Annapolis, MD –One of the early-season surprises in Major League Lacrosse has been the play of Hamilton, which is tied with the Denver Outlaws atop the standings with a 4-0 record. That is the best start in franchise history and the Nationals have already equaled their victory total of last season when they finished 4-10 and missed the playoffs.
Joe Walters and second-year midfielder
Kevin Crowley spearhead an explosive offensive that is averaging almost 15 goals per game. Goalkeeper
Brett Queener anchors an aggressive defense that held high-powered Boston to eight goals and Ohio to nine.
“Hamilton is very impressive on film. They have middies that run from defense to offense very well, which presents a challenge that we won’t see from other teams in the league. Our offensive middies are going to get trapped on the field and will have to play defense,” said Chesapeake head coach
Dave Cottle, whose squad hosts the Nationals on Saturday (7:30 p.m.) at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
Among the midfielders that concern Cottle with their two-way ability are twin brothers
Cameron Lao-Gosney and
Josh Hawkins, a first round draft choice (fifth overall) who played his first game with the Nationals last week after completing his career at Loyola University.
“Josh fit in immediately. He displayed the level of athleticism on defense, coming off the wing on face-offs and in transition that we would expect,” Huntley said of Hawkins, who scored a goal in last week’s 16-9 win over Ohio.
Crowley, a former first team All-American at Stony Brook, leads Major League Lacrosse in scoring with 20 points on 12 goals and seven assists. Walters, in his seventh season out of Maryland, ranks among the league leaders with 12 points on seven goals and five assists.
“Joe and Kevin are both very talented individually and enjoy playing together,” Hamilton head coach
Dave Huntley said. “They are both good passers and good finishers. They are fun players to watch.”
Hamilton’s most dynamic player continues to be long stick midfielder
Brodie Merrill, a six-time selection as the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year. Merrill, an Ontario native who played at Georgetown, is the MLL career record holder with 647 ground balls. The range 6-foot-4 veteran possesses great stick-work and is always a threat to score or assist on fast breaks.
“If there is a club membership of coaches in this league who have been hurt by Brodie Merrill than I would be one of many,” Cottle said. “Brodie is an outstanding player, a fiery competitor and a tremendous leader. He is very clever off the ball in terms of creating double-teams so we have to know where he is at all times.”
Chesapeake (3-1) is coming off its first loss of the season, having fallen 15-14 to host Boston in overtime on May 18. The Bayhawks had a bye week during which to regroup and Cottle is not planning any drastic changes.
“We felt disappointed more than frustrated,” Cottle said of the Boston game. “We might have played our best game of the year and still lost. I think our players are ready to move on. You build your team to be great at the end of the year. We will be better after this game.”
Ben Rubeor stands second in the league with 13 goals through four games. The crafty left-hander has scored at least one point in 33 straight games.
“Ben has been very opportunistic. Until the Boston game, I think he had finished every opportunity he got,” Cottle said.
The Bayhawks have gotten good production out of the midfield with perennial All-Pro
Kyle Dixon (11 points) leading the way. Veteran
Steven Brooks and second-year pro
Matt Mackrides have contributed 10 and nine points, respectively.
“Chesapeake is an experienced team, a confident team. They have a lot of talented midfielders that are proven outside shooters and a group of attackmen that can score in a variety of ways,” Huntley said. “Chesapeake also has a very aggressive and physical defense anchored by a capable goalkeeper. Overall, it is a real organized and veteran team so it will be a real test for our club on Saturday.”
Huntley is particularly concerned about attackman
John Grant Jr., who ranks third in MLL history with 378 career points. The powerfully-built 6-foot-1, 224-pounder had a spectacular outing in Boston with five goals.
“I’ve been trying to figure out how to stop Junior since I started coaching in this league,” Huntley said of his fellow Canadian. “Even at an advanced age, Junior is a real load – a hard guy to stop. You just have to try to stay between him and the goal, which is easier said than done.”
The Bayhawks will again be without top long stick defensive midfielder
Michael Simon, who remains on injured reserve. Cottle said standout short stick defensive midfielder
Jeff Reynolds “got nicked up” against Boston and may not be able to play on Saturday.