Utah Archers defensive coordinator Tony Resch

Who is Archers coaching legend Tony Resch’s next defensive prodigy?

By Zach Carey | Jun 1, 2024

The Utah Archers are entering the 2024 regular season with more questions than expected on the defensive side of the ball. 

Matt McMahon’s retirement leaves the defense without its leading voice and proverbial green dot player. The Jared Conners trade means there’s an unknown at long-stick midfield. Latrell Harris is out indefinitely while continuing to recover from the torn ACL he suffered last fall. Graeme Hossack missing training camp while on the holdout list means the club is without its No. 1 cover guy to start the season. Now, Patrick Shoemay – one of the club’s new projected starters at close – is out for the season after tearing his ACL in training camp. 

For Saturday’s 2023 Cash App Championship rematch against the Philadelphia Waterdogs, the Archers will be without four of their six defensive starters from last September’s title game. Defensive coordinator Tony Resch is the man saddled with finding solutions. 

“There are a lot of questions to be answered and not a lot of time to answer them,” Utah head coach Chris Bates said. “That’s the nature of what we got to deal with and why I’m very, very thankful that Coach Resch is Coach Resch.” 

Resch – a 10-time professional lacrosse champion coach – is arguably the best defensive mind in the game. He’s helped mold legendary defenders such as Brian Spallina, Michael Ehrhardt, Nicky Polanco, Brian Dougherty, Hossack and plenty more. His 2006 Philadelphia Barrage and 2021 Archers defenses are second and third all-time in shooting percentage allowed. His 2012 Chesapeake Bayhawks and 2007 Barrage defenses sit seventh and 10th. 

The 2024 season could be Resch’s biggest challenge yet. 

The Archers are a defense characterized by high potential, yet unproven talent. Of the club’s 25-man roster, Warren Jeffrey and Jon Robbins are the only defenders who have played in the league for more than a year. The remaining nine players are all in their first or second seasons in the PLL. Five are long sticks with a combined 12 PLL appearances. 

That all begs the question: Who is Tony Resch’s next defensive prodigy? 

Cam Wyers 

Wyers, the Archers' 2023 fourth-round pick, will be a critical component for Utah’s defense this summer. He filled in valiantly for Robbins at long-stick midfielder last summer and could play a variety of roles in 2024. The club’s willingness to trade Conners reflected its confidence in Wyers to play up top or down low. 

On paper, Wyers is a better fit at close. That’s where he played in college. His powerful style fits playing down low in tighter spaces where he can utilize his size and strength at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds. That said, he made it work up top in 2023 and was a solid second option behind Conners. 

Does he make the switch down low in 2024? That may depend on which other defensemen claim starting jobs. Shoemay’s injury and the addition of LSM Troy Hettinger – the 12th overall pick in the 2023 College Draft – suggest Wyers will spend time down low this summer. But it could be matchup-dependent with he and Robbins both possessing the flexibility to guard around goal line extended or far above it. 

Mason Woodward 

Woodword is most probably going to be a Day 1 starter for the Archers defense. His playmaking ability on the ground and in the middle of the field combined with his steady presence on and off the ball make him an invaluable piece before he’s even made his professional debut. 

He’s another guy who can play LSM if necessary. But the staff drafted him as its lockdown close defender of the future. How quickly he adapts to the speed of the PLL will be worth watching because there’s an adjustment period for just about everybody. But, given everything, Woodward is a pretty good answer for Utah to have. 

“There’s a reason why he was the second pole taken in the draft,” Archers goalie Brett Dobson said. “He’s legit. He’s a very good cover guy. He’s going to be a huge asset for us once he understands how we trust our d-middies and how we play.”

Woodward is exactly what Resch tends to like in his defenders. He’s strong, lanky, tough, versatile and smart. For the Archers to repeat, he’ll have to live up to some pretty lofty expectations. 

Troy Hettinger

Could Hettinger be the diamond in the rough that Utah so desperately needs? That was supposed to be Shoemay. But now all eyes turn to the No. 12 selection in last year’s draft, who was released by the Denver Outlaws earlier this week. 

The Jacksonville product was the 2023 ASUN Defensive Player of the Year. He was a certified jack of all trades for the Dolphins in his five years with John Galloway’s program. He played midfield and featured on the Jacksonville power play unit in his junior year before taking the ASUN by storm as an LSM in his fourth and fifth seasons. 

As a PLL rookie, he appeared in five games and registered nine ground balls and one caused turnover. After Denver drafted Jake Piseno and picked up Saam Olexo, Hettinger was the odd man out in a stacked LSM room. 

Now, the 6-foot-2, 180-pound pole is in a position to fight for a spot on the 19-man roster. He could be just the guy to ease the loss of Conners in the middle of the field. 

Colby Barsz 

Barsz is yet another Archers player with college experience playing a variety of positions. He was a first-team All-CAA selection at both LSM and close defense. The Archers selected the Towson product with the last pick in the third round of the 2024 College Draft. 

“I think Coach Resch is really gonna like him,” Bates said. “I think he’s gonna remind him of himself a little bit. Again, he gives us another piece to really develop.”

At 6-foot-5, 190 pounds, Barsz gets to opponents’ hands quickly. He’s especially valuable in the passing lanes and when guarding in space. 

“I think once he gets his footing under him for how to play at this next level, he’s going to be a great pole in this league,” Dobson added. “He could be a kind of Matt McMahon-esque player in a sense. He’s got the same lankiness. I think he’s just to get his bearings down, get comfortable with the situation and continue to move forward. Once that happens I think good things are going to come for him.”

Jack DiBenedetto 

A close defenseman recruited and coached by Bill Tierney is typically a good guy to bet on. DiBenedetto comes to the Archers after starting in every single Denver game since he started his college career in 2020. 

The Buffalo native is a sturdy defender at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds. He battled against some of the best in college lacrosse over the past five years and was a nice waiver claim addition for the Archers.

“He’s been an awesome add for our D-unit,” Dobson said. “I like his game a lot and I think he’s going to be a huge help. He’s not necessarily the biggest name. But he’s got a lot of talent and a lot of grit, and I think that’s what it takes to be a player in this league.” 

Unlike Barsz, DiBenedetto wants to win in tight and avoid guarding in space. He’s fundamentally sound, doesn’t take risks and rarely gets beat badly. The question is whether he has the elite traits to be able to hang with the best offensive players in the world. 

The Archers’ defense is a bit of a puzzle heading into Opening Weekend. Fortunately, in Resch, the club has just the person to make all the pieces fit together.