The PLL Championship Series – a weeklong Sixes format tournament – kicks off on Wednesday at The St. James in Springfield, VA, just outside of Washington DC. The Archers, Atlas, Chrome, and Whipsnakes will compete in round robin games followed by semifinals and a title game.
The format serves to showcase the new format that lacrosse has submitted for the Olympics. If you are new to the game or to Sixes, it’s a sort of box/field hybrid. Gameplay will feature just six players, a goalie and essentially five midfielders. The rules are all designed with speed and scoring in mind. No poles, no faceoffs except to start quarters, a shorter field, a 30 second shot clock, and all missed shots are turnovers rather than going to the closest player.
Rosters are capped at 12 players. With those rules, obviously certain considerations come into play. A few teams opted to bring converted poles, having them play with short sticks. Faceoff specialists, if they can’t contribute on the field, really aren’t needed since there are at most five draws to take. So nobody brought one. The PLL is adding a 13 yard two point line for this tournament, not normally part of the Sixes format. 13 yards is mighty close, there should be plenty of two-point shots. In terms of roster building, just about everyone in the PLL can score from 13 yards, and they’ll have space to do it. If you can’t score from 13, you probably aren’t going to stick on a pro roster very long.
At the World Games in Birmingham, Team Canada also showed that a mindset of “take a lot of two way middies who can play good defense” isn’t really required either. Load up those weapons, punish teams who play transition poorly, shoot well, limit the empty possessions however possible. Yes, many of the Canadians have some defensive prowess that comes with box concepts, but for me, offense ruled the day. That delivers wins here. The NLL overlaps with this event, so basically any and all players currently on NLL rosters won’t be available for the Championship Series. There’s also the possibility that day jobs and college coaching will impact player availability as well, meaning even fewer guys are can head to DC.
That’s a positive in my eyes – it’s an opportunity for player pool talent to showcase what they can do in a format that should let them play to their strengths. On the offensive end, anyway. And we saw teams make some player pool adds to their roster for the Championship Series, and just by the nature of the format, those guys will play prominent roles. You can’t have guys ride the bench in Sixes. I firmly believe that there will be player pool guys who make a name for themselves in this event and end up getting through camp and onto a 25 man roster next summer.
With that as basic context, the four clubs that will be heading to DC for the tournament assembled their rosters, let’s do a quick preview.
Ryan Ambler, Ryan Aughavin, Matt Moore, Connor DeSimone, Jeff Trainor, Jared Conners, Jon Robbins, Grant Ament, Marcus Holman, Will Manny
Nick Washuta, Brendan Krebs
The new additions here are in net, as Adam Ghitelman isn’t attending and Brett Dobson is playing for the Swarm. Washuta is a known entity to the Archers, having served as an emergency goalie for them in the past. Krebs is effectively a rookie, coming out of Manhattan a year ago. He was a well regarded goalie prospect, but spots in the position are so limited. Dobson was drafted, Krebs went to the player pool. Krebs will have a chance to show what he can do at the pro level. And just like his time with the Jaspers, he’ll see a whole lot of shots. The thing that the Archers really will miss is goalie play after a save. Ghitelman is just about perfect in that regard for Sixes, as he’s athletic and throws laser precise outlets. He’s decisive with them too, it’s save, breaking player identified, ball out in a second or so. Ghitelman also played some field in the World Games. To really take advantage of the up and down nature of Sixes, you want a goalie who can really get the ball moving quick of saves, or even goals. The last thing I’ll call a roster “change” is that Jared Conners and Jon Robbins have to turn in their poles for shorties. No poles in Sixes. Both are excellent between the lines in field lacrosse, but it’s interesting because there really isn’t much of a “between the lines” type area in Sixes. How they go from defense to offense and impact the game outside of settled situations will be a question.
