The Sunday PLL Semifinals storylines are clear. The Archers (7-4) have lost to Chaos (3-8) in each of their last two playoff semifinals. Is the third time a charm? Or do the Chaos continue to show their mastery of the post season?
Meanwhile the Waterdogs (6-5) are the only team to beat Whipsnakes (9-1) this summer. Can they do it again?
Sunday will be special at Audi Field, an elite venue. The PLL Semifinals doubleheader in the nations capital on 9/11. The league will be honoring former BC lacrosse player and 9/11 hero, Welles Crowther, along with his family.
Waterdogs vs Whipsnakes
As the top seed, the Whipsnakes had a bye last week week and haven’t played since August 21 in Tacoma. Time off isn’t ideal. A change of routine can shudder momentum, so Instead of taking the weekend off and going to the beach, the Whips asked the league permission to get together.
“The League allowed us to hold a practice in Princeton, NJ in conjunction with quarterfinals,” said coach Jim Stagnitta. “We had practice and a team dinner at Contes in Princeton.”
Structure and order, practice and pizza, some things never change. Contes is an old-school pizza house, a well known social spot where patrons can build their own pies using Pepperoni, Sausage, Onions, Mushrooms, Peppers, Garlic, Black Olives, and Anchovies. Don’t confuse this place with Sammy’s in Hunt Valley. Who the heck puts anchovies on pizza? How many slices did Rambo consume? Setting the over/under at 4.5.
The Whipsnakes staff and players held zooms and ScoreBreak sessions. The players are holding training challenges through endurance tests like running a timed mile or doing a certain amount of sprints. Staying in peak condition while outside the framework of daily team interaction requires discipline and every bit of peer pressure helps. Being in shape matters at all levels. Lacrosse is a running game. The secret of your future is hidden in your daily routine.
The Waterdogs quarterfinal win over the Atlas was made possible by transition offense through Zach Currier and Ryan Conrad owning the middle of the field. “The difference was wing play on the faceoffs,” said ESPN’s Jay Alter. “Currier (8 GB) and Ryland Rees (6GB) were dominant and set the tone in groundballs and getting goals straight from the faceoff.”
The Waterdogs (+350 to win the championship) scored a season-high 19 goals on the extra possessions that Currier and Rees dug out.
A staple for the Waterdogs this summer has been setting effective picks for catalyst Michael Sowers. Goalie Dillon Ward will creep forward off his arc, up-field, crushing angles. This team caught my eye in Connecticut, when they gutted out a win while short staffed. They found joy in the struggle. I respect their toughness. Guys like Kieran McCardle , Connor Kelly, Chris Sabia, and Liam Byrnes are high production yet low maintenance.
Sunday, the first five minutes will be critical. If the Waterdogs can capitalize on Whips rust, that may set a tone. Can Whips FOGO Joe Nardella win clamps to create quick exits thereby avoiding Currier and Rees? It’ll be tough for the Waterdogs to run on the Whips, who prefer a grind-it-out style of six-on-six.
To beat the Whips, you must have defensive hammers on each side of the field for lefty Matt Rambo and righty Zed Williams. You have to deal with LSM Michael Ehrhardt, to match wits with Mike Chanenchuk and Brad Smith. You have to face guard Jay Carlson and be willing to run through checks from Bryce Young, Matt Dunn, and Timmy Mueller.
The Whips (+160 to win the championship) brilliance is their consistency, and unwavering fundamentals. Some call them dull. Seven of their nine wins are by two goals or less. They don’t give up bad goals. They don’t beat themselves. They stay in the moment understanding that they have control over their attitude, effort, behavior, and actions. They love the close shave. They are the professional version of the Maryland Terrapins and their fans will show up in red.
Chaos vs Archers
The Chaos have won this identical PLL Semifinals game in 2020 and 2021 yet are a 1.5 goal underdogs to the high scoring Archers. Go figure.
“With all the focus on Marcus Holman, Will Manny, Grant Ament, and Tom Schreiber, it’s Connor Fields who has emerged as the ‘tone setter’ and ‘difference maker’ for the Archers,” explained ESPN voice Jay Alter.
Schreiber’s rollback is nasty and he’s a two-way go, able to shoot it or dish it off from the dodge. Coach Chris Bates has an offense with weapons. If they get their feet set for clean looks, they’ll ring corners. If their shots are on the run or contested, Chaos stopper Blaze Riorden may have a field day.
Meanwhile the Chaos (+500 to win the championship) triggered its annual transformation from regular season scrubs to playoff superheroes. It’s like the kale worms in my garden becoming butterflies, the metamorphism defies belief.
“Delete the regular season. It didn’t matter. Using nothing but the eye test, they were the best team at Gillette Stadium,” said Alter. “The intensity and ferocity in which they attacked every facet of the game was breathtaking.”
Finally some of the pregame posturing and halftime locker room ‘F bombs’ manifested into improved play and not just social media glitz. Defenders Jack Rowlett and Jared Neumann form the foundation. Goalie Blaze Riorden is Mr. September. Andy Towers is Ted Lasso.
ESPN’s Paul Carcaterra sums it up. “Blaze saved 82% and FOGO Max Adler, who struggled this season, was great Saturday…59%. When you give an offense, who has the best shooting percentage in the league, that many touches…you win.”
Simple math. Simple game.
Meanwhile, the Archers (+210 to win the championship) sent the Redwoods golfing last Saturday. The Woods never lived up to their headlines and now stare down an off-season of uncertainty with an assortment of players entering free agency.
- Isaiah Davis Allen
- Eddy Glazener
- Pat Harbeson
- Kyle Hartzell
- Myles Jones
- Matt Kavanagh
- Jack Kelly
- Ryan Lee
- Jack Near
- John Sexton
- Drew Simoneau
The Woods rolled out of the playoffs. Their vaunted defense is ringless. The offense was a bad salad. The Woods will look different in 2023 and that’s a good thing.
Sunday, I think both teams will score, as neither defense is built to stop the other. The FOGO battle is an unknown quantity. Playoff games can get wonky where players tend to grip their sticks too tight and coaches pucker up at the sight of a turnover. I don’t entirely trust the Archers defense.
Elimination games are determined by execution. Who can do the simple things better? Which team can be its best at the moment of high stress? Who wins the 50/50 grounders? Who can bury their layups? Who plays team defense? Who’s aggressive and relentless? Who can own the last minute of each quarter? Who has no fear of making mistakes? Who stays true to their personality?
These PLL Semifinals won’t disappoint. You should be watching the PLL. Chris Cotter, Paul Carcaterra, Ryan Boyle and Dana Boyle have the television call on ABC and ESPN+ live from the swamp. I spoke with Dana this week about covering the PLL on my podcast.
To get yourself in the mood for the PLL Semifinals, check out “Fate of the Sport” on ESPN+. The documentary has been a top viewed film on ESPN+ through its first weeks of release. I spoke with Paul Rabil about the film.
The semifinal winners advance to the PLL Finals on Sunday, September 18 at 3:00pm, from Subaru Park in Chester, PA, which will be televised nationally on ABC.