Halfway through the regular season, some separation is starting to appear. There may not be a clear top team or a clear bottom team, but some tiers are starting to emerge. A group at the top, maybe a pair at the bottom, and in the middle some teams with flaws that are solvable. If I’m picking a title winner at the All Star, it’s probably one of the top three here. If I’m picking a team to start printing Brennan O’Neill jerseys, it’s one of the bottom three. Here’s how Sticks In has the PLL ranks at the midway point of the regular season:
1. Archers (4-1). Last Week: 2
A dismantling of Redwoods puts them clearly in the top spot. The Archers defense showed that it takes more than just individual weapons to score against them. All six, playing good team offense, is a hard requirement. Hossack can delete anyone, Jeffrey’s physicality is great at disrupting dodgers and pushing them off their lines. McMahon is an unsung hero. The SSDM unit is elite, and Dobson is a top 2-3 goalie in the league right now. For a team that’s so renowned for offensive precision, the defense really can be suffocating, as DC Tony Resch quietly continues to put exceptional game plans together every week. Matt Moore picked up an injury this week, but Grant Ament returned. The Archers offense is fairly interchangeable. As good as every individual is, they can mix and match pieces and keep their scheme and identity better than anyone. Is this the year the Archers finally make that deep playoff run?
2. Waterdogs (4-1). Last Week: 3
Post game, Coach Copelan invoked the immortal Bill Parcells quote, you are what your record says you are. And the Waterdogs are 4-1. The All Star break gives them the chance to get Connor Kelly back from World Champs injuries, but in his absence, the team hasn’t missed him. Jack Hannah returned with a massive game, including a two pointer that helped the Waterdogs pull away from the Whips. The Aqua Pups continue to buck the trends, and have gone back to back weeks without a face off specialist. Mike Sisselberger awaits them in Dallas, so all signs point to it being three weeks in a row. If they can make it work there, they can make it work against anyone. Waterdogs continue to cause turnovers a ton and play clean lacrosse, both prerequisites to going with a faceoff man. The form this team had on their way to the title a year ago, a group with a fluid and versatile offense plus a physical, aggressive defense is on the field every week.
3. Chaos (3-2). Last Week: 4
Brian Minicus had himself a moment. The hometown cheering section for him was electric, he put up five points (and could have had more). At the start of the game, he was guarded by Brett Makar. That lasted exactly three dodges. Minicus made him look like a mannequin, and the Atlas swapped Gavin Adler to Minicus and Makar to Byrne. I’m not sure there has been an appropriate level of appreciation for the fact that Josh Byrne was at attack for this team and DIDN’T GET THE TOP POLE. The Chaos offense has seamlessly integrated a true American style X attackmen. Tye Kurtz looked comfortable at attack, and even though Towers said he loved Dhane Smith at attack, he was back at midfield this week and dishing assists as well as ever. Chaos at their best are a scary, scary team. Blaze is good enough to steal entire wins on his own, but the rest of this team is incredibly difficult to match up with.
4. Cannons (3-2). Last Week: 5
The Cannons have won three straight. When you try and pinpoint exactly what is making them go, it’s basically everybody. In the NFL they talk about complimentary football, the Cannons are playing complimentary lacrosse. Units are supporting each other, the ball is getting shared on offense, the defense is solid. Asher Nolting is currently +700 to win the league MVP, only behind Ryder Garnsey and Tom Schreiber. Nolting’s big question coming out of school was turnovers. He had some eyebrow raising totals at High Point, and it didn’t feel very likely that the pro level would result in turning the ball over less. But here we are. Nolting has evolved into a top tier QB of the offense, attacking matchups like JT Giles Harris with confidence and understanding when he needs to score and when he needs to distribute.
5. Redwoods (3-2). Last Week: 1
Ugly week for the Woods without a doubt. That three in the goals for column is tough to swallow, and the kind of thing that spawns a tsunami of the sky is falling, trades must happen, sound the alarm type takes. I think that my be premature. The Redwoods still have a top tier defense. They held the Archers to 10. Kelly has been good, Epple is the league leader in CTs and can win a matchup each week. It is starting to sound like Grant may not be healthy enough to be a big impact guy this year unfortunately. The offense still has two MVP candidates on it in Pannell and Garnsey. It’s undeniable that Jones and Perkovic are having horrendous seasons. It’s getting tougher to keep them in the lineup. But expanded opportunities for guys like Cole Kirst, who have looked good, and perhaps a dip in the player pool can help. This team doesn’t need a QB, an offensive overhaul, it just is a bit in between as it gets used to it’s new OC.
6. Whipsnakes (1-4). Last Week: 6
No team more snake bit, no pun intended, than the Whipsnakes. Brad Smith has missed most of the year. Ehrhardt is dealing with multiple injuries In Fairfield both Kyle Bernlohr and Matt Rambo picked up injuries, and they both could miss some time. The offense is piecing it together. Zed is doing a lot of lifting and has picked up the burden well; he had seven points last week. Dordevic is now a heavy favorite for Rookie of the Year. But in the PLL, stopping an offense with just two primary weapons is way easier than a deep offense. Keegan Khan isolated well behind the net in Fairfield, his role could grow. The All Star break could not come as a better time, as the Whips desperately need to get healthy. They have yet to play a game this year with a fully healthy offense.
7. Atlas (1-4). Last Week: 8
In post game this week, Pressler said this team is just missing something right now. The defense struggled again in Fairfield, but was marginally better. They have some interesting choices there. They tried Koby Smith at LSM for the first time in an effort to spark transition opportunities a bit and create some more offense. If they are looking for offense from their LSMs, they should stick with Koby. Otherwise, Craig Chick has looked to be the better option on the defensive end. Ultimately, there isn’t one player on the defensive end that’s going to solve the issues. It’s going to take six. Compounding this is now suddenly some question marks in the cage. Trevor Baptiste will have a statistical season that is off the charts, as teams in some cases don’t even both trying to beat him at the draw. Dominance to a level that it takes over when lineups are being made. The offense looks fine to me, they have the second most goals in the league. If the defense can get to just middle of the road territory, Atlas can make a run.
8. Chrome (1-4). Last Week: 7
Chrome are now losers of four straight after a week one win over Whips. They haven’t gone over 13 goals this season, and have the lowest total and worst score differential in the league. Teams have gone without a faceoff man for back to back weeks against Chrome, content to force Connor Farrell to handle the ball and try and create a turnover as a result. Ethan Rall had success this week against Chrome in that regard, and it’s something the Chrome will address as a result. Mike Messenger took a few draws, it’s something that can help counteract this tactic. Messenger will beat other non-specialists on the draw, and he’s good enough on both ends to not need to sub. Ultimately, turnovers need to be cut down. Coach Soudan said as much as their game against Cannons, it’s just all the turnovers. They kill runs, they let the other team come back. The Chrome have a league leading 103 in the first half of the season.