Players to Watch:
Connor DeSimone, Ryan Ambler
We know the obvious ones. You don’t need me to tell you Ament and Manny will crush this format, and Joe Keegan at the PLL already has (very reasonably) predicted an MVP for Marcus Holman. Those guys are knowns, even in an unknown format. There are a few call outs I think should be made though. The first is Connor DeSimone. Last year, DeSimone has the best shots on goal percentage on the team. A shot out of bounds and a pass out of bounds are the same thing in Sixes. Guys who hit don’t hit the net often, or have their shots saved often, become turnover machines in Sixes. DeSimone doesn’t have that problem. He does his damage in high percentage places, which is what you want to have. Next player to watch for me is Ryan Ambler. Criminally underrated, Ambler stays in the top six for the Archers regardless of who else joins the roster, and is always involved in the highest leverage situations. I like him for Sixes because he has also has a bit of a basketball background from his high school days. Breakouts in Sixes will look like breakouts in basketball. Goal, turnover, either way, get the ball back in play. Someone who knows how to attack a team that is dropping back into a defensive set, with that basketball mind, I think can be successful in Sixes. You see teams like the Warriors do it in the NBA, off a rebound or a made shot, the ball is inbounded and players like Steph and Klay push the ball up the court in a hurry, looking for opportunities for a spot up three against a defensive that isn’t ready yet. Sixes can leverage this in a big way, particularly with a 13 yard two point arc.
Romar Dennis, Christian Mazzone, Jake Carraway, Peter Dearth, Bryan Costabile, Daniel Bucaro, Marc O’Rourke, Dox Aitken, Koby Smith, Chris Gray
Jack Concannon, Drake Porter
A few new players joined the Bulls for the tournament. In the field, Christian Mazzone and Marc O’Rourke were added. Mazzone has bounced around a bit, appearing a few PLL rosters since the league launched. He had an incredible year with the Blaze before the PLL came along. He’s smart, great off the ground, has good hands. I’m a firm believer that in Sixes you need to bring players who can score and won’t turn it over. Empty possessions piling up will bury you in a hurry. Mazzone checks that box. O’Rourke is a versatile player who had decent draft stock coming out of Bryant, but went untaken. If the PLL had another team or two, he’d be an every week player. For Sixes, he’s always been good with the ball, shooting over 30% and hitting the net 57% of the time at Bryant. Missing the net in this format is a turnover, so that’s a stat that goes a long way. In net, Concannon is the starter, but Porter is one of the only goalies at the event who’s actually played competitive Sixes. He was on Team Canada in Birmingham, and won a gold medal. When the format is brand new, any experience is a leg up because so few players have it. Like Robbins and Conners with Archers, the Atlas have a converted pole on the roster in Koby Smith. Anyone who’s mildly familiar with Smith knows he’s been a transition threat, from range as a shooter and as a feeder running a break, since his days at Towson.
Players to Watch:
Dox Aitken, Jake Carraway
Again, Costabile is a known here. He, Romar, Gray, and Dox are picks to do serious damage in this format. Dox in particular though is someone to watch. In 2021, he played in five games for Atlas, had just two turnovers, and hit the net with 79% of his shots. The sample size grew in 2022 so the turnovers were up a bit, but he still hit the net 74% of the time and shot 35%. Consistent shooters, again, are a key for me here. A fun player to watch here is Jake Carraway. Carraway wasn’t able to crack the lineup for Atlas much this summer, and was the subject of a fair amount of chatter when it came to his future with the club. He’s set to become a free agent in March. Carraway can both play his way into a better deal in March, or see if he can find a role that fits better following the coaching change and decide to sign back with the Atlas. Either way, his performance and involvement in these games can impact what happens in a few more weeks when free agency begins. Not mentioned above, but obviously Jack Concannon interesting in Sixes. Concannon is famously excellent in tight, up there with the best to ever play the position when it comes to doorstep shots. At range, specifically from two, he comes back to the pack a little. With a 13 yard two point line and that scout, how teams try and attack him might seem counterintuitive. Play to shoot from range than with shots in tight, seems backwards but might be the way to solve Concannon.
