brightest minds in the game. He has established relationships with several of the players on the roster and will make an immediate impact.
Top Training Camp Battle: Close Defense
Copelan is bringing seven defensemen to camp. Seven. Only five, maybe six, guys will make the gameday roster. The poles will be treating every rep like it is the championship. The competition will be fierce and the best ones will be suiting up on June 6th. BJ Grill has the advantage of being the veteran of the group. Grill is a terrific communicator and is a former teammate of the new defensive coordinator. Bocklet is also very familiar with newly acquired Eli Gobrecht. Bocklet coached Gobrecht in 2019. Chris Sabia will be vying to keep his starting position. The entry draft additions, Randall and Byrnes, will have to prove they were worthy of the selections.
Coach Copelan did a terrific job addressing all areas of need and adding depth to create internal competition at camp. He added All-World caliber players in Ryan Brown and Dillon Ward, drafted big defenders in the Entry and picked a dynamic rookie attackman in Michael Sowers. Winning the offseason is a step in the right direction. The ‘Dogs will now have to gel as a team to compete for the 2021 PLL championship.