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Ohio at New York - MLL Week 15
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2016 Lacrosse – Year In Review

With the MLL season coming to a close this past weekend, the “official” end of the 2016 lacrosse season in the United States has come to pass.

Of course, there is still plenty of awesomeness happening up in Canada as the box leagues play for national championships at different levels, and there is Canadian collegiate ball, NCAA fall ball, the Hawaii tournament, HS recruiting events, NLL training camps/preseason, and of course, the LAS North American Invitational, as well as plenty of lacrosse around the globe… but this is as close as we come to a “real” break in the season, at least stateside.

Since there is no real break from lacrosse, right now is an important moment in the lacrosse calendar, as it is an artificial break, manufactured by me. Well not just me. As my wife and I like to say: “it’s always lacrosse season” because there’s lacrosse pretty much always going on, but the end of the MLL season really does mark an end to the major USA-based lacrosse calendar year. We get some of August off, and then things kick right back up. 2016 lacrosse was wonderful though!

Casey Powell's World Lacrosse Foundation

So now that formal, organized lacrosse in the USA can put another year in the record books, I couldn’t help but think back on how awesome of a year of lacrosse we just witnessed.

Both the Men’s and Women’s games took major strides forwards at all levels. Fans of the game were entertained from start to finish. Upsets were wild, championships were unpredictable, and there were performances that we will talk about for years to come. Let’s just take a quick look at what went down in the 2016 lacrosse world, before we get too jazzed up about 2017!

I’ll begin with the NLL as it was the first to finish this past year, and first up to start next year.

NLL – So Much Change

Two teams moved, there’s now a new commissioner running the show, the season went all the way down to the last weekend to decide playoff spots and seeding, and one of their new markets caught fire. When the Edmonton Rush moved to Saskatchewan and the Minnesota Swarm moved to Georgia, the smart money was on Georgia taking hold faster. Lacrosse is exploding down there (even if it’s been field), they were going to a smaller arena, and their roster is loaded with exciting players.

New England Black Wolves Georgia Swarm 2016 NLL Photo credit Jeff Melnik 2016 lacrosse
Photo credit Jeff Melnik

The Rush were a championship team, but Saskatoon? The city only has a population of about 260,000 which puts it just ahead of Buffalo and Fort Wayne. If they wanted to get 10,000 people in to watch games, that would mean 4% of the city’s population was watching lacrosse. 4% of an entire city as active lacrosse fans? That seems like a tall order. They left Edmonton and their over 800,000 residents for that?

Well, it turned out to be a brilliant move. As the season went on, that city welcomed the team with open arms and the crowds grew for each game. By the end of the season, games were selling out during the week. 1 out of 26 people in Saskatoon were GOING to games. That’s amazing really. They were rewarded with a thrilling championship that was won in the final twelve seconds on their home floor. It’s the stuff that the NLL’s future expansion/relocation dreams are made of.

Saskatchewan Rush 2016 NLL Champions Champion's Cup Photo: Bob Holtsman
Photo: Bob Holtsman

2016 also saw the reigning MVP get traded down to the New England Black Wolves, who experienced some major growing pains in their first year in 2015. Everybody I spoke to in that franchise had the same response when I congratulated them on their great season: “Shawn Evans, man.” The new coaching staff also helped. Brining in Glenn Clark and Jim Veltman was a great move and the team really played differently under them.

Shawn Evans New England Black Wolves NLL 2016 lacrosse

The old reliable Knighthawks of the past few years finally showed some vulnerability and missed out on the playoffs. Dhane Smith ushered in the post John Tavares era of Buffalo with what should be an MVP season (the award hasn’t been given yet). Great Dhane shattered the scoring record and was dominant all year long. Seven and nine points nights became a new normal.

The Colorado Mammoth took their shot at postseason behind an offense that was putting up plenty of points. Adam Jones was the guy who seemingly couldn’t miss some games while Callum Crawford looked like a new player after being traded out west. Dylan Ward was solid in goal and along with New England’s Evan Kirk may be ushering in a new era of NLL goalies.

Vancouver is still looking to find their mojo in British Columbia, but they have also shown they are not content with being left out of the postseason fun. They will continue to make the changes they need to. Calgary definitely struggled, but it’s hard to imagine they repeat the performance in 2017.

NCAA Men’s College Lacrosse

All season long, upsets were the talk of the town. Well, really polls were the talk since everyone was wrong. Especially Connor (Ed. Note: and proud of it!).