Justin Anderson, Kevin Rogers, Cole Williams, Colin Heacock, Alex Smith, Dylan Molloy, Gibson Smith, Logan Wisnauskas, Harrison Bardwell, Jackson Morrill
Sean Sconone, Owen McElroy
A few new faces here. First is Harrison Bardwell. Bardwell got a shot with the Waterdogs in camp last summer but wasn’t able to make the final 25 man roster. He was an exceptional SSDM for Cornell a season ago, a key part of their run to the title game. It’s likely that he forms the defensive pairing with the other new face, Gibson Smith. Smith was a college All American who was a bit a surprise on draft night, as he went undrafted. Talking to some PLL coaches, it sounds like there were some questions about his cover ability and lateral speed at the pro level. Well, Sixes will let you know if those concerns were legit or not. Smith won’t have a pole, defense here is played entirely with lateral speed and feet. New faces being such a big part of the defensive end, where it feels like the very rules of the game have you seriously disadvantaged, makes this a big deal.
Players to Watch:
Colin Heacock, Cole Williams, Jackson Morrill
The knowns here I’d say are Wisnauskas, Molloy, and Anderson. They’ll be expected to be impact, primary options for Chrome. Cole Williams stands out as a guy who could really crush this format. He’s a physical load that’s tough for shorties to handle, and a pretty accurate shooter. Heacock had a down shooting year last year, but if he puts up his 2021 numbers (33% shooting, 66% shots on goal), he’ll be a monster. Morrill is one of the PLL’s most accurate shooters, even with a small sample size from this past year and has smoothly transitioned from playing behind the goal in college and in his rookie year to a midfield role this past season. In Sixes, having a player behind the goal doesn’t accomplish much. They can’t back a shot up, and they can’t score from there, so it’s basically a waste to put someone there. Morrill being comfortable above the net is very relevant.
Roman Puglise, Brennan Kamish, Jay Carlson, Wheaton Jackoboice, Tyler Warner, Brad Smith, Keegan Khan, Matt Abbott, Justin Guterding, Will Perry
Kyle Bernlohr, Brian Phipps
Will Perry and Matt Abbott “join” the club from the player pool, even though they’ve both been members of the Whipsnakes before. Coach Stagnitta and staff value having guys they know and feel they can trust, so Perry and Abbott make plenty of sense. Perry is a sharpshooter from North Carolina, and accurate shooters are the players you want in Sixes as much as anything else. In his last season at UNC he shot 38.4% as a midfielder, hitting the net over 60% of the time. Abbott’s strength has been defense and the transition game, we’ll see how he’s able to bring that to Sixes. He and Warner will form the defensive group with rookie Roman Puglise. Noteworthy is that the Whips are the only team to not bring any converted poles, it’s all natural short sticks.
Players to Watch:
Justin Guterding, Jay Carlson, Roman Puglise
The thing here, most of the roster feels like a known. You can trust a lot of these players to be productive in this format. Carlson’s ability to clean up on GBs and shoot for a high percentage will only make his impact more heavily felt here, as he can potentially prevent what would normally be turnovers. Guterding hits the net 68% of the time and was up in the mid-70s for most of last year. He could be a Sixes star with his ability to separate and shoot accurately in very limited space. I think Guterding as a dark horse MVP candidate is reasonable. Puglise will be getting his first action as a pro after a wrist injury caused him to miss the entire summer. He was the best SSDM in the 2022 draft, and he can shoot well enough to be part of transition offense. Not playing much lacrosse at all for months, and then coming back to a new and different format, might take some adjusting, but the ability that led to him being a first-round pick should be on display.
On DraftKings as of this writing, you can get the Atlas and Archers to win at +225, Whipsnakes at +300, and Chrome at +350.
Personally, I’d make the Archers the favorite here. Quality shooting and quality possessions are the name of the game. Turnovers down, shots on net up. Archers have the roster that, on paper, does that the best at this event. Archers have had a great roster on paper before and don’t have a ring to show for it, but it’s hard to look at the other clubs and not see where the Archers just feel a bit better.
I’m going to be taking the Whips. I like the +300, but I also like their roster. Guterding and Carlson in particular should be great in Sixes. The Whips are usually led by Rambo and Zed, but since both are in the NLL, it’ll be an opportunity for others to shine as offensive leaders, and those two should thrive.
The Chrome at longest odds also makes sense to me, and I’d stay away. I know that I as much as anyone have been out here saying defense just downright doesn’t matter in Sixes. The rules don’t even want you to play it. But you need to have a few guys out there who can body up a dodger and keep the other teams primary player in front of them. The defensive options for Chrome I’d say are the weakest at the tournament.