There’s a lesson in writing that says never start with a quote. An all time great tweet came from an account called Overheard Newsroom, saying that you can start a story with a quote twice. Once as in intern, and then another time if the Pope says f***. In the interest of setting the stage, and in the interest of self deprecation, here’s a quote from Dan Arestia:
“Nolting was in and out of the list last year and it really was for one reason: turnovers. He has the physical tools of an early draft player. He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s incredibly skilled, he can shoot from range and can dodge from any attack spot. But the turnovers just aren’t something PLL coaches can live with. Nolting had a 44/48 2019 season, but he had 72 turnovers in 16 games. Last year, he had 59 turnovers in 14 games, and some of them in big spots (the eight-turnover game against UNC comes to mind immediately). If Nolting can show this year that he can take better care of the ball, he will shoot up draft boards.”
That’s my assessment of Asher Nolting on the first running of my PLL Big Board in 2022, just before the start of his last season at High Point. He would finish 2022 with just 29 turnovers, a marked improvement. Still, I didn’t have him Top 10 overall, and he floated in and out of the Top 5 attackman in the draft, all because of this turnover problem. Because turnover problems don’t really get solved when guys hit the pro level. Let’s look at the other attackman drafted in 2022 and what their turnover totals have done.
Brendan Nichtern went one pick ahead of Nolting, at the top of round two, and had 47 turnovers in 16 games his senior year. About three per game. For players like Nolting or Nichtern, there’s a turnover threshold you sort of make peace with, because they’re going to carry the ball a ton and be the primary distributor. They’ll have more opportunities to commit a turnover than anyone else on the team. So 47 turnovers from a guy who was a Tewaaraton Finalist and finished with 101 points including 60 assists, you probably just live with it.
Matt Moore went 4th, and while he most often runs out of the box as a pro, he was a starter at attack for UVA. His last year at UVA, he committed 21 turnovers in 13 games. His highest total in a season was 39 in 2019, a year where UVA played 20 games.
Chris Gray went 2nd overall, a move that surprised a lot of pundits on draft night. He’s been an every week starter at attack for Atlas since day one. His last year at UNC, he committed 32 turnovers in 14 games, and was the primary offensive weapon for UNC. That was his highest total at UNC, though he did have 57 in 17 games as a sophomore at BU.
Logan Wisnauskas was the first overall pick, and like Gray, he’s been a day one starter at attack since joining the club. Wisnauskas and Nichtern both had outstanding rookie seasons with Chrome. His final year at Maryland, he committed just 21 turnovers in 18 games. His highest total in a season was 27 in 2019, in 17 games.
Nichtern’s first year as a pro, he had 33 turnovers in 10 games. Led the league in turnovers. Like at Army, Nichtern was Chrome’s primary distibutor and ball handler, even as a rookie. As the primary guy, it's expected to see an inflated turnover number. He still performed well enough to win Rookie of the Year in the role. Wisnauskas had just seven turnovers his rookie year sharing an attack line with Nichtern, functioning more as an offball threat or secondary dodger. Gray had 18 turnovers in 10 games, Moore had 13. Like Wisnauskas, both Gray and Moore weren’t asked to be primary initiators or distributors for their respective clubs, but excelled as complimentary players to established pros.
Nolting had 31 turnovers in 10 games his rookie, second only to Nichtern. He joined a Cannons team that needed weapons, ran out of the box at times, played attack at times, but ultimately the offense came down to him and Lyle Thompson forcing the action and trying to create. Nolting was in a situation that wouldn’t alleviate any kind of turnover issues, because he was in a situation where he had to jam the ball into players several times per game. Nichtern finished third in the league in points, Wisnauskas 6th, Gray 8th, Nolting 17th, and Moore 23rd.
A question of a sophomore slump always looms in pro sports, and in lacrosse it’s no different.
Nichtern appeared in just two games in 2023, as military service obligations meant he wasn’t regularly available for Chrome. In those two games, he committed 11 turnovers. Gray committed 23 turnovers in 10 games, five more than his first year. Wisnauskas had 17, some the result of having to carry the ball more with Nichtern not available. Moore had 10 but missed two games. Nichtern, Gray, and Wisnauskas all had their percentage of touches ending in a turnover go up in year two, while Moore’s was within a percentage point of his year one number. They all had their percentage of touches that ended in a point go down, except Gray who was about flat. And then there’s Nolting.
