(Photo Courtesy Lax.com)
We’re narrowing the Hot Pot Of Lax to one day per week, meaning the pot is going to be SCOLDING.
This week’s Hot Pot victim: Billy Bitter
Remember when Billy Bitter was the future of college lacrosse? Yeah, that one great season sure was great!
Since then, what has happened to this guy? Have other teams learned how to shut him down? Did he lose a step? Was he overrated to begin with? (I can answer that one now: No.) Did the injury he sustained last year in the Big City Classic change him as a player forever? Or are we thinking about this all wrong? And is Billy still a great player, just different? So many questions!
I remember seeing Bitter play in the Glastonbury Lacrosse Tournament (CT) after his first year at UNC. He hadn’t seen the field much that year during the college season, but that Summer it was clear that Bitter was going to be a game changer for the Tar Heels in his second season. In Summer tourney games teams went after him, got physical and put their fastest and meanest guy on him. It didn’t matter. He was too quick, too crafty and his shot was always finding the corner you didn’t think he could hit.
During his freshman year (the Summer before the one mentioned above) he played in 14 games for UNC and registered 6 goals and 15 assists. Not a bad start. His sophomore year, he really broke out and went for 46 goals, 25 assists and 71 total points in 18 games. He was then declared the future. Near the beginning of the 2010 season, Bitter got CRUSHED in the Big City Classic. He was never the same that year, even after making a comeback and most people thought it had to be related to the over the top high hit he received at the hands of Brent Malphrus of UVA.
I have to admit, if I got hit like that, I’d probably die right there on the spot. I definitely wouldn’t have been playing again later that season. Or even walking. But Bitter did, and he still managed to put up 22 goals and 22 assists for 44 points in only 15 games.
If there is one good thing that this hit did, it is that it showcased how much of an issue blatant and intentional headshots are for the game of lacrosse, and the extended penalties we see this year can certainly be traced back to this incident at some level, even if discussions were taking place before it happened.. While I hated to see Bitter get cheap-shotted like that, I do like that the issue was forced into the lacrosse consciousness. For too long the issue had been waived off by the coaches and the NCAA.
In 2011, Bitter has racked up 12 goals and 8 assists in 8 games. He averaged 1.5 ppg his first year, almost 4 ppg his sophomore year, just under 3 ppg last year, and so far this year, he’s averaging 2.5 ppg. The thing about UNC, and Bitter’s involvement in their offense, is that they now have more talent on their attack than they ever did before. Wood, Holman and Galasso are all potent options, and only Galasso is new this year. So maybe Billy Bitter is just sharing the rock more, and letting UNC win as a team?
In UNC’s biggest games this year, Bitter has shown up. He went 1, 2 against OSU in an early loss and followed that up by going 2, 1 in a win over Navy. He went 1, 2 again in a win over Penn, got shut out against Princeton (but UNC won, so who cares?) and then went 3, 1 in a loss to Duke. He only had a goal last night against Dartmouth but UNC still won the game, and I personally like Dartmouth’s longsticks. I thought they had great footspeed and were fantastic cover guys for the most part. Superstar freshman Galasso benefited from his match up the most by putting up 2 goals and 3 assists from the attack position, but he also benefited from some points via transition.
I believe Bitter will continue to be one of a number of options for UNC this year. Their midfielders are slowly stepping up and Holman, Wood and Galasso all add layers of depth and scoring at attack. There will be games where Bitter puts up some good numbers, and there will be days where he is integral to a win, but doesn’t score a lot. I’m a firm believer in attackmen being able to add a lot to the game, even if they don’t score a ton. And Bitter is definitely one of those guys.
People will know who Billy Bitter is for the rest of his college and pro career. They’ll know how quick he is and what a dangerous player he can be. But he won’t be sneaking up on anyone ever again. The extra attention people will pay to him may limit his production a little, but it will also help the teams he plays on by shifting pressure away from other players.
Honestly, when people watched Billy play during his sophomore year, I think they were looking for the next Mike Powell. They saw a kid with superhuman quickness, great stick skills and a fearlessness that allowed him to do the impossible. So I’m sure that there are those that say, “maybe the change in heads is what made the difference in Billy’s point decline?” Nonsense. I have an answer for that. MP used an unpinched Brine Edge earlier in his career and did that kind of stuff with the ball. It wasn’t the wand, it was the wizard. The same is certainly true for Bitter.
The fact is, Bitter has adapted his style of play, and UNC is a better team for it. He puts a pressure on the defense that few other attackman outside of Rob Pannell, Jojo Marasco and a few others can muster. This stretches a defense and allows players like Galasso and Dunster extra time and room for shots, moves and feeds, and while Bitter might not show up in the box score, he will very often be the 2nd or 3rd pass before a goal. And for UNC, a goal is a goal, and a win is a win. If I’m right, Bitter is focused solely on winning, and not on awards, and that makes the Tar Heels an even more dangerous team.
My money is on Bitter signing with Maverik after he graduates, by the way. Total Non-Sequitor. But Whatever. Two simple reasons: Bitter is from Manhasset, John Gagliardi is from Manhasset. Bitter Lacrosse (up in VT, run by the Bitter fam) strings heads but only uses Maverik heads for their pockets. You do the math. Don’t think that would be a bad fit one bit!
This post brought to you by a text from 412Lax.
Remember kids, when the going gets tough and your week is getting rough, the Hot Pot will be there for you.
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