Polls bordered on meaningless as everyone was losing games all year long. In the end, it was actually UNC (who had been left for dead by many) that came out on top. Syracuse showed glimpses, but struggled to put it all together. Maryland was dominant all season long and it took overtime for them to lose the championship. Duke had wacky upsets, Virginia saw their legendary coach, Dom Starsia, shown the door at the end of the year, and Hopkins lost in the first round of the tournament by 9.

This season, much more than other recent seasons, showed that parity is strong at the Division I level. Teams can no longer rely on their legacy or name to win a game, especially given how recent upstarts like Richmond and Marquette are already competing with the best. The tournament field is still pretty limited in terms of size, which only makes those at large bids more valuable. Teams are going to be relying more and more on their conference tournament to get in, which makes every game from late April on matter more than ever before.

At the DII and DIII levels, the old guard still fought for the championship, but in unexpected ways.

DII saw Limestone push for a threepeat against LeMoyne. There has been one year since 1999 where one of those two teams were in the final game. This year saw LeMoyne’s brick wall laced with an adamantium defense hold Limestone’s scoreboard busting offense to a mere four goals when it mattered the most. Defense won LeMoyne the title!

Salisbury winning the DIII title also may not be the most groundbreaking of news, but they also prevented Tufts from a threepeat crown of their own. Salisbury built up a big lead but the non-stop style of Tufts brought them back to within a goal, forcing the Gulls to sweat out their way to another title.

The “off day” of championship weekend was nothing if not entertaining. Even the low scoring DII game was packed with action.

We also got some crazy rule proposals (again)!

NCAA Women’s College Lacrosse

There were two main stories coming out of the women’s game this year and both are centered around Maryland. After looking nearly invincible all season long, the Maryland squad finally faltered in the championship game to North Carolina. No disrespect meant to the Tar Heels as they came as close as anyone all season long (a one goal loss in February), but this was Maryland’s title to lose. They had beaten Syracuse by 10 in the semi and UMass by 15 in the quarters. This was a team on a mission. They were loaded and playing at the top of their game.

UNC, on the other hand, had just two losses all year and each was by a single goal. Their NCAA games were much closer (a one point win over Penn State in the semis), but that did not stop them from nearly routing the defending champs by 6. This was a great year to be a lacrosse player in Chapel Hill and it reminds us all why we play the games. Anyone can win!

Some more history was made for Maryland in another way. Taylor Cummings came away with her THIRD Tewaaraton Trophy. It’s hard to believe that we will see a feat like that by another men’s or women’s player for decades, maybe ever. And this was not a case of no worthy competition. All three years, she was going head to head with Syracuse’s Kayla Treanor, who was just breaking records all over the place. Treanor typically played attack, but for her Senior year, she moved up to take draw control for the Orange which put her directly against the Midfielder Cummings.

Losing this rivalry is a sad day for the NCAA, but it’s great for the UWLX (more on that soon). This was a friendly rivalry, but on the same level within the sport as that of Magic/Bird, P. Manning/Brady, or Gait/Pietramala. Those two women made the game better and the college landscape won’t feel the same without them.

Major League Lacrosse

How crazy of an MLL season did we just witness? The craziest.

Nobody had clinched a playoff spot going into the final weekend, there was a full field goal to tie a game, records were broken, the Championship game was played in a virtual pond, and the winning team was given no shot just weeks prior. Ok, that’s a ton for one season.

The Denver Outlaws‘ championship performance was very similar to that of the North Carolina men in the NCAA. UNC was 8-6 going into the postseason and was playing on the road at Marquette. They never won more than two games in a row. Denver was 2-6 in late June and had to put together a miraculous six straight wins to even have a prayer of making the postseason. They got those six wins, made it to 8-6 and won their next two games to be MLL champs again. 8-6 was a good record to have in 2016, huh? That may seem weird, but that’s what true parity looks like.

Speaking of tiebreakers, the MLL had quite a math problem to figure out this year.

I wrote about it quite a bit HERE if you want the details, but the end result was the entire playoff field being decided by math. I saw the tiebreaker steps weeks before we knew how important they would be. I saw no problem with them then, but I do now. If you’re looking at 3 teams trying to get 1 or two final playoff spots, it makes perfect sense to me. When you’re trying to decide 2 or more spots with 4 or more teams, there has to be a better way. The way the field get pared down just doesn’t sit well with me still.

