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2021 PLL Season Preview: Whipsnakes LC

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.

Whipsnakes LC is the monster under the bed of every team in the PLL. They see Matt Rambo picking apart defenses in their dreams. They see Michael Ehrhardt covering ground faster than anyone that size should, disrupting offenses and taking it the other way. They see Joe Nardella quelling momentum and building it for the ‘Snakes with every draw win. They see Zed Williams rolling off his defender right onto the doorstep, and not a damn thing they can do about it.

Just look at the moves that teams made this offseason. They sought a faceoff man who could hang with Nardella, and poles that could match the sheer physicality of Williams and Rambo. The Whipsnakes have won the first two championships in PLL history. They’ve also driven team-building philosophy across the league. With every move, the teams have to wonder, “but will this help us against the Whipsnakes?”

With all the incoming talent shifting the balance of the league, this will be the toughest year yet for the Whipsnakes. But make no mistake, until further notice, the road to the PLL Title runs through the Whipsnakes.

On DraftKings Sportsbook, the Whipsnakes are the presumptive favourite to three-peat, currently sitting at +160 odds to win the 2021 PLL Championship. Let’s take a look at their offseason additions, get Coach Jim Stagnitta’s thoughts heading into training camp and see what we can expect from the champs this season.

Photo courtesy of PLL

2021 PLL Championship Series Results

Pool Play Record: (4-0)
Playoff Round: Defeated Redwoods 13-12 (OT), defeated Chaos in Championship game 12-6

In pool play, the Whipsnakes were hardly even tested, with their closest game being a four-goal margin of victory. They were an otherworldly +24 through four games. The Whipsnakes dominated possession, played stingy defense, and scored on demand on their way to the coveted first-round bye.

Things got a little hairier in the playoffs. Williams and Rambo were held scoreless against the Redwoods in the semifinals, but contributions elsewhere were just enough to pull the semis out in overtime. In the finals, it appeared the Chaos had solved them, controlling the better part of the game until the ‘Snakes bit back.

Two seasons. Two titles.

Offseason Acquisitions

PLL College Draft: Connor Kirst (M), Ryan Tierney (A), Colin Squires (D), Nick Grill (D)
PLL Entry Draft: Chris Aslanian (A), Charlie Hayes (M), Bryan Cole (M)
Player Pool: Jack Jasinski (M), Simon Mathias (A), Alex Ready (G), Reed Junkin (G), Frank Brown (M), Alex Spring (LSM), Kevin Reisman (FO), Matt Abbott (M)

The Whipsnakes join the Chrome as the only teams in the PLL to not make a trade this offseason.

“We were able to protect our core,” Coach Jim Stagnitta said. While he acknowledged the amount of talent flowing around the league right now, “I didn’t see them being better fits than our frontline guys.”

That said, Stagnitta and the Whipsnakes used the opportunities granted to them through the drafts to fill in the margins of this roster and account for a few spots that they lost through retirement as well as the expansion draft, and the offseason was about “replacing those parts with some younger guys and adding quality and depth that we hadn’t had.

The Whipsnakes used the top of both drafts to load up the offense and Coach Stagnitta is excited about what they can bring. “Connor Kirst, Chris Aslanian, and Ryan Tierney are guys who can come through the door and compete right away,” he said.

Kirst is a big, physical midfielder who can uncork some serious power from range. He and Mike Chanenchuk will be to the two-point line what Steph Curry and Klay Thompson are to the NBA’s three-point line. Aslanian can dodge, feed, and score from anywhere and can lineup at any spot on offense.

Tierney was one of the most exciting players in college lacrosse this past year, and Stagnitta is excited for what he brings as well.

“Ryan Tierney is a talented kid. He’s got a great skillset; he’s creative and he’s only getting better,” Stagnitta said. “He can run out of the box and invert, but I think he’s going to compete for a spot on our attack too.”

Tierney is the type of player who shows something new every time he steps on a field, and it will be something to watch him mesh with Rambo and Williams.

The Whipsnakes rounded out the Entry Draft with Charlie Hayes and Bryan Cole. Hayes will help to fill in the hole left by Ty Warner’s departure at SSDM, and Cole, who is currently on the unable to travel list, is a do-it-all middie who is a fit with any lacrosse team.

The Whipsnakes used the player pool to give themselves a chance to get even deeper. Matt Abbott and Alex Spring could get a spot. Reed Junkin and Alex Ready will battle to back up Kyle Bernlohr. Stagnitta specifically mentioned Frank Brown as somebody who could fill in at the defensive midfield.

Offseason Departures

PLL Expansion Draft: Max Tuttle (M), Jacob Stover (G)
Retired: Brett Schmidt (D), Joe Locascio (M), Jeremy Sieverts (M)
Holdout List: Ty Warner (M), Isaac Paparo (LSM)
Released: Dan Morris (G), Joseph McCalion (M)

“We knew that we were going to lose some guys to retirement,” Coach Stagnitta said.

The retirements and Expansion Draft saw the Whipsnakes lose some midfield depth at both ends. Locascio, Tuttle and Sieverts all had big moments in the Championship Series for the Whipsnakes. Warner was one of the unsung heroes of their dominant defense. His absence will be the hardest to fill.

Biggest Question Heading into the Season: Rounding out the Defense

Stagnitta loves the teams core at every position, and believes that the drafts helped the team fill in the gaps on offense. On the other end, however, there are some spots that are up for grabs.

“Who’s going to be that next defender? Who’s going to show that they’re the best fit for us?” he asked.

That applies to both the long-pole spot as well as the defensive midfield. As far as the long pole position, Stagnitta wanted someone who could contribute all over the defense.

“Mike Ehrhardt has logged a lot of minutes. We’d love to have someone who can spell him and help us out on close defense,” Stagnitta said, “two guys that have a great opportunity to do that are Colin Squires and Nick Grill.”

Squires and Grill both came in the PLL College Draft, and will compete for that depth spot at long pole.

“The real unknown,” Stagnitta also noted, “is who is going to come out as our three short-stick transition middies.”

The Whipsnakes, as they should, feel confident in their top-line talent, but that depth could go a long way towards setting the team up for a third straight championship.

Photo courtesy of PLL

Biggest Strength Heading into the Season: Dominance up the Middle

In baseball, the catcher, shortstop, and centerfielder form the basis for a solid defense. If those positions are solidified, a foundation for a team is built. The Whipsnakes have the lacrosse version of that.

“I think we’re really good up the middle of the field, that’s what you need to have to be able to be successful,” Stagnitta said. “We have a great goalie in Kyle, we have a great faceoff guy in Joe Nardella, and down at the other end, we have two really good finishers in Zed and Matt.”

Throw Michael Ehrhardt into that mix, a guy with a sneaky case as the most impactful player in lacrosse, and you have a team that can dominate every level of a lacrosse game.

Projected Initial 19-man Active Roster

Attack: Matt Rambo, Zed Williams, Brad Smith, Ryan Tierney, Chris Aslanian

Midfield: Jake Bernhardt, Mike Chanenchuk, Connor Kirst, John Haus, Charlie Hayes, TJ Comizio

Defense/LSM: Michael Ehrhardt, Matt Dunn, Bryce Young, Tim Muller, Colin Squires

Faceoff: Joe Nardella

Goalie: Kyle Bernlohr, Alex Ready

Reserves: Jay Carlson, Frank Brown, Nick Grill, Alex Spring, Kevin Reisman, Matt Abbott

Unavailable to Travel: Bryan Cole

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