The PLL Championship Series is approaching and will condense an entire season of professional lacrosse into a two-week sprint starting on July 25. Pro Lacrosse Talk is covering every team and how they’ll measure up in Utah.
First up are the defending champion Whipsnakes LC. The Whips are looking to make it back to the title game and will do so with a mix of some new faces and experienced veterans.
To put it bluntly, the Whipsnakes are stacked. Despite an offseason in which their roster was hit hard in the entry draft, they still feature a roster that may take the crown as the best team on paper in the tournament.
They return reigning MVP, Matt Rambo, to an attack line that will feature a mixture of Jay Carlson and newcomers Brad Smith and Zed Williams. Williams will likely play all over the field for Jim Stagnitta and can provide first-line quality depth at both the midfield and attack spots.
The defending champs are also welcoming back arguably the league’s most dominant defense in Tim Mueller, Matt Dunn and Bryce Young. That unit also features Michael Ehrhardt at LSM and Ty Warner at SSDM and is of course still anchored by Kyle Bernlohr, who is looking to cement himself as the game’s best goalie this summer.
Finally, the team has Joe Nardella taking faceoffs. Nardella is one of the best faceoff guys in the league and the Whips found themselves playing make it take it much of last year.
The Whipsnakes have the distinct advantage of being the only champion in PLL history. That championship experience could certainly help them down the stretch in Utah. They also have a roster that features a number of Maryland Terrapins that are used to playing in championship moments. In this tournament sprint, being able to lean on that experience could prove very valuable.
Whipsnakes coach Jim Stagnitta focused on versatility this offseason. Additions like Zed Williams, Max Tuttle and TJ Comizio represent options for Stagnitta to push the ball in transition and get back in the hole on defense. Having versatility like that will be hugely valuable for the Whipsnakes in the tournament format.
Versatility is the name of the game when it comes to depth in the Championship series, and the Whipsnakes have it in bulk.
The Whipsnakes had a long offseason when it came to losses. They lost Connor Kelly, Drew Snider, Ben Reeves, and Ryan Drenner to the Waterdogs in the offseason. That’s 71 points of production in 2019 gone. All four players represent a significant loss for the Whips. Replacing those players will be key for the Whipsnakes to defend their title.
Most Intriguing Matchup
Whipsnakes vs Redwoods, July 25
The PLL kicks off its tournament with a rematch of last seasons overtime championship game. Both rosters have slightly new looks this season but are both vying for the title again. The Whipsnakes will feature new starters on offense, but maintain their defensive core and Joe Nardella at the faceoff X. The team will take on a Redwoods team that is also one of the deeper in the league. Expect a heavy defensive battle from these two juggernauts.
Players to Watch
Matt Rambo, Attack
What will the defending MVP do in year two? Rambo will be expected to carry even more of the weight with players like Ryan Drenner and Connor Kelly now on a new roster. If Rambo follows the track he has been since his Maryland days, PLL fans could see MVP Rambo once again. What would that mean for the rest of the league? We’ll find out in Utah.
Zed Williams, Attack/Midfield
Zed Williams will need to acclimate to a new team quickly. The Whips will need Williams to step up and play multiple roles for the team right away. His versatility and shooting range makes him a threat all over the field. His fit with the team will be one of the major early storylines in Utah.