With the college lacrosse season in full swing and the indoor league coming to a close for most, its time for Major League Lacrosse to makes its entrance for the viewing audience. Teams will have to find balance and to get some early season wins in order to not fall behind too early. Florida looks to start its new look off strong, Charlotte wants to build of last season’s runner up finish, and Denver and Chesapeake want to keep their position atop the league for another year.
Florida is in an interesting position. They are going to need to find their groove quickly or this could be a rough season. The team is made up of a lot of young players that have and ability to be a tough opponent if they find their bearings quick. Early in the season, they are going to miss Jordan Hall, who is having a stellar campaign with the Philadelphia Wings, and Cody Jamieson, who is also playing indoor for Rochester. Mike Poppelton (faceoff), Tucker Durkin (defense), and Kevin Crowley (attack) are all indoor casualties right now for the team. They are going to have to rely on players to set up their game and make their presence felt in the professional outdoor game.
Look Out For: PT Ricci is superb in transition and can cover the shiftiest of attackman on the field. He can create offense from his defensive position while limiting his opposition significantly. Matt Lovejoy will be the anchor until Durkin can arrive defensively. Look for their midfield to be their scoring threat early until the team can come together later at full strength.
Denver had an amazing 2013 summer, but came short of their goal. After going undefeated in the regular season, they were within reach of their goal until they met Charlotte in the semi finals during Championship Weekend. They have one of the most complete rosters, even with the remaining conflicts between indoor and outdoor lacrosse leagues. Look for a player like Andrew Wascavage get the opportunity to step forward in early season action.
Jesse Schwartzman is coming off his naming to the United States National Team, along with Lee Zink and Drew Snider. All three will be ready to go immediately, which gives the Outlaws an early season advantage in getting needed wins. The attack will be short handed for a few weeks with John Grant Jr. and Eric Law playing indoor still, but they are loaded with household names all over the depth chart.
Look Out For: Jeremy Sieverts has come into his own as a professional player. He has logged a lot of miles for Denver in the last two years and its still to be determined if his game can continue to improve. It seems like the sky is the limit to his potential, so look for his best campaign yet. Landon Carr is going to a match up nightmare if he has built on his game since his time in College Park. The Terp midfielder can play with the best of them and is tough to slow down when he gets going. Not to mention Carr has the knack for timely goals.
The Charlotte Hounds ended 2013 where no one expected them to be, in the championship game. With much of their roster returning in tact, they will be looking to get back to championship weekend with the experience they have of being there before. They have successfully added young talent, which has developed well for the franchise, and given life to some re-emerging names in lacrosse. Players like Matt Danowski and Adam Ghitelman had moments where it may be thought their games may have reached its plateau. Not the case, as Danowski had his best year as a professional and Ghitelman spearheaded the defense past an outstanding Outlaw offense in the semi finals.
Young talent like John Haus, Eric Lusby, and Mason Poli look to bypass the typical sophomore slump and make their names as though regularly associated in conversation about league play. The attack is well balanced as Danowski has to continue his coaching duties with Duke, who looks to be playing again late into May. The combination of Lusby and fellow Loyola Greyhound Mike Sawyer look to be the most dangerous college and professional teammates since Westervelt and Mundorf in Denver. Ryan Young can quarterback the unit as well with those two as proven goal scorers. When the college season ends, they have the likes of Mike Chanenchuk (Maryland), Casey Carroll (Duke), and Michael Ehrhardt (Maryland) coming right into the mix.
Look Out For: Brett Schmidt is only starting his climb into the professional defensemen echelon. He came into the league right out of Maryland and unfortunately was injured early in his career. Schmidt is a tenacious defenseman and can lock down opponents. Even in transition he is a threat that needs to be accounted for. He could be one of the newest stars in the game. Josh Hawkins is one of the most recognizable faces in the name given Warrior’s new ad campaign. Now look for his to be the most recognizable in one of the best defensive midfield tandems in the league. Between Hawkins and Syracuse alum Kevin Drew, there is little doubt that this is the most athletic group in the league.
All the Chesapeake Bayhawks have done is win the last two MLL Championships and now they are looking for the first three peat in league history. The talent they return and their ability to acquire able-bodied veterans will make them a team to watch early and late in the season. The defense has logged the most minutes in league history with Nicky Polanco, Joe Spallina, and Michael Evans all terrorizing opposing players. The handshake in the beginning of the game is likely even physically opposing to the opposition. Each possesses the ability to lock down the counterparts and mix in the very talented Jesse Bernhardt. A goalie battle might be brewing, as the Bayhawks have veteran T.C Dibartolo coming in later in the summer, Tyler Fiorito playing great so far during training camp, and Kip Turner the incumbent.
The attack is going to have a little time to gel as the indoor players return and Brendan Mundorf returns to the line up in full strength after battling lingering injury issues from 2013. Young talent like Jack Forster (Penn State) and Jimmy Dailey (Stevenson) are going to get minutes early and will have to be strong in what could be a starter to off the bench player for the champs.
Look Out For: Matt Abbott is the most versatile player maybe ever in the game. He is strong, but can also run forever. Abbott will clear the battle, take an offensive run that gives him the ability to tire out offensive minded midfielders, and even take draws if the situation presents itself. He isn’t the newest name out there, but if you are new to the game, look out for number 3. Jimmy Dailey turned heads in winning National Player of the Year in Division III. After watching Cottle at practice as Dailey broke down defenses, this could be his time. If the team needs a player to quarterback while Mundorf gets back to form, Dailey could be their man.
This Saturday at the Seven School in Annapolis, the four teams will scrimmage at 1 pm and 2:30 pm. Admission is free to those wishing to attend and surely you will be seeing some of the best lacrosse in the world in what should be a beautiful, early spring day in Annapolis.
– Brian Davies