Short-Stick D-Middies Enjoy Chance to Shine in MLL All-Star Game


Bayhawks midfielder Nick Manis, left off the original MLL All-Star Game roster, played in the game as an injury replacement for Denver's Mikie Schlosser.

When all-star game rosters are announced in any sport, one of the first things fans do is point out who was snubbed, which individuals were deserving of a spot but didn’t make the cut. Major League Lacrosse is no different.

When the initial selections for the 2019 MLL All-Star Game were released, one of the more popular players mentioned as a snub was Chesapeake Bayhawks midfielder Nick Manis. While he may be biased, Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle tweeted his support for Manis.

The casual observer would be surprised to hear so much support thrown Manis’ way. He was an eighth-round draft selection, and he doesn’t have any points through seven games of the 2019 season. In his third season, Manis has yet to register a single point as a professional player.

That’s the life of a defensive midfielder, however. There’s no glory, no gaudy statistics. But the impact players like Manis make is undeniable. For Manis, that’s alright by him.

“A lot of that comes down to how you’re raised,” he said. “My parents have been awesome. They always told me your attitude and effort is what you can control every day. Coming out there, it doesn’t matter what position you play or what role you have in your job, your company, school or whatever it may be, you’re supposed to do a good job. You’re supposed to do your best job, and I get to play with the best lacrosse players in the world in my hometown. I would play any position. I think being able to do that is awesome. I love it.”

Eventually, Manis was added to the MLL All-Star Game roster as an injury replacement for Denver Outlaws midfielder Mikie Schlosser, an honor even more special for Manis because it was played in his hometown of Annapolis. That made him one of four defensive midfielders to play in the game alongside his Chesapeake teammate Isaiah Davis-Allen, Atlanta’s T.J. Comizio and Boston’s Zach Goodrich, the third overall pick in the 2019 MLL collegiate draft.

That also doesn’t include Bayhawks two-way midfielder Matt Abbott, who has played nearly a decade of professional lacrosse not showing up on the stat sheet but making a difference on the field.

There is a surge of acknowledgement and appreciation for the short-stick defensive midfield position these days, and Manis is proud to be a part of it.

“It’s definitely humbling,” he said. “Isaiah and myself have played together at Maryland. This is our seventh year together. Matt Abbott is one of the greatest players of all-time, if not one of the greats at the position.

“They’re all good guys. the culture we have is awesome,” he added. “I think that’s the most fun thing about it. Off the field, we all get along and enjoy each other’s company, and that definitely helps with on field performance.”

Davis-Allen, a third-year pro and two-year MLL All-Star, is considered one of the top players at the position. He was a second-round draft pick out of Maryland.

He said what makes the position so special right now is that each player, particularly the all-stars, makes the position his own and plays to his strengths.

“I would say every short stick is a little different,” he said. “I’m a wing guy. I pick up a lot of ground balls, push a lot of transition and play decent defense. That’s my role. Nick is more of a utility guy. He can play long pole and has good footwork and technique. Every short stick has their own role. Zach digs in and plays really good defense.”

Like the Bayhawks, who also use D.J. Plumer at short-stick defensive midfielder, the Atlanta Blaze have several midfielders earning rave reviews on the defensive end: Christian Mazzone (who like Abbott plays both ways), Matt Whitcher and Comizio, the rookie all-star.

Comizio, a second-round draft pick, has been surprised by the attention his position seems to be getting. But he’s grateful for the attention both he and the position have gotten this summer in MLL.

“You don’t get a lot of love usually, but it’s been weird this summer. People have been talking about it a lot. It’s pretty cool,” he said. “It means a lot [to be an all-star]. It’s cool. It’s humbling. There’s a lot of great players. It’s cool to be one of the ones that got picked. It makes you want to get back here again.”

Through nine games in his rookie season, Comizio has 23 ground balls, seven caused turnovers, three goals and six assists. He got to show off his talent on the offensive end in the MLL All-Star Game. Comizio had a goal and an assist for Team Fire, and his assist came while he was behind the cage at the X position.

“I wasn’t always just a d-middie,” he said, laughing. “I used to play offense. It’s definitely fun to get out and mess around on the offense a little bit, especially with guys like Steele Stanwick, Rob Pannell and Dylan Molloy. It was a lot of fun to be out there.”

Manis, Davis-Allen, Goodrich and Comizio are leading the charge as defensive midfielders gain more notoriety. True to their position, they pass the credit for their success to those around them.

“We’ve got a good team, a good group of guys,” Comizio said. “They’ve definitely helped make the transition pretty easy. A lot of credit goes to the guys I’ve been playing with.”

“I honestly owe it to my teammates,” Davis-Allen added. “They’ve supported me through a lot. My coaches draw up good game plans and put together a good locker room to make sure we all shine.”

The players on offense still put up the big numbers and appear in the highlights. With four defensive midfielders in the MLL All-Star Game, however, including two rookies, the most unheralded position is finally getting some love.

Even though these budding stars are still early in their professional careers, Manis hopes he can pass this newfound appreciation for short-stick midfielders on to the next generation.

“Having this opportunity, going from a kid who grew up here and going to these games, watching the Bayhawks play,” he said, “now being someone who is actually on the field and can kind of impact the next generation, I think it is something I would never have dreamed of.”

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