The Waterdogs were the PLL’s first expansion team in 2020, and now find themselves in the PLL Championship this Sunday. Andy Copelan has done an amazing job with constructing this Waterdogs team and turning them into one of the league’s best. Let’s take a look back at the short history of the Waterdogs and how they became a championship contender.
On January 1, 2020, the PLL announced that the seventh team in league history would be named Waterdogs Lacrosse Club. The Waterdogs would use the mantra “Every game is a revenge game” to highlight the fact that their team was made up of unprotected players from the other six PLL clubs. Andy Copelan had a vision for the Waterdogs before building the roster through the expansion draft. “We want a balanced team,” Copelan said, “guys that can play a variety of different positions…we want winners…guys who are able to sacrifice a little bit of themselves for the betterment of the team”
The 2020 season definitely had some growing pains for the club. The bubble season wasn’t very friendly to the Waterdogs as they went 1-3 during the round robin “regular season”. The bubble season made it even tougher for the team since they didn’t have a traditional training camp to find chemistry on the field, but they battled through it and never lost by more than three goals that season. They notched their first win in club history against Chaos in overtime. Their 2020 bubble season ended at the hands of Redwoods, losing 8-11 in the playoffs. In that game the Waterdogs showed a ton of fight, clawing back from an 8-4 deficit with eight minutes left in the fourth. The Waterdogs had built a foundation and had a chance to compete the following season.
In 2021, Copelan knew he needed to make some improvements all around. He first started by trading the 11th overall pick in the college draft for Ryan Brown and trading Wes Berg along with a draft pick to Chaos for Dillon Ward. In the Entry Draft, they loaded up on defense selecting Ben Randall and Liam Byrnes. With defense and goalie positions addressed, Copelan added Michael Sowers and Ethan Walker bringing more firepower alongside Kieran McArdle and Ryan Brown. Their 2021 season started off rocky when Michael Sowers suffered an injury week one. After a 2-3 start, the Waterdogs ripped off four straight wins and finished with the No.1 seed entering the 2021 playoffs. Unfortunately, the Waterdogs struggled to get their offense going and were defeated by Whipsnakes in the second round of the playoffs.
Coming into this season there were high expectations. With a new bar being set from last year’s performance, coupled with a healthy Michael Sowers, the Waterdogs were expected to be one of the league’s best. However, the Waterdogs struggled out of the gate starting 0-3. Even despite the slow start, Copelan knew the team would turn it around, and he mentioned that after their semifinal win last week. “If anyone ever doubted this locker room, you just watch us compete, you watch how hard we play and how we are willing to make sacrifices… I’m not sure I’ve been around a team and a group of guys that plays as hard as they do.”
That belief helped the Waterdogs go 5-2 the rest of the regular season and clinch a spot in the playoffs. It wasn’t easy though, the Waterdogs suffered injuries throughout the year and have had to juggle their lineup mid-game a couple of times this year, including their victory against Atlas in Denver and their win in the semifinals against Whipsnakes. Versatility and mental toughness is what Copelan has been building for two seasons, and Kieran McArdle highlighted that in the semifinals postgame interview. “If you go through those experiences throughout the season… you remain calm, your leaders step up and you guys stick together as a unit and grind it out.”
Grinding it out and finishing games has been the mantra since the Waterdogs joined the PLL. While players have come and gone since that first expansion season, Andy Copelan and the Waterdogs core have lived by that mantra and it has lead them to a championship appearance. Even with a championship in sight, Andy Copelan knows how much this team has grown and how special his team is. “I’m proud of the fact that in our three years we have incrementally better and we have gone incrementally farther in each of those three years. I just want to finish this thing off [with a championship].”