The Premier Lacrosse League swings into Charm City on Friday and Saturday night. Week 4 is at Homewood Field. Tickets are available at PLLtickets.com and all of the games this summer are available on ESPN+, with three on ABC, three on ESPN and six on ESPN2. Last week 452,000 fans watched the PLL on ABC, a strong rating and one that’ll grow.
I’ve been calling a handful of these contests and I want to let you know how awesome the product on the field has been. It’s mind blowing to witness lacrosse evolving. You will see something each week that makes you say “Wow”, whether it’s a shot, a save, a check, a hit, a sequence, a dodge, a feed…you never know.
The level of speed, skill, and teamwork that the pros can achieve is awesome. They are the best players on the planet. These games have a frantic pace. They are crowd pleasers. Off the field, I have rave reviews for the players and coaches, as they are engaging, fun, intelligent and helpful to work with.
Why Should You Be Watching?
Every game is loaded with familiar college stars. Archers midfielder Tom Schreiber is the best of his generation and may be the top passing midfielder I’ve ever seen. His snappy sidearm looks off the dodge are unique and usually result in scoring chances. If you don’t slide to him, he can bury the rock. Whipsnakes long stick midfielder Michael Erhardt has a presence in the middle of the field that’s overwhelming. Tall, rangy and able to cover ground, he is a menace in the middle of the field.
Passers Jeff Teat, Michael Sowers, Grant Ament, and Army rookie Brendan Nichtern keep defenses guessing. Shooters Ryan Brown and lefty Will Manny show an uncommon level of powerful precision, variety of release points, and accuracy to all four corners that leave goalies to turn and rake. Playmaker Lyle Thompson is always worth the price of admission. Transitional threats like Koby Smith and CJ Costabile provide spice.
There are heroes everywhere. The PLL has more diversity than the D1 college game. There are endless future Hall of Famers, Team USA, and Team Canada standouts and stalwart players who set the pace for their college programs. It feels like each week somebody new steps up to remind the lacrosse world of their excellence.
The Guy with the Yellow Shirt
When you watch from the couch at home, you’ll quickly get an indication of how respected head referee Matt Palumb is. Matt runs the show. He’s the main official, who’s calls are piped into the stadium and television feeds. Matt won three NCAA titles while playing goalie for Syracuse in 1988-90. He’s worked the biggest college games. He’s widely respected.
This assignment illustrates the importance of communication between ref and coach, and more importantly that between ref and player. Matt makes the expectations perfectly clear and has an ongoing dialogue with players to insure that his expectations match player behavior. These games are physical, fast paced, hard hitting and rough. The level of sportsmanship has been incredible. Great players respect the game. They understand the difference between playing hard and playing dirty. Matt and his crew deserve a lot of credit for keeping the peace.
The ESPN coverage includes a commitment to aggressive audio. The Under the Helmet segments featuring players and coaches being Mic’d up represents unprecedented access. That direct access to the game takes the viewer onto the field of play or in the huddles. It brings the game to life in your living room or man cave.
The sound is unpredictable, raw, informative, and aggressive. It’s not perfect and will never be. The great segments outweigh the bad ones. This allows us to introduce fans to larger-than-life personalities like Chaos coach Andy Towers and Chrome FOGO Connor Farrell, aka the Milkman. The audio connects the fan with the immediacy of lacrosse, with its ferocious yet fun nature and the characters who play.
FOGO Trevor Baptiste of the Atlas sets the standard amongst PLL faceoff men. The 25 year old graduate out of Denver continues to improve with age. His clamp percentage is high, and even when he loses the clamp portion he wins 44% of the draws. His stick skills and mobility make him an offensive threat. Baptiste is positioning himself in the race for league MVP. FOGO’s TD Ierlan, Stephen Kelly, Jake Withers, rookie Zac Tucci, Thomas Kelly, Joe Nardella, Frankie Labetti, and rookie Justin Inacio have subtle trait differences that make this battle must see television for the young specialist.
I love the two point shot and it’s impact on end-of-game strategy. The arc sits at 15 yards from the goal line. It becomes a real factor late in close games and keeps trailing teams relevant as a method to carve into a deficit. In the course of a typical PLL game, teams are most likely to look for two’s in transition with the trailer break or on the power play from top center. Defenses have to recognize clock, score, and personnel then defend accordingly.
The arc serves also to open up the slot area as defenders press out past 15 yards. The PLL uses a 52 second shot clock which works well for players of this caliber. Subbing must be done with alacrity. Shots taken in transition early in the shot clock that go out-of-bounds for a brief stoppage actually buy the offense time to substitute while the shot clock is off. I’d like to see more college teams adopt this philosophy.
The Whipsnakes face the Redwoods on Friday from Baltimore at 6:30pm on ESPN2. The Whipsnakes dress Maryland alums Jay Carlson, Matt Rambo, Mike Chanenchuk, Bryan Cole, Jake Bernhardt, Michael Ehrhardt, Kyle Bernlohr, Brian Phipps, Matt Dunn, Tim Muller, and Bryce Young. That’s 11 of their 19 man roster. Their fans will invade Homewood Field dressed in red, pumping their chests from a recent 18-0 season and NCAA title. Coach John Tillman will be on the scene. The Redwoods are represented by eight players from Notre Dame. After a slow start, they came to life last weekend behind Rob Pannell, Jules Heningburg, Ryder Garnsey and Myles Jones.
The league has eight teams – Archers, Atlas, Chrome, Chaos, Whipsnakes, Waterdogs, Cannons and Redwoods. So there are four games each weekend. Every week is a new season. Every game it’s own opportunity to witness something new. The PLL is pushing dreams for the next generation and presenting a world class product for new lacrosse fans to grab onto.