2021 Premier Lacrosse League Semifinals Preview

PHOTO COURTESY OF PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE


A little less than two years ago, the first PLL Champion was crowned on the banks of the Delaware River.

This weekend, the games played at Subaru Park in Chester (Pa.) will determine which two teams will be the final two that get to vie for the title. In many ways, the semifinals feature a clash of incumbents versus the new guard.

The Atlas were one of the league’s original six clubs, but with the sweeping changes made by second-year head coach Ben Rubeor this offseason, the Bulls feel like a different team. They’ll face the Chaos, who have several new faces of their own but will make their third consecutive appearance in the semis.

The team the Chaos fell short to in last year’s Championship Series title game, the Whipsnakes, is seeking to secure their third consecutive title — the first of which the Whips earned in dramatic fashion at the same venue as this weekend’s games. They’ll take on the top-seeded Waterdogs, an expansion team in 2020 that is riding a four-game winning streak and last played on August 14.

If this season has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected, so let’s dive into each of the games to get you ready for the weekend.

(6) CHAOS VS. (2) ATLAS
11 A.M. (ET) NBCSN / PEACOCK

Heralding a “family style” approach and a drastic infusion of young talent, the Atlas rebounded in the quarterfinals after falling short to the Waterdogs by a goal in the regular season finale.

Like they did last summer during the Championship Series, the Chaos have gotten hot at the perfect time after starting the season 0-3. They topped the Archers’ most efficient offense in the league in consecutive weeks, most recently ousting them in the quarters. The lowest seed remaining, the Chaos are more than fine embracing an underdog mentality.

“I think we're viewed sometimes, it's just kind of this hodgepodge of guys that don't fit into like the Whipsnakes-Maryland mode or the Redwoods-Notre Dame piece and are just kind of guys from all over the place,” defensive coordinator Ryan Curtis said.

Defenseman of the year finalist Jack Rowlett noted the current iteration of the Chaos is the most cohesive group the team has fielded all year. One consistent feature throughout the past three seasons has been the play of two-time goalie of the year Blaze Riorden. An MVP finalist this year, Riorden once again has led the league in saves and save percentage.

There is somewhat of a question mark for the Atlas in the cage with Jack Concannon back in the lineup. Since Concannon exited during the fourth quarter of a Week 4 win with a lower body injury, JD Colarusso has been a standout and helped the Bulls to a 4-1 record, stopping more than 50 percent of the shots he faced in the wins. If Colarusso, who was an emergency goalie last summer at the Championship Series and returned to top form after a Type-1 Diabetes diagnosis in 2018, gets the start in the semis, it would be the second time this season he’s shared the field with Riorden — his former teammate and mentor at Albany.

Matchup to Watch: Jack Rowlett vs. Jeff Teat

Rowlett missed only one game this season after he suffered a broken nose in a late scuffle with Paul Rabil during a win over the Cannons at Hofstra. In his absence, the Chaos fell 16-10 to the Atlas. Jeff Teat went off for four goals and four assists. The MVP, Rookie, and Attackman of the Year finalist from Brampton, Ontario, has taken the league by storm after he was cleared from the “Unable to Travel” list before Week 3. He finished the regular season tied for second with 32 points despite only playing seven games.

The potential matchup harkens back to the 2016 World Lacrosse U19 gold-medal game in British Columbia between the United States and Canada. The U.S. prevailed 13-12 on a goal by Ryan Conrad with less than 10 seconds left. Rowlett made the All-World team.

“It’d be a heck of a matchup,” he said of the possibility of squaring off against Teat for the first time in more than five years.

More on how Rowlett became one of the most exciting defenders in the league here.







(1) WATERDOGS VS. (5) WHIPSNAKES
1:30 P.M. (ET), NBCSN / PEACOCK

The Whipsnakes find themselves in an unfamiliar position, returning to the site of their first championship as the underdog. After Matt Rambo suffered a hand injury in an overtime win against the Atlas in Week 3 to start the season 3-0, the Whipsnakes went 1-3 in his absence. Since Rambo returned for the final regular season weekend at Albany, they’ve gone 2-1, the latest win a sensational comeback to once again oust the Redwoods in the playoffs.

Veteran goalie Brian Phipps, who began the season on the Redwoods’ reserve roster after making the transition from Major League Lacrosse, started the second half of that game in relief of Kyle Bernlohr. Phipps will get the start this weekend, his first of the season.

The Waterdogs’ story this summer has been a tale of two seasons. After a 2-3 start in which they surrendered more than 12 goals a game, the Waterdogs have reeled off four straight wins, including a 11-6 win over the Whipsnakes in Colorado Springs. During the streak, they’ve held opponents to an average of seven goals per game. The entire starting defense and goalie Dillon Ward were not on the Waterdogs’ roster last summer but have seemed to find the right combination with a little bit of time.

“Every team has great defenders on it,” Waterdogs defensive coordinator Matt Bocklet said. “It's the teams that really figure out the chemistry and communicate and work as a team that I think become those elite level defenses.”

On the offensive end, Michael Sowers is set to make his return for the Waterdogs. The No. 2 pick in this year’s college draft and two-time Tewaaraton finalist has not played since he sustained a head injury on an illegal late hit by Cannons LSM Reece Eddy in Week 1.

Matchup to Watch: Ben Randall vs. Matt Rambo

Much of the Waterdogs’ defensive turnaround over the second half of the season has stemmed from Randall erasing the opponents’ No. 1 scoring threat. His duel with the 2019 MVP and hometown hero should be appointment viewing.

PREGAME READS

Liam Byrnes is the king of caused turnovers for the Waterdogs and possesses uncanny anticipation. So does Whipsnakes crease attackman Jay Carlson, who earned the nickname “phone booth” in high school for his ability to get off his shot in tight spaces and seems to collect any rebound in his orbit. “He’s the best player that nobody knows about,” said Whips head coach Jim Stagnitta. Byrnes and Carlson will find themselves matched up against each other on Sunday.

Get to know Byrnes and Carlson in these stories — Waterdogs' Liam Byrnes a Cut AboveJay Carlson, Master of the Little Things, Basking in Every Opportunity

Brian Phipps’ friends call him the Ryan Fitzpatrick of pro lacrosse. “I might be a starter, I might not be, but when my number is called, I can produce,” Phipps told USA Lacrosse Magazine contributor Phil Shore. “I enjoy being around the game of lacrosse and being around guys that were like-minded.” Phipps started the second half of the quarterfinal contest against the Redwoods and made six saves on 10 shots to help fuel their comeback win and give the Whipsnakes a couple more weeks together. He’ll get the start this weekend.

More on Phippsmagic.

More stories:

  • On an Atlas squad with so much young talent, veteran attackman Eric Law’s contributions extend beyond the game-high seven points he tallied in a quarterfinal win over the Cannons. “He commands a presence where everyone is like, ‘You’re right. It’s OK,’” Bryan Costabile said. Shore details Law’s calming influence on the young Bulls.

  • How Ian Mackay returned valued on the Connor Fields trade by becoming a Swiss Army knife for the Chaos.

  • Matt Rambo saved his best performance for last in 2019. A look back at his hometown heroics that lifted the Whipsnakes to the first PLL Championship — the Philly Special.

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