2022 PLL Championship
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2022 PLL Championship Preview with Quint Kessenich

Chaos’ annual metamorphosis endures after throttling the Archers 9-7 in the Sunday semifinal in DC to advance to the 2022 PLL Championship. The Chaos now have more playoff victories than regular-season wins during the past three years. 28 year old goalie, Blaze Riorden, continued his mastery of September. It’ll be the third-straight PLL Championship game appearance for coach Andy Towers and his Canadian laced roster, a team that bumbled their way through the regular season going 2-8. 

The Waterdogs will make their first championship game appearance as lefty Kieran McArdle and Michael Sowers each had four goals and an assist during the semifinals upset over the Whipsnakes. Partner that with goalie Dillon Ward making 17 saves and the Waterdogs have some momentum heading into the 2022 PLL Championship. Sowers was nursing a sore hamstring and midfielder Mikey Schlosser left the stadium on crutches. Ryan Brown will dress for Schlosser. How much gas is left in the tank?

Right now, it’s about doing the unrequired work such as the film study, extra rest, physical treatment, and sharpening the senses with extra stickwork and footwork. Your body is your business. Coach Andy Copelan’s group has been defined by toughness in 2022 and they’ll need to summon one more deep breath. 

In their last two wins, the Chaos defense has been stout, not sliding and leaning heavily on the eyes of Blaze who is playing with unreal confidence and focus. Focus is a skill. 

He’s stamping himself as a pro’s pro who must be discussed in the same conversation with legends Sal LoCasio, Brian Dougherty, and Greg Cattrano. 

“I’d say Blaze has the unique body type, patience, and exceptional hand speed of Sal, incorporates the strategy of baiting shooters and general body positioning of Doc, and has the big stop and super quick up-field transition to offense that Cat had, but Blaze does it with speedy outlets, where Cat was a little more like Jimmy Beardmore and ran it out.”
– Andy Towers, Chaos Head Coach

It would appear that Blaze is in the shooters head.

“I think as a shooter you have to utilize placement & release deception, as a quick release and placement aren’t enough against this caliber of goalie.”
– Andy Towers, Chaos Head Coach

One thing we’ve learned since the introduction of the shot clock in professional and college lacrosse, goalies are more impactful than FOGO’s in the postseason. We’ve also learned never to doubt veteran goalie Dillon Ward, who’s won just about every big game under the sun.

Both coaches deserve applause for their management of a long summer that began in May during training camp in Albany 16 weeks ago. The challenge of leading a team in the PLL is dissimilar from coaching at the D1 level.

“I think the most important difference between the PLL and college coaching is that you’re dealing with men, they are 23 and older, while college is 22 and younger.”
– Andy Towers, Chaos Head Coach

Coaching in the PLL may be less hands on, a more delicate leadership equation, although like the NFL it’s mainly all ball.

“The PLL is all lacrosse, there is no school dynamic or off-the-field discipline issues to sort out. Coaching in the PLL is about managing personalities as you try find the right combinations, to fit your scheme. There are a lot less distractions in the PLL than there are in D1 (school, family, alumni, administration, etc).”
– Andy Towers, Chaos Head Coach

What impresses me most is that in eight of the ten PLL weekends this summer, the Chaos limped home a loser, and somehow didn’t combust.

“I’ve also learned that it’s essential to be proactive, tactful, and consistent in all of my communications. Otherwise, you can lose a group very quickly. I‘ve also learned that it’s essential that most decisions are made by the group in pursuit of getting to what’s right, rather than by dictatorship and who’s right.”
– Andy Towers, Chaos Head Coach

The chief ingredient is real conversations, all the time and being a truth program. Even when that hurts egos. 

The 2022 PLL Championship on Sunday won’t disappoint. It’s the last game of the year, for all levels. I have no prediction, other than the action will be smart, fast, and physical. I just hope we witness a game that goes the distance with playmaking and all the elements that showcase lacrosse. Championship games on a major network don’t grow on trees.

I’m not sure what we’ll see. I have noticed that defenses are not sliding as much in critical post season NCAA tournament and PLL postseason games. They’ll slide to a shorty no doubt. I’m just not seeing unnecesary slides that create offense. There are rare slides to poles. Schemes would rather leave a defenseman on the island and allow a shot off the dodge. At this level if you’re a pole, it’s expected that you can handle your man. To cover the ball carrier well enough so that a shot is released on the run, under duress, and often with a weak hand and from a decreasing angle. Goalies like Dillon Ward and Blaze eat that stuff up. We’ve seen that elite offenses like Maryland, Virginia, Archers, and Whipsnakes can handle slide, rotations, and recoveries. They dissect this movement and generate feet-set looks from strong angles. Slide happy defenses don’t play late into the bracket, at any level. 

“I think sliding ultimately leads to time and space shots. Not sliding leads to shots on the run, which are harder to shoot accurately and leads to missed shots/easier saves. We saw that in our Chrome game and the Archers game last weekend.”
– Andy Towers, Chaos Head Coach

When you have a capable goalie, not sliding should create easier shots to save. That’s why the two-man game has become a staple. To change matchups and give the dodger an edge. So ball carriers like Sowers, Chris Cloutier, Kyle Jackson, and Connor Kelly will gauge the slide mentality of the opposing defense before running through the smoke. You’ll see elite contact balance in this game from initiators like Josh Byrne, Kelly, Cloutier, and Dhane Smith. 

Is Sowers near 100%? That’s the cat and mouse. How will the Chaos defense handle picks for Sowers? How do Jack Rowlett and Jarod Neumann navigate through the nonstop two-man games? Switching a shorty onto Sowers spells disaster.

I spoke to Rowlett on this weeks Quintessential Podcast about the PLL and being an assistant coach at Georgetown.

So it seems as if settled goals may be in short supply. Las Vegas has set the O/U total at 22.5. The difference will be transition opportunities and turnover margin. Groundballs, faceoffs, saves, and turnovers create transition. Pick defense and pick offense looms large. That’ll be a huge technical facet of this game. 

The Waterdogs won’t win if this game is played entirely six-on-six. They must run, they must score from faceoffs with their sensational wingers Zach Currier and Ryland Rees. Set a fast pace. Two-way midfielder Ryan Conrad is a barometer for Waterdogs nation, he must generate odd-man rushes. The offense must get Blaze moving on his arc. The Waterdogs want chaos and have to stir this game up with catalysts like Currier, Conrad, along with shorties Matt Whitcher, Steven DeNapoli and Christian Scarpello. Title games are often won by roster spots 13-18 as the top units negate each other. 

The 2022 PLL Championship will get production from everyone. The winner will play with a sense of joy and have more fun.

I hope to be on the field working this game on ABC with Chris Cotter, Ryan Boyle and Paul Carcaterra. I’ll be in Seattle on Saturday night for ABC College Football with Michigan State facing Washington and then hopping on a red eye back east. The whistle blows at 3:00pm on Sunday from Subaru Park in Chester, PA and on ABC television. Get tickets at PLLTickets.com 

You should be watching the PLL.