94 feet at a time.
According to Bayhawks head coach Dave Cottle, 94 feet is the distance a halogen lamp projects its light; a number so arbitrary you’d have to assume it to be correct. “If you’re driving from Florida to Maryland,” said Cottle during a mid-season conference call, “you’re not looking at Florida or Maryland, you’re looking 94 feet ahead of you.”
It’s a reminder that immediate tasks call for immediate attention, and focusing on the task at hand, without losing sight of the big picture, has led us to where we are today: the Chesapeake Bayhawks are back-to-back MLL champs, and Steinfeld Cup winners in three of the past four seasons.
Despite steamrolling their way through the postseason in 2012, it never seemed a foregone conclusion that the Bayhawks would earn a trip to Championship Weekend this year. While the first 14 weeks of the season clearly belonged to the Denver Outlaws, and the Hamilton Nationals’ 5-0 start earned them a significant chunk of the spotlight as well, the 2013 Bayhawks acquired four losses by their eighth game, a mark the 2012 squad didn’t reach until the final week of the regular season. Prior to their 2013 campaign, the Bayhawks were winners of eight consecutive overtime games, a stretch dating back to 2004. This season? Three overtime losses by the end of June.
So how did we get from there, to here?
One of the keys to Chesapeake’s success has been their ability to evolve as a team, a willingness to re-establish their identity when faced with a challenge. Whereas last year’s top three scorers were midfielders, this year’s top three all came from the attack position. While Kyle Dixon’s shot abandoned him to the tune of a .082 shooting percentage this season, he adapted by handing out 18 assists, a career high, and the most by a Bayhawk since Connor Gill back in 2008. After Dixon scored 15 two-pointers (more than six other teams) last season all by himself, opponents responded this summer by playing the ball up to 20 yards away from the goal, even on man-up situations. The Bayhawks re-assesed their points of attack, combined for 12 two-pointers in 2013 (down from 28 in 2012), but also saw their overall goal total increase from 173 to 181.
While it’s one thing to switch up your championship formula, actually executing the new approach is an entirely different matter. In order for the reinvention to take place, Cottle needed additional contributions throughout the season from two already-consistent players: Drew Westervelt and Matt Abbott.
They called him “Two Goal Drew.” More specifically, Dave Cottle bestowed that light-hearted bit of passive-aggression on attackman Drew Westervelt for being steady and reliable, but never one to take a game over. Cottle stated he needed more from Westervelt, and when Tim Goettleman was added to the roster earlier in the season, Cottle freely admitted that Westervelt could see competition for his attack spot if he didn’t increase his productivity.
Goettleman scored two goals in his Bayhawk debut, a mid-June Thursday night scrap against the Lizards. In that same game, ol’ Two Goal Drew scored eight of his own. Fast forward to the end of the season, and Westervelt finished with career highs in goals, points, and shooting percentage, he had nine consecutive games with three or more points, and a league-leading ten extra-man goals, including an active eight-game streak. Heading into 2014, it’s safe to say Drew Westervelt is in the market for a new nickname. Unless Chesapeake changes things up again.
Much has been made before about the versatility that Matt Abbott brings to the Chesapeake Bayhawks; from playing wing on faceoffs to covering opposing attackmen, it’s an attribute Dave Cottle uses to the fullest. Although deflecting inquiries from rival GMs regarding Abbott’s avalability has become something of an annual tradition, Cottle states that if they ever were to part ways, the Bayhawks would have to get two starters in the trade, because Abbott plays the role of two starters for their organization.
All praise aside, Cottle still needed more. “For us to be an elite team,” he said, “Matt’s going to have to play offense.”
Throughout the season, Abbott did just that, not only doubling his 2012 goal and assist totals, but doubling his previous career-high point total as well. In doing so, Abbott joined only a handful of players in league history who have scored at least twenty points while scooping forty or more ground balls in the same season, and became the first non-faceoff short stick to join that now-existent club since Jarrett Park back in 2007. His offensive contributions came as little sacrifice to his defensive game, as Abbott provided the same coverage and full-field clears we’ve grown accustomed to seeing since his days in the Carrier Dome.
