Week one of the 2021 PLL Season is in the books and man is it good to be back. With some great and some not so great performances all around there are insights we gained to give us a better idea of the landscape of how the teams shape up this season.
Here are the power rankings after week one:
1 – Whipsnakes (1-0)
Previous Rank: 1
The two-time reigning PLL Champions looked every bit the part in their season opener against last year’s runner up in Chaos, beating them 13-7. Getting contributions from everyone, as usual, it is hard to find a glaring hole in this roster.
The players have completely bought into head coach Jim Stagnitta’s philosophy of moving the ball quick and shooting in front of the cage and it is still working (obviously). Until proven otherwise, I will have a hard time putting anyone else at #1 on this list.
2 – Redwoods (1-0)
Previous Rank: 2
The addition of Rob Pannell gets all the headlines, but the real reason why the Redwoods offense looked so dominant last weekend was because of the contributions they are getting from Jules Heningburg at the midfield position. His ability to play two man games from the top and wing against short sticks draws the attention of all six defenders on the field.
The defense is still stout and Tim Troutner continues to be one of the best goalies in the league. If rookie FOGO TD Ierlan can continue his dominance (65.5% winning percentage) at the faceoff X, this Redwoods squad who has lost back-to-back years to the future champion, Whipsnakes, in the playoffs in overtime, has a chance to unseat the kings of the PLL.
3 – Archers (1-0)
Previous Rank: 3
Most people would see the 18-score clip that the Archers posted last weekend against the Atlas and wonder why they’re not higher on this list, but here is my case. I don’t think the Atlas are very good (hot take, I know) but a lot of the Archers goals came in unsettled situations. While there are certainly games where you can score a plethora of goals (like they did) from fastbreaks and late substitutions, you can’t rely on that to generate offense from game-to-game. Also, they shot 47% from the field and shot 62% on shots-on-goal. That likely won’t be replicated from game to game.
Now, are the Archers one of if not the most dangerous offenses in the league? Absolutely. However, I think that they can get too pass-happy at times and against better defenses it will come back to bite them. The Archers turned the ball over 20 times which was second in the league last weekend behind only the Waterdogs who seemingly forgot how to play lacrosse all together. Their defense is fine, but not nearly good enough to support all the extra possessions opponents will get due to the offense turning the ball over.
Don’t get me wrong, this team is still really good and can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league, I just have my doubts until proven otherwise.
4- Cannons (1-1)
Previous Rank: 7
I’ve mentioned it in my past two articles, but I think the Cannons not only shocked me, but the entire lacrosse community with their level of play last weekend for being this year’s expansion team. Sure, it helps to get Lyle Thompson, arguably the best player in the world, in the entry draft, but he wasn’t really stealing the show like you would think. With an infusion of vintage Paul Rabil and Brodie Merrill, solid contributions from rookies Stephen Rehfuss and Jack Kielty and fantastic play designs from offensive coordinator Sean Kirwan, this team was able to take the Redwoods to their breaking point.
I do think that part of the reason the Cannons shocked the Redwoods on Friday night had to do with the fact that the Woods had no film to really scout them on and they weren’t ready for some of the things that were thrown at them. However, players still have to execute those things, and the Cannons did just that. The most impressive thing so far is that they have Lyle Thompson, and you wouldn’t even know he’s the best player on the team by watching. That’s not a shot at Lyle, that just speaks to how well this team is constructed already.
5 – Chaos (0-1)
Previous Rank: 5
If you just showed me the first half of the Chaos game where they went down 10-1, I might have ranked them 9th out of the eight teams in this league. The second half really wasn’t anything to brag about but you did see a glimpse of this offense at full strength. Josh Byrne still scoring impossible goals, a slimmed down Chris Cloutier picking up the scraps and finishing inside, Dhane Smith bullying defenders on his way to the rack, etc. We all saw how deadly Andy Towers’ Canadian-rich offense can be when they’re firing on all cylinders last season when they made that magical run as a seven seed all the way to the finals. I still have faith that they can figure it out.
What I want to see more of is Mac O’Keefe. The Chaos’ first-round pick this year was non-existent in his first game as a pro, and through no fault of his own. They used him out of the box and asked him to be more of a dodger – when that’s not his game. The Chaos lack “pure” dodgers who draw long slides and can hit O’Keefe with a skip up top for a step-down (a.k.a Grant Ament) but there are ways to free him up for shots. College lacrosse’s all-time leading goal scorer needs to be unleashed for this offense to hit that new level in 2021.
6 – Chrome (0-1)
Previous Rank: 5
The Chrome would easily be #5 on this list if Jordan Wolf wasn’t injured. While there really is no news as to what a timetable for his return would look like I am not anticipating one anytime soon, if at all. Wolf is the initiator from behind for this Chrome offense, and you can’t just replace him, especially not in a week. The offense is going to have to adapt to life without Wolf, but with veteran leaders like John Ranagan and Ned Crotty it’s definitely possible.
The Chrome were right there with the Redwoods until Wolf’s injury in the second quarter, then they didn’t look the same on offense. Justin Guterding and Jackson Morrill looked very good in their season debuts, but they’re going to have to bear more of the load if they plan on making a run at the title this year.
7 – Waterdogs (0-1)
Previous Rank: 4
The Waterdogs let me down after laying an absolute stinker against the Cannons on Sunday. I had big hopes for the expansion franchise’s second season, even claiming them to be the fourth best team in the PLL (on paper). Well, they came out against this year’s expansion team, the Cannons, and looked as lost as I have ever seen a team in recent memory.
Their offense was like watching the second half of a men’s league game – no movement off the ball and the older guys telling the young buck to play hero ball. That’s likely how it felt to be Michael Sowers in his pro lacrosse debut. Five times in that game alone Sowers dodged and had to dive in front of the goal after beating his man to even get a shot off and it ultimately led to him taking a beating and getting sent to the hospital.
That’s no way to treat any player, nevermind the second overall pick in this year’s draft. Now, I know that Sowers is probably your best dodger on attack and not having him for the majority of training camp can only make it more difficult to gel as an offense, but something has to give. They’ll be without Sowers for at least this week. Maybe not having him will inspire the Dogs to run an actual offense, so we will see how they look in their two chances to redeem themselves on Friday and Sunday.
8 – Atlas (0-1)
Previous Rank: 8
After trading almost their entire team this offseason for draft picks, it was clear that the Atlas were in some sort of a rebuild mode. In the PLL, where there are only eight teams, it is a lot easier to acquire talent through the draft and kick off your rebuild quickly, but the inexperience certainly showed on Saturday.
The Atlas still have some solid franchise cornerstones like Trevor Baptiste, Tucker Durkin, Eric Law and Bryan Costabile, but when half of your team consists of new faces there is certainly going to be a learning curve. Oh, it also doesn’t help when two of your best rookies weren’t on the roster week one in number one overall pick Jeff Teat and national champion midfielder Dox Aitken. I think the future is bright for the Atlas, but for right now I’m not sure they’re going anywhere.