Champion Challenge: Likes and Dislikes

Overall intensity

Nothing compares to competing for your country. When you don the red, white and blue, you don’t take off any plays. Every ride, every faceoff and every groundball brings out maximum effort from every player on the field. I can’t even imagine how psyched these guys get to tryout for the squad. They must have an adrenaline rush a thousand times greater than those produced by Toby Keith or a Disney orchestra.

So, in what may seem to be evolving into a weekly tradition, I present my idea for Major League Lacrosse expansion: Let the Iroquois Nationals play. When MLL eventually expands into Atlanta, add the Iroquois as a team to keep an even number.

Offensively, the Iroquois could light it up. They’d put fans in the seats – very loud, enthusiastic, 12th man-esque fans. No team would play with more pride. My only concern would be on the defensive end. They might struggle defending teams in the 1-on-1 oriented MLL. Maybe, they’d have to allow non-Iroquois players on the team eventually.

[I’m thinking former college teammates like John Galloway or Joel White would be accepted as “honorary” Iroquois – like the squirrel kid in Crooked Arrows.]

As long as the roster is mostly Iroquois, they could build an incredible tradition. I get chills watching Bears-Packers on Monday Night Football in December. Imagine watching Iroquois-Lizards games on Thursday Night Lacrosse in 2034!

Garrett Thul’s Army commitment

Every performance like this from Thul makes it more and more difficult to cope with the fact that his MLL career will [most likely] be limited. He played his way onto Team USA on Sunday. From his low-to-high rip from about 15 yards out to de-cleating Dan Burns to drawing a flag and finishing with Lee Zink in his hands, Thul did it all.

A few months ago I mentioned that the term “bull dodge” fails to adequately describe what Thul does on the lacrosse field. We, as a lacrosse community, can do better.

Is it simply a Thul dodge? If it were pronounced “THULL” instead of “THOOL,” then this would be a no-brainer. Is it a train dodge? Or a tank dodge? [Points for the Army implications!] A truck dodge? I doubt any animal possesses that much power, so we’re limited to extraterrestrials and machines. Keep brainstorming.

JoJo Marasco’s shooting

Marcus Holman’s shot was on, but anyone who was tied to a chair and forced to watch the Ohio Machine play this summer knew Holman could bring it. Marasco, though? I had never seen him shoot like that. I’m glad he is working on his off-ball game; that will most likely be his entire game this summer with Ned Crotty, Rob Pannell and Tommy Palasek on his team.



The turf

Speaking of that Leveille goal, did you see the turf by the crease? Yuck…

turfQuint’s FOGO Rant

In the first quarter Quint Kessenich called FOGOs “non-lacrosse players.” I understand his Belichickian philosophy. Give him a guy who is good at two things over a guy who is great at one thing. With only 23 roster spots, you’d like to have as many swing guys as possible. I’m a huge advocate for two-way midfielders, but if there’s a guy who can do nothing besides win more than 50% of his draws, I’ll take him in a heartbeat.

The non-lacrosse player line was harsh, but Quint wasn’t done. Later that night, he tweeted, “FOGOs are place-kickers, they are specialists.” Sure, they are specialists. But place-kickers?!

nicknovakPlace-kickers are a formality. They are expected to make all PATs and most field goals inside 50 yards. Place-kickers can lose a game, but they can’t win one. Faceoff specialists can win games (see: 2006 FIL World Championship and 2013 NCAA D1 Tournament).

FOGOs are kick returners. If Greg Gurenlian wins 64% of the draws for you, then you have a huge advantage in possession. That’s the equivalent of a returner setting his team up with excellent field position all game. He makes the offense’s job easier before the offense even takes the field.

Who cares if your faceoff specialist doesn’t have Steven Brooks’ left-handed shot or Kyle Harrison’s split dodge?! Since when is doing your job at an All-World level insufficient grounds for making Team USA?! I wish Quint was from another country and he was in charge of final roster cuts there. I’d love to see Geoff Snider tear up his Stephen Peyser- and Kyle Hartzell-caliber faceoff men at the X.

Fake substitutions

After a summer of 60-second shot clocks, you tend to forget some of the elegant subtleties of the college and international game. The white team caught the blue team sleeping twice. First, Brian Farrell and Matt Abbott converted it into points. Just a few minutes later, Peyser almost made the blue team pay again.

When given the time, the chances these teams can create are beautiful. But is it worth waiting three or four minutes to see that chance? I vote no. Give me 60-second possessions and a high dose of left-to-right Rabil sweeps.


This was the best lacrosse game played in a long time. It was streamed live on ESPN3 and shown on tape delay on ESPNU at 10 pm. How is the sport supposed to grow when its fans are all viewing at different times?

The audience is segmented, and any possibility for midgame twitter conversations amongst fans is ruined. Any chance of getting #USAMLAX trending is lost. Casual and potential fans who may have stumbled upon the game [had it been on a real channel at a reasonable time] still haven’t heard about the game. Outside the lacrosse community this game flew under the radar, and that’s a shame.

Loyal fans DVRed the ESPNU broadcast – but how many fans have space for 150 minutes of high-definition programming on their DVR? And how many of those fans have 150 minutes to spare on Monday night? On Tuesday night? How long until the game is deleted?

Marquee events [i.e. Champion Challenge, MLL All-Star Game, NCAA Final Four, MLL Championship weekend] are ideal for attracting new viewers. Nobody channel surfs their way to a Rochester Rattlers versus Ohio Machine game on a Saturday night in July and says, “Wow! I want to watch this sport again!”

This was an opportunity lost for lacrosse, because ESPN was busy showing NCAA women’s basketball. Hopefully these new 24/7 sports networks pick up lacrosse games and put pressure on ESPN to carry more games as well.

Joe Fletcher

The blue team attacked the only collegiate player in the game early. Ryan Young [Fletch’s man] took him behind the cage. Matt Danowski slipped a screen, which Fletch was prepared to go under. Young tried an inside roll, had no daylight, fell down and was bombarded with stick checks by Fletch.

Fletch aced his first test, and as a result, he didn’t see many more. He played much of the rest of the game off-ball, denying cutters and backing up shots. One time in the second quarter, Danowski was able to get a step on him [with help from a slightly illegal screen by Crotty]. Fletch recovered well and forced an errant pass.

Completely unrelated to his play –Fletch looks like Lloyd Christmas in his photo on the Loyola website:

fletch.lloydchristmasDefensive midfield

Four goalies played at a gold medal level on Sunday afternoon. Zink, Michael Evans and Tucker Durkin are lockdown monsters at their close positions. Any of the other defensemen who make the team – Brian Karalunas, Brett Schmidt or Mitch Belisle – will be fantastic. The strength of this team is in its close defense – but the defensive midfield was impressive on Sunday.

Farrell ran the field better than he ever has [and he usually runs it pretty well]. Kyle Hartzell, who usually led the break for the Ohio Machine this summer, ran a bit less. He seemed more focused on his defensive assignments, and it paid off. Most of his time was spent shutting down Max Seibald.

Jeff Reynolds and Kevin Drew did a tremendous job limiting some of the best midfield lines in the world. Lots of midfielders saw action on both sides of the field – most notably Matt Abbott, Max Seibald, Steven Brooks and Peyser. Short-stick defensive midfielders are crucial to a team’s success; if you disagree, then you might also still be wondering how the Cannons finished 5-9 this summer.

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