With the PLL season less than a week away, Lacrosse Playground will be going through each team in the league to get ready for the upcoming season. With the merger with the MLL and an influx of talent from the college game, the PLL will be more competitive than ever. We’re here to help you sort through it all and get ready for what looks to be an exciting summer of lacrosse. After the preview, I’ll also be predicting each team’s initial 19-man active roster.
In the young days of the PLL, Redwoods LC is one of the few groups that has been established as a perennial contender. Balanced, deep, tough and connected, the Redwoods have the horses to win a lacrosse game in a multitude of ways. That said, the Redwoods have a Whipsnakes problem… Well, along with the rest of the PLL.
No team plays the back-to-back champs tougher than the Redwoods, especially in big games. Their two highest stake matchups, one in the semis and one for the ‘chip, have gone to overtime. But the Whipsnakes have won both. So, the Redwoods didn’t seek to reinvent the wheel. They made a few precise, calculated decisions in hopes that 2021 is the year they get over the hump.
On DraftKings Sportsbook, the Redwoods currently sit at +500 odds to win the 2021 PLL Championship. Let’s take a look at their offseason additions, get Coach Nat St. Laurent’s thoughts heading into training camp and see what we can expect from the Redwoods this season.
2020 PLL Championship Series Results
Pool Play Record: (2-2)
Playoff Round: Defeated Waterdogs 11-8, lost to Whipsnakes 13-12
In the 2020 Championship Series, the Redwoods were every bit as solid on both ends as their roster would suggest, even with Jules Heningburg’s absence. They just had one glaring hole – they could not win possessions. Opponents rolled out of bed and won 65% of draws against the ‘Woods (and some penalty minutes against the Chrome didn’t help either).
Nonetheless, the Redwoods were right there. Even as they won only 33% against Joe Nardella and the Whipsnakes in the semifinals, they took them to overtime and lost on a Jeremy Sieverts goal.
The Redwoods will now hope the moves they made can flip that result.
PLL College Draft: TD Ierlan (FO), Charlie Bertrand (A/M), Jamie Trimboli (A), Charlie Leonard (FO)
PLL Entry Draft: Ryan Lee (A), Isaiah Davis-Allen (SSDM)
Player Pool: Brian Phipps (G)
Trade: Rob Pannell (A)
While the Redwoods did add some major names this offseason, it starts with the moves they didn’t make. Beyond trading for Rob Pannell, Coach St. Laurent did not grab headlines with transactions the way that some other teams did, and that comes down to the fact that he has immense belief in his team.
“I feel so strongly about the guys that we have and we felt like we’ve been so close the last couple years,” St. Laurent said, “I just have that much confidence and faith in my guys. I love my team, I love my locker room, I love the men I get to work with and we’ve got a really tight-knit locker room.”
To sum up his offseason he said that “we wanted to find a way to keep the core of our team together, but still have competition within that core.”
Part of that comes from the return of star Jules Heningburg, whose return is like a pseudo new addition, although his role could look a little different.
“Our first midfield line could be Myles Jones, Sergio Perovic and Jules Heningburg,” St. Laurent said.
His move from attack is a product of both his versatile skill set, as well as the aforementioned trade to acquire stud attackmen Rob Pannell. St. Laurent wanted a veteran, calming presence on offense. Pannell fits that bill and so much more. He’ll mesh well with the Redwoods’ other lead attackmen, Ryder Garnsey and Matt Kavanagh.
“Kav and Ryder are great leaders and great players, but both are left-handed. So, he balances the field and kind of fits everything that we were looking at,” St. Laurent explained. “I had no problem trading my first-round pick in the Entry Draft for Rob Pannell.”
In the later rounds of that PLL Entry Draft, the Redwoods grabbed attacker Ryan Lee, a nifty scorer who could see reps at both attack and midfield, as well as Isaiah Davis-Allen, an excellent defensive midfielder who will compete for an important role with the ‘Woods.
The Redwoods are also bringing in some youth from the PLL College Draft to strengthen this squad. They drafted two faceoff men in TD Ierlan and Charlie Leonard to fill that need at the stripe. Although Ierlan is an all-time great NCAA draw guy, St. Laurent wants to give those two a chance to compete in camp before we see who the number one guy is for the Woods.