Nolting had 16 turnovers in 10 games. He was 2nd in the league in points behind Marcus Holman, 3rd in the league in assists behind Jeff Teat and Dhane Smith. He was also second in the league in assist opportunities with 63, and led the PLL in second assist opportunities with 20. The next highest player in the PLL had 13. His turnover number was higher than his assist number in just two games. He didn’t commit a turnover in July. He’s getting six more touches per game this year, and making six more passes per game this year. His usage this season went way up, his production went up, and yet his turnover numbers cratered. In 2022, 13.12% of Nolting’s touches ended in a turnover, 8.16% ended with a point. In 2023, 4.69% of Nolting’s touches ended with a turnover, 12.02% ended with a point.
Nolting reversing the trend that hit the other highly drafted attackmen in the class, when he was essentially the most turnover prone player out of college, coming into the most difficult situation as a pro, is incredible.
There’s a number of reasons for the change. First and foremost is the coaching staff and personnel changes for the Cannons this year. Coach Brian Holman took over, and his OC Jim Mitchell installed an offense built on movement and sharing touchesl. The offense added players like Marcus Holman and Matt Kavanagh, winners and veteran leaders who could offer both guidance and mentorship to a young player like Nolting. The offense also found more balance by using more true midfielders and less converted attackmen. Matt Campbell, the club’s second round pick and only draft pick still with the club, has been outstanding from the midfield, while
Chris Aslanian stretches the defense with two point range. The scheme, and the balance, helped Nolting fall back into a more natural role of playing below the goal line as a head up dodger.
Against teams like Chrome, Nolting identified that their defense was slow to slide to him as a dodger. They trusted JT Giles-Harris in the one on one and tried to force Nolting to feed. In two games against Chrome, Nolting had seven goals, and in one of those games didn’t commit a single turnover. Other teams are more willing to switch or double against him and force him to be a head feeder, like the Archers or Atlas. In three games against Archers and Atlas, Nolting had nine assists. Nolting has gone from understanding how to win against his individual matchup to understanding how to win against all six defensive players. The change in scheme to focus on ball movement and team offense, rather than isolating with star dodgers and hoping to draw and dump for goals, has massively benefitted Nolting.
There’s another element though, and it won’t be in a stat or in game day film. While in college, particularly at the DI level, there’s structure built into an athlete’s day. Along with the classes and academic requirements, a DI lacrosse program will fill a schedule quickly. Time in the weight room, time in film study, time at practice, game day, team activities, it’s all on the schedule. And it’s put there by the team, for the player. The player doesn’t have to do it all on his own, it’s scheduled. The team will be in the weight room at this time. The team will meet for film study at that time. The player’s schedule is set, and they put the work in. The greats will work outside of that schedule as well, but really, all the work is set out for the athlete, and it’s a massive time requirement. The time outside of all that is spent with friends, many or most of whom are likely teammates. Living together, eating together, studying together, training together, it all works together to make the athlete as best as they can be.
And when you go pro, it’s gone. There’s no one making sure you get to the weight room, no time on the schedule for it. Depending on living and work situations, you may not see your teammates in person between weekends. There are some calls on Zoom during the week for film and matchup review, there’s maybe two hours for practice the night before a game, and if flights are a mess, the teams may not even have the full roster there for it. And that’s it. The rest is up to the player. Consider the obligations of whatever their day job is during the week, which can be demanding for many of these players, and the free time disappears quickly. Just maintaining an elite level of play is hard enough in that scenario, but improving, and reaching the top of the league in terms of production, is exceptional.
All season long, media members have asked Coach Holman about Nolting’s performance in games, what’s allowed him to take this game to this leve. And Coach Holman gives some version of the same answer really every week. It’s because Nolting wants to be great. That sounds like coach-speak at first, but there’s more to it than that. They had a conversation before the season when Holman joined the club about what that means, what it takes during the week, the work that needs to happen. And Nolting is doing it. There won’t ever be stats for this. You won’t see highlights on SportsCenter of what Nolting is doing on a Tuesday, by himself, to get better. But the highlight you see on SportsCenter is there because of what happened on Tuesday.
That’s what holds off the sophomore slump. Not just the stats on Saturdays.