Why the Golden Stick Award means “not much” to Kieran McArdle

By Wyatt Miller | Feb 20, 2024

Kieran McArdle accepted his Golden Stick Award with a deadpan expression. When asked what the award meant to him, he answered, “Not much.”

“We came here for one reason, and that was to win the championship.”

As he left the field, having not cracked a smile since the game’s end, McArdle handed the trophy to a young fan and walked into the locker room.

This tells you everything you need to know about the Philadelphia Waterdogs’ captain. All he wants to do is win. And if he can make some kid’s day by handing over a hunk of painted metal, that’s an easy choice. 

McArdle led the tournament in points (38) and scoring points (26). But afterward, only two things were on his mind: the Waterdogs’ second overtime loss in a championship game in the last five months, and his family in the stands.

“As competitive as I am and as much as I want to win, sharing these moments with my wife and daughter, it just means the world to me,” McArdle said postgame. “I cherish these moments together as a family, it’s special.”

That’s not the only moment he’ll take with him, though. If he had just “stuck one shot at the end,” McArdle said everything would have been different. His overtime sweeper from close range would have won it for the Dogs, but it missed just wide to the left. That shot will give the veteran “nightmares,” as he could have been bathed in champagne, hoisting two trophies instead of the one that he didn’t want. 

Despite his nonchalant attitude toward the award, McArdle’s performance was truly a masterclass of efficiency. Among players with at least eight points, McArdle earned the fifth-best shooting percentage (51.3%) along with the top points per touch (0.339) and 2-point percentage (66.7%) in the tournament. He tied for first in assists (12) and his 38 total points tied Romar Dennis for the most in Champ Series history.

“I think (sixes) fits my style of play,” McArdle said. “Whether I’m setting a pick or dodging off the pick, shooting the ball, feeding the ball, I think it’s a lot of fun. Growing up, I played a ton of basketball, so it kind of falls in my wheelhouse.”

McArdle seriously downplayed his range prior to the tournament. Ranking sixth among Champ Series players in 13-yard shooting goals since 2019 (eight), he wasn’t expected to be a sniper like Dennis or Sergio Perkovic, who’ve hit 27 and 28 goals, respectively, from that range. Nobody else has more than 15. 

“If I get my hands free, I think I’ll pull it from there,” McArdle said before the tournament. “15 yards is a little too deep for me, but 13, I might be able to sneak a few in there.”

That was an understatement. Somehow, McArdle matched Dennis and Perkovic’s combined 2-point total on his own (six), flashing range that he wasn’t even sure was in his arsenal. The shots weren’t coming in at 100+ miles per hour like they were for Dennis or Jake Carraway, but the placement and angles were pristine. Almost all six of his 2s were from the top of the arc, giving him multiple lanes to cash in.

Yet, similar to his actions after winning the Golden Stick, McArdle’s biggest impressions were made away from prying eyes. The Waterdogs brought in three younger players who hadn’t spent extended periods with the team: Jack Traynor, Jeff Conner and Kyle Borda. Without Liam Byrnes or Dillon Ward, McArdle was the one true veteran presence, and he stepped up to the challenge.

He helped new teammates like Traynor (14 points) and Conner (12 points) feel comfortable in the offense and encouraged them to be aggressive. Borda also hit a clutch 2 in the championship game. Afterward, Copelan gave McArdle tons of credit for their assimilation, and said he’ll evaluate summer availability accordingly. McArdle helped get the best out of everyone in a new format for the team.

“That’s as good of leadership as I’ve seen from somebody,” Copelan said. “He led. He was a leader in every aspect this week. From his on-field play to our team meetings and his voice, it really matters. People listen and people follow… our young guys had the perfect role model.” 

In classic McArdle fashion, he briefly interrupted Copelan’s glowing review to get the attention of his wife, Alyssa, so she and his daughter could be there for the press conference. The entire postgame process was quintessential McArdle, and now he’s got some new bulletin board material for the summer.