He’s also thrilled with landing Charlie Bertrand in the draft, saying that “we’re really excited about Charlie Bertrand and what he can do. Getting Bertrand with the 24th pick, I just thought that might have been the steal of the draft. The thing I love about Bertrand is that he’s been the man… and then he went to UVA and he wasn’t the man anymore, and he’s been phenomenal.”
That Bertrand can do it as a feature guy and complimentary piece gives the Redwoods options on how he’ll be used.
Their moves were few but impactful, as the Redwoods looked to tinker rather than revamp with a proven, battle-tested roster.
Released: Tyler Dunn (M), Gunner Waldt (G)
Expansion: Brendan Gleason (A), Clarke Petterson (A), Brent Adams (M)
Gleason and Petterson both contributed to this Redwoods offense, but Pannell and Lee fit their roles for the Redwoods and have higher offensive ceilings. The biggest loss is Adams, a veteran two-way guy who is exactly the type of midfielder a PLL team needs with small rosters and versatility in high demand.
Biggest Question Heading into the Season: Defensive Midfield
With 19-man active rosters, it is fair to wonder how many defensive midfielders will suit up in the PLL this summer. Coaches have stressed the importance of versatility, particularly at the midfield, where two-way players are being snatched up like the latest cryptocurrency. Therein lies the problem for the Redwoods (albeit a good problem to have): they have four viable options at the spot.
“At SSDM, we brought in Isaiah Davis-Allen. Between Jack Near and Patrick Harbeson, we had the best two in the league, and now we add Isaiah Davis-Allen. And Nick Ossello’s played every season for us.”
They simply can’t dress all four. They likely will dress two, so two very good players will be reserves. St Laurent emphasized his goal to keep the core of this team together, but Davis-Allen is a top player at that position, and warrants consideration. It’s a good problem to have, but it certainly is a fascinating one going into 2021.
Biggest Strength Heading into the Season: Defense
Whichever SSDM’s are on the active roster going into the season, they will be the baked potatoes to the big ol’ steak that is this long-pole core.
“I think our defense is very strong. We protected all of those guys on the defensive side for a reason,” St. Laurent said, “there’s so much strength in our defense.”
Garrett Epple, Eddy Glazener and Finn Sullivan are the platonic ideal of a close defense. They are tough, organized, and skilled. Glazener is an elite communicator and defensive leader, Epple is a physical dynamo and explosive playmaker with an edge, and Sullivan is a steady shutdown guy. John Sexton’s LSM play is consistent and effective.
On the off chance that an offense player penetrates that line, “our goalie situation is special,” St. Laurent said.
As for the goalie situation, Tim Troutner remains the favorite in cage heading into the season, but he’ll now have some competition at camp. Jack Kelly, 2016 MLL Rookie of the Year and 2017 MLL Goaltender of the Year, is fully healthy for the first time since suffering an injury in Netanya, Israel during the 2018 World Championships. Then there’s 2019 MLL Champion goalie Brian Phipps, a veteran who led the Chesapeake Bayhawks to the franchise’s record sixth title in 2019. Any of these three could earn the starting role and their competition will be one of the biggest stories of PLL training camp.
Top-to-bottom, this defense is complete, ferocious and smart.
On his team as a whole, St. Laurent is succinct. “There’s no other team that I want to walk out of the locker room with than this group.”
Projected Initial 19-man Active Roster
Attack: Rob Pannell, Ryder Garnsey, Matt Kavanagh, Ryan Lee, Jules Heningburg
Midfield: Sergio Perkovic, Myles Jones, Kyle Harrison, Charlie Bertrand, Jack Near, Patrick Harbeson
Defense/LSM: Garrett Epple, Eddy Glazener, Finn Sullivan, John Sexton, Larken Kemp
Faceoff: TD Ierlan
Goalie: Tim Troutner, Jack Kelly
Reserves: Joe Walters, Hugh Crance, Charlie Leonard, Nick Ossello, Isaiah Davis-Allen, Jamie Trimboli