This season will probably be remember for two things though. The tiebreakers and the rain-soaked championship game. That second half was played in about as terrible of field conditions as you’ll see in professional sports. And you know what? I have no problem with it. The NFL has required games to be played in much worse. Yes, the NFL has more of an investment riding on each broadcast, but they also have a bankroll big enough to do whatever they want. Teams have put down brand new playing surfaces between home games in the middle of the season. They still deal with what mother nature sends them. So did the MLL. Props!

UWLX – Pro Women’s Lax!

This year also saw the first step into professional women’s lacrosse and it could not have come at a better time. I previously went into more detail about one of the games I saw in person HERE in case you want to read more.

All spring, we saw former Syracuse grad Alyssa Murray on Nike ads, while several women’s lacrosse players are featured in ads by STX, Brine, and Under Armour. With more sponsorship opportunities, a loaded talent pool, and more recognizable players, women’s lacrosse can truly support a pro sports model. Yes, it is going to be more like the MLL as it moves forward as most of them will have day to day jobs like coaches, trainers, or any number of things not related to lacrosse. But, they will be able to support the travel and pay structure going forward to get a good base for the league going forward.

Year one had the games mostly centered around major girls lacrosse event in the northeast and mid-Atlantic. It was not too different from the original MLL Barnstorming Tour that helped kicked off that league over 15 years ago. Next year will hopefully see more of a “home” field for each of the four teams and allow the league to build a solid foundation. They have a solid model and their leadership knows what they’re doing. Things are looking bright for women’s lacrosse after college.

Broadcasting and Multimedia

New ground was broken like crazy this year, making lacrosse more accessible than ever, and really helping to grow the game. The biggest may have been the largest mystery heading into 2016, which was the launch of the first lacrosse only broadcasting network The Lax Sport Network (LSN). Nobody knew what LSN was before they first aired. What we got was several NCAA games broadcast before they really got things going and served as the primary broadcast location for the MLL regular season. ESPN still dominates when it comes to big time NCAA match ups and CBS Sports held on to the MLL postseason, but LSN made some big strides for everyday coverage and is a part of the landscape now.

LSN also broadcast the games for the European Championships. In case you missed the full games, or wanted more on-site coverage, our team here at LAS really went to town with some superb content. We sent over four people, wrote stories and produced daily videos, and dominated on social media. It was so cool to see European Lacrosse with such depth, and it gives me a lot of hope for continued growth and improvement over in Europe. Lacrosse will never become a truly popular world game if Europe doesn’t get on board. So we also need to get on board with Europe! This was great to see, and I was proud to be a part of LAS as we brought unprecedented coverage to an amazing event.

You can find our complete coverage of the EC16 HERE!

There was another big “first” in the MLL, which saw Paul Rabil’s Facebook page host a broadcast of an MLL game between the Rattlers and Lizards via Facebook Live. Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope are proving to everyone that they are no fad. Going into 2017, you are going to see much more on both of those platforms as news sites and broadcasting companies are finding more and more ways to reach fans directly.

This may mean more behind the scenes access, sideline views, quick interview, press conferences, and possibly live games. What else could it mean? I’m excited to find out. Speaking of sidelines views and live games… Remember when lighting knocked out broadcasting capabilities for the ACC Championship game in Georgia? Facebook live took over as Paul Carcaterra finished the game by calling it from the sideline on his phone for all to see.

Technology is our friend, and you will see more of it.

Finally, very recently, the NLL announced their own broadcast studio and the league is currently surveying fans for their viewing tendencies and opinions. With a new commissioner in place, they may be making a big play in the multimedia world going forward. Of course, LAS is a lacrosse media entity, so we are also looking forward to how to best reach you, our awesome fans, as well. We have some big stuff coming your way as we look forward to 2017 and it includes a much deeper look into some things we all take for granted, as well as some off the beaten path stories.

Of course, it will all focus on Growing the Game!

2016 Lacrosse – Best Year Ever?

Ok, let’s go back to think about how thrilling all of these leagues were, right down to the final seconds of the final games. The NLL was decided with 12 seconds left on the clock. The MLL was decided with 13 seconds left, and the NCAA DI final went into overtime.

Have we ever had a year with so much great lacrosse coming down to the wire? When a major championship gets referred to as an “instant classic”‘ before a player has even put their hands on a trophy, you know you had a good year. When it happens three times? When it happens three times and The DII, DIII, and DI women’s games were all upsets and we were able to see them all? Then you start asking yourself: was this the best year of lacrosse ever? It just might have been.