Thanks in part to increased production from the likes of Westervelt and Abbott, the Chesapeake Bayhawks proceeded to get better as the season rolled along, which is precisely what they tend to do: over the past five seasons, they’re 10-1 in August, 14-2 when you include postseason appearances. Having won five of their final six regular season games, the 2013 Bayhawks successfully righted the ship with time to spare, and when Championship Weekend rolled around, they received notable contributions from two second-year Bayhawks, a pair of veterans who arrived in Annapolis with multiple championship rings already in hand: Nicky Polanco and John Grant Jr.
A roster full of seasoned vets can be a double-edged sword. While contract values tend to rise with experience, the salary cap only allows for a certain dollar amount worth of contracts to dress each week. As a result, Chesapeake’s salary cap balancing act forces players to miss games in the name of financial roster space. Cottle, no stranger to the concept of roster juggling, has stated that when you join the Bayhawks, you know you’re going to have to sit at some point. When your number is called, you sit, and there are no exceptions.
Even Nicky Polanco, who’d spent four of the five games leading up to Championship Sunday patrolling the sidelines in a Bayhawks polo, could be forced to take time off. With Michael Simon injured the day before, typical defenseman Polanco joined the lineup as a longstick midfielder, helping the Chesapeake defense hold the Charlotte Hounds (the very squad that put up 17 goals on the league’s stingiest defense the day before) to single digits for the first time in 2013.
John Grant Jr.
John Grant Jr’s two seasons with the Bayhawks were virtually identical. In 2012, Junior scored 32 points, same thing happened this past season. He took 68 shots in 2013 after taking 67 the year before, and grabbed 13 gbs instead of 12. Also remaining the same was Grant’s ability to elevate his game during Championship Weekend. During the regular season, Junior shot 29%, which is actually quite good, considering the defenders he draws and shots he’s willing to take. During championship weekend? Six goals on 86% shooting. Not only was he dominant throughout, he was remarkably clutch as well, scoring with one second remaining in both the first and second quarters of the championship game on his way to Weekend MVP honors.
Now that the dust has settled on the 2013 season, it’s not too early to focus on the Chesapeake Bayhawks’ next order of business: securing the first three-peat in MLL history. With few rookies, aside from Jesse Bernhardt, logging substantial minutes this season, the Bayhawks clearly aren’t in the midst of a Charlotte or Ohio-esque youth movement, and frankly, why would they be? It clearly ain’t broke, so why try to fix it?
On the other hand, playing the role of General Manager is like playing blackjack; push the limit too long and there’s a chance you’ll find yourself in serious trouble. Considering they traded two of their 2013 collegiate draft picks for picks the following year, perhaps the Bayhawks front office estimated enough gas in the tank for one final year with the current version of the Bayhawk franchise before more drastic changes were in order. Of course, that was before they knew their Hail Mary supplemental draft pick on Casey Powell would pay off, or that Matt Mackrides would score five times as many points as he did the previous season.
So where do the Bayhawks go from here? It hasn’t taken long for some sort of answer to emerge: last Friday they sent Simon, Grant and the 16th overall collegiate draft pick in 2014 to the Outlaws in exchange for Brendan Mundorf (Westervelt’s Philly Wing/former Outlaw/UMBC Retriever teammate, also the 2012 league MVP, you’ve probably heard of him), then they shipped rookie Dominic Sebastiani and the eighth overall pick to Denver in exchange for Brian Megill the following Monday.
Are more dominoes about to fall (unless they’re moving Bernhardt away from close defense, Megill still needs somewhere to play; you don’t ship your first round pick for a backup defenseman)? Do they keep the rest of the crew together or bring in even more new blood? Time will tell what the roster will look like come next spring, but no matter what the 2014 season has in store, one thing is certain: Dave Cottle and the Chesapeake Bayhawks are sure to handle it the only way they know how: 94 feet at a time.