Chesapeake Likes Chances in Wide-Open Championship Weekend
Host Bayhawks Seeking Franchise’s First Major League Lacrosse Title Since 2005
Annapolis, MD - Major League Lacrosse Championship Weekend will be held at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis and the team to beat is in the eye of the beholder. Some observers would probably tab the Boston Cannons as the favorite since they captured the regular season title. Others might say the Denver Outlaws are the favorite since they have made the championship game three of the last four years.
Chesapeake Bayhawks president and head coach Brendan Kelly likes being in the position of hosting Championship Weekend and coming into the two-day tournament as the hottest team in the MLL. The fourth-seeded Bayhawks are riding an impressive two-game winning streak that includes an upset of top-seeded Boston in the regular season finale.
“I think Championship Weekend is wide open, and I feel great about our team’s chances,” Kelly said. “We’ve found our chemistry and teamwork and are on a roll right now. We’ve scored 36 goals in our last two games. I think a lot of people around the league are trying to figure out what is going on with the Chesapeake Bayhawks.”
Since taking over as head coach, Kelly has sought to clearly define every player’s role while promoting the passing game. Chesapeake received very balanced scoring in its final two regular season games as no less than 10 different players contributed points in both a 20-12 home rout of Chicago and a thrilling 16-15 overtime victory at Boston.
“I think it’s all about a renewed commitment on all levels. There’s a greater commitment from the players of working for one another and a stronger commitment from the coaching staff toward the players,” Kelly said of Chesapeake’s recent resurgence following a five-game losing streak. “We’ve also improved the way we play offense. We’re doing a great job of moving the ball, keeping it hot. You can’t win in this league by going one-on-one and our guys have committed to making four and five passes before taking a shot.”
Another change the Chesapeake coaching staff made was to utilize the team’s deep pool of talented midfielders. While perennial All-Pro Kyle Dixon and 2010 Most Improved Player Peet Poillon have been mainstays all season, less heralded players such as Jeremy Sieverts, Jeff Reynolds and Jed Prossner have really stepped up. In addition, rookie Michael Kimmel, the team’s top draft pick, has provided a lift with 12 points in seven games and was named MLL Rookie of the Week in Week 12 of the season.
“We’ve taken advantage of our midfield depth and that’s enabled us to go up-and-down the field a little more,” said Chris Garrity, who was one of the league’s top goaltenders this year with a .559 save percentage.
Kelly said he has confidence in all 10 midfielders on the roster and may use them all if Chesapeake beats Boston in Saturday’s opening semifinal (noon) and reaches Sunday’s championship game. “I think the fact we have so many good middies will be an advantage if we wind up playing two games in two days,” he said.
Boston also likes to play an up-tempo style that showcases the skills of such players as midfielder Paul Rabil and attackman Matt Poskay. Rabil, the MLL Most Valuable Player last season, has accumulated 37 points on 21 goals (six 2-pointers) and 10 assists. Poskay was named Warrior Offensive Player of the Year this week after firing in a league-leading 45 goals.
The Cannons also have an outstanding feeder in attackman Ryan Boyle (25 assists), another terrific finisher in attackman Kevin Buchanan (20 goals) and two other dangerous midfielders in Justin Smith (23 points) and Brad Ross (21 points).
“Boston definitely has a lot of potent weapons. They also have some guys who have been around the league a while and know what it takes to win,” Garrity said. “However, I feel we match up well with Boston. It’s going to be a run-and-gun game and both teams are going to have scoring streaks. We just need to make sure our streaks last longer than theirs.”
Chesapeake certainly has confidence it can beat Boston after winning two of three matchups during the regular season. “We know we can beat any team in the league provided we show up ready to play and execute to the best of our ability,” Kelly said. “We’re playing in our home stadium so I would expect we’ll have a big crowd on hand to support us.”
The Bayhawks are making their first playoff appearance since winning the MLL crown in 2005. Veteran defenseman Shawn Nadelen, who holds the franchise record with 94 career games played for the Bayhawks, is the lone remaining member of that championship squad. The former Johns Hopkins All-American, Team USA member, and current Towson University assistant thinks this year’s team has the ability to take the title.
“There’s no question this team can win it all. Above all we have a ton of talent, and over the last month I think we’ve developed the chemistry. I really like the way the players are interacting and coming together now that it’s crunch time,” said Nadelen, who also helped the Bayhawks capture the 2001 championship. “We’ve got some veteran guys like Kyle Dixon, Chris Garrity and Andrew Combs who are hungry to get a ring. They understand they have an opportunity to accomplish something huge in their professional careers. I sense that there is a tremendous amount of motivation among all the players and coaches.”