Revamped Lizards Hope to Finish 2019 MLL Season Strong


Rob Pannell ranks fourth in the MLL with 46 points, but the Lizards have been eliminated from MLL playoff contention.

Walking off the field at Navy Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland on July, 20, 2019., things were looking up for the New York Lizards.

New York had just defeated the Chesapeake Bayhawks, 14-10. The victory was the team’s second in a row and third in four games, putting the team at 3-5 heading into the MLL All-Star Game. The Boston Cannons and Atlanta Blaze, the two teams above New York in the standings, had each lost two of their previous three games.

It was a different story coming back from the MLL All-Star Game, however. The Lizards didn’t just lose momentum; they lost games. New York failed to score 10 goals in each of the next two games and lost each of their next five games through August 24.

Heading into Week 13 of the 2019 MLL season, the Lizards sit last in the standings and were the first team eliminated from playoff contention.

“You can’t just show up and win games. You have to put that work in during the week. You have to perform,” Lizards attackman Rob Pannell said. “If you do it, you’ll find success, and if you don’t, you’ll be taken advantage of.”

Pannell, the 2018 MLL MVP, found himself as the only returning starter from the Lizards 2018 team that lost in the semifinals of the playoffs. The only other players from New York’s 2018 roster were Nicky Galasso, Alex Spring, Jack Carrigan, Justin Reh, and Scott Corcoran; those five players combined to play 16 total games in 2018.

New York also brought back Ryan Walsh, who played from New York from 2015 to 2017.

“I watched him play a lot at Colgate because my son was at Bucknell,” said B.J. O’Hara, who took over as the New York head coach in 2019 after winning the 2018 league championship with the Denver Outlaws. “I was always impressed with Ryan’s game. He usually had a pretty good day against the Outlaws. I was delighted to get him back in a Lizards uniform.”

New York’s offseason acquisitions of MLL All-Stars Austin Kaut, Kevin Crowley, and Dylan Molloy buoyed expectations, but it turned out there was no substitute for chemistry.

“I don’t think any of us expected to be where we are,” O’Hara said. “We lost 25 guys to the PLL. This is essentially a new team with the exception of Pannell.”

Part of the reason guys like Walsh, Corcoran, and Galasso struggled to get playing time for the Lizards in previous seasons was because of the makeup of the lineup. It was a challenge to crack a lineup that featured all-stars like Will Manny, Joe Walters, Paul Rabil, Kyle Hartzell, and Joe Fletcher.

This put Pannell in an unusual position, going from being surrounded by established veterans to younger, untested players. He said the season has been one big learning experience.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “You try and lead and show the guys the way and show them what it takes to be in this league, but I’m also very competitive. When you’re not seeing the results you want, it’s difficult to stay focused on one thing when that thing may not be leading to the results you want to see. I’ve had many roles. I’ve tried to help this team many ways whether it’s with the ball in my stick, off ball, talking in the huddles, and being a vocal leader. I’ve explored all ways to help get this team where it needs to go. You learn a lot about yourself, about the guys around you, and about sports.”

Pannell said he’s tried to make those around him feel comfortable, but he also hasn’t been afraid to challenge them.

“[Against Atlanta] in the third quarter, both teams were throwing the ball away. Guys aren’t catching passes, and they’re throwing passes they’d never make,” he said. “I got after everybody. It’s do your job. You guys are professional lacrosse players. Start acting like it. We were down by three and came back to force overtime. That’s a credit to them, and I’d like to see more of that style of play.”

Despite the challenging season, Pannell is still putting up strong statistics, however; through Week 12, he is fourth in the league in points with 46. He has done so in various positions around the field. Typically, he’s found at the X-attack position, behind the crease, but in the July 20 game against the Bayhawks – where he scored three goals – Pannell was mostly inverted up top to the midfield.

When the team is searching for the right mix of chemistry, and the team isn’t having success in the standings, Pannell said you try anything to find the right combination.

“We’ve all been trying to find our role. With our attack, it’s not your traditional attack,” he said. “Generally, Ryan is a dodger, and I’m a dodger, and Dylan Molloy is a dodger. It’s not your traditional attack. When I’ve had different roles, it’s because of that. Who’s most comfortable playing off ball? It might be me. It’s allowing them to do what they do.”

Molloy and Walsh have found success in 2019.

In 10 games, Molloy – who has provided plenty of material for the highlight reel – has scored 21 goals and added nine assists. He’s second on the Lizards in points and is 20th in the league.

Walsh has also played 10 games, tying a career-high. He is tied for third on the team in points with 20 on 17 goals and three assists, which are also both career-highs.

“He’s a big guy,” O’Hara said of the six-feet-four-inch Walsh. “It’s hard for teams to put a short stick on him and double pole our midfield. The first time he touched the ball this year for us, I think it was Dallas had a short stick, and he caught the ball ran by him and scored with no time at all. We can bring him out of the box. He’s got a good hard shot. He’s got a lot of things you look for when you try to build an offense.”

Despite having Pannell and Molloy, despite Walsh emerging as a legitimate scoring threat in MLL, the Lizards still have only won three games. “It’s been that kind of year,” O’Hara said. Of New York’s 10 losses, six were by one possession.

“That speaks to the competition in the league,” O’Hara said. “The difference between winning and losing is so slight.”

For Pannell, even though the playoffs aren’t in the team’s future, he still hopes to see his team finish as strong as possible.

“I’d like to see guys go out there, play their games, and be confident,” he said. “We have talented players from goalie to defense to face-off to offense. We have talented guys. We’ve had good stretches but haven’t been able to put it together for stretches of time. I want to see us loose and be confident.”

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