Major League Lacrosse is on the verge of starting its 14th season, but the road to Championship Weekend starting this past weekend in Annapolis. Denver, Chesapeake, Charlotte, and the newly minted Florida Launch scrimmaged at Severn High School to get an idea on who would make opening day rosters. Players were looking to make the most of their chances before the NLL season ends and open spots shrink even further.
The Chesapeake Bayhawks played the same style that led them to the title last season. Their midfield lines played cohesive and each line served their roles well. The development of some of the players during the day will make those who aren’t on the active roster attractive pickups likely for other teams. Jesse Bernhardt did not play, so there are still players to be added to their starting rotation. LXM’s Rhamel Bratton did not suit up and MLL veteran Jovan Miller did not either, so it is apparent that there is a wealth of talent still running for the Bayhawks. Stephen Peyser had probably the best day of anyone. He was used to take advantage of FOGOs stuck on defense. The Bayhawks were allowed to dominate momentum with plays he made on the day. He will be used all over the field, offense, defense, and facing off.
Attackman Ben Rubeor played his usual opportunistic style and slipping into the opposing defense for great scoring chances. Matt Mackrides looks like he may bounce between the second midfield group and attack this season. Brendan Mundorf played only sparingly, but you can see how well he is going to work with the Bayhawks already. He wasn’t hampered by injury and played with no look of rust from off season healing. Jimmy Dailey continued to amaze the crowd with his athleticism and ability to dodge. His goal dodging to the cage against Florida may have well been the highlight of the outing. He dodged two defenders earlier in the game, putting one to the turf, was only thwarted by Florida’s goalie play.
The defense had the veterans logging most of the minutes. Brian Spallina, Michael Evans, and Nicky Polanco held strong in front of the goalie battle between Tyler Fiorito and Bruce Bickford. They are battling to be the back up to Kip Turner. Spallina let his presence be known early as Ken Clausen tried to make his way through the middle, only to meet Spallina. Brian Megill was one of the surprises for the defending champs. He controlled possessions, started transition, and didn’t give his opposition much of any opportunity to be apart of the offense. He is going to fit in well with the team and should log a lot of minutes.
The Denver Outlaws were deep in terms of players that could take over, but they were still one of the best out there on the day. Fans were delighted to see Ken Clausen back after years of injury and he didn’t disappoint. He was talking to his teammates, firing them up after plays, running transition, and wouldn’t back down. Clausen was relentless and the crowd felt his excitement, as he didn’t stop moving all day.
Jeremy Sieverts was the midfield catalyst for his team. Always a threat, defenses watched him closely and he wasn’t afraid to shoot when his hands were free. Justin Pennington was able to display the ability to get defenses moving and repeatedly found open teammates for easy goals. Terry Kimener showed way he is a mainstay for the Outlaws and that tandem will give opposing defenses headaches all season. One of the main beneficiaries was Matt Gibson. He made play after play for the Outlaws and he will be counted on all season. In tight, he was able to finish plays and get goals for his team. Fans were taken back by how sharp he was on the day. Mike Simon is going to be another addition for the team that will do many things for the team. His role since coming into the league has been ever expanding. He is a physically imposing defenseman and can turn a ground ball into offense very quickly.
Jesse Schwartzman will anchor the defense, as the Outlaws have one of the finest in the league. He commanded the field when he was out there and made saves look easy. In knowing that, Denver used their time to evaluate their other options and Towson’s Andrew Wascavage had his opportunity to show his abilities, just as he did in leading the Tigers to the playoffs his senior season. Lee Zink and Clausen played tenacious defensively and the duo will likely lead the Outlaws early, as the offense will look to add scoring punch when the NLL season closes.
These two teams were the best in the regular season and the playoffs, with the Outlaws going undefeated and the Bayhawks walking away with the championship trophy. They played each other in the first scrimmage of the day and the crowd was delighted to see this hard fought contest between last season’s best. As Ken Clausen ran up field to get back on defense, he and Brian Spallina exchanged a few pleasantries. The crowd felt the energy of the game and how every inch earned this season is going to be hard fought. Teammates connected in between plays to communicate what each other had seen and should do in the future.
The tide of momentum bounced back and forth in both games for the Bayhawks, as everyone wanted to make a name for themselves against last year’s champs. Roster spots were hard fought for and the league is going to benefit from the development of players and the competitiveness to even make the active roster.
Stayed tuned for Part Two: Charlotte and Florida tomorrow…
– Brian Davies