Chrome Castoff Justin Guterding Relishing Opportunity with Whipsnakes LC

PHOTO COURTESY OF PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE


The last time Justin Guterding played in a championship game was his final day as a member of the Duke Blue Devils lacrosse program in 2018. The attackman, who graduated as the NCAA record holder in career goals (212), scored two goals and added an assist, but Duke fell to Yale.

It looked like 2021 would continue Guterding’s championship game drought as a pro, but a trade prior to the last weekend of the PLL regular season sent him from the last-place Chrome to the defending champion Whipsnakes.

Now, for the first time in his four-year career, Guterding is headed to the championship game, and he couldn’t be more excited.

“I will never forget the feeling of losing on that last day, so I hope to turn it into a different narrative and come out champions on the 19th,” he said. “I will have a ton of family and friends there, so it is going to be an amazing environment, and I can’t wait to make them all proud.”

Guterding said if the Chrome were healthy in 2021 — star attackmen Jordan Wolf and Randy Staats both missed the entire season with injuries (Wolf started the first game but was injured before halftime) — they had a great chance to work their way to the championship game, but “the cards didn’t play out that way.”

The Chrome lost consecutive games in Week 4 and Week 5, and Guterding did not register a single point in either contest. He felt the end of his tenure with the team was near after Chrome coach Tim Soudan informed him he would not be part of the team’s roster for the doubleheader in Colorado Springs.

“Obviously, I was frustrated, but I knew I wasn’t performing at the level I needed to be to be a starter on a professional team,” he said. “It was a first for me, knowing that I wasn’t ‘needed’ on that team, and he believed they could be better without me, so I was in a weird place for the first time in my career, questioning my ability to compete at the highest level.”

As the cliché goes, when one door closes, another opens.

The Whipsnakes were mired in a 1-3 slump and looking to add options on the offensive side of the ball. Head coach Jim Stagnitta struck a deal with the Chrome, sending them defender Nick Grill in exchange for Guterding.

“We weren’t very dynamic at the midfield,” he said. “While there weren’t any midfielders available I felt would fill that role, I’ve seen Gutty play for years. I watched him in college. I knew the quality of player he was, and I thought he had a wider skill set than he showed for the Chrome.”

When the trade was made official, Guterding told Stagnitta he would do whatever it took to help the Whipsnakes win another championship. So far, he’s done just that; in two games to end the regular season, Guterding totaled three points. He’s added another three points in two playoff games.

“Knowing [Matt] Rambo was coming back, and I would be running out of the box drawing a short stick a majority of the time, I knew I could help this team win,” he said. “My role now is more of a wing dodge initiator and two-man game player, which is what I always loved to do.”







NO WHIPSNAKES MVP

While one streak possibly continues, another will most definitely end.

Should the Whipsnakes beat the Chaos in the 2021 PLL championship game, the team will win its third consecutive league championship and remain the only champion in league history. For the first time, however, the league MVP will not be a member of the Whipsnakes.

Whipsnakes attackman Matt Rambo won the league MVP in the inaugural 2019 season, and teammate Zed Williams was the MVP of the Championship Series in 2020. When the finalists for the 2021 award were announced, not a single Whipsnakes player made the cut. Instead, Blaze Riordan (Chaos), Jeff Teat (Atlas), Grant Ament (Archers), Zach Currier (Waterdogs) and Lyle Thompson (Cannons).

Maybe Rambo’s three-game absence due to a wrist injury hurt his case. Maybe Williams’s case was hurt during that timeframe as well, as the team went 1-2 without Rambo, and in the two losses, Williams only earned a single assist. Maybe it’s simply just Whipsnakes fatigue.

Whatever the reason, the players would rather have the championship streak continue as opposed to the MVP streak.

“We’re not a team that cares about the recognition,” Rambo said. “Me, Zed, Justin [Guterding], Brad [Smith], [Michael] Ehrhardt, we don’t need that. We just want to win. We’d rather our team get recognized. We don’t even get recognized as much as we should be. We like moving in silence and achieving our goals as a team rather than our individual goals.”

OVERCOMING THE ODDS

It’s not everyday that people count out the two-time defending champs, but that’s what happened with the Whipsnakes in the PLL’s Fan Bracket competition. Fans filled out their playoff brackets with who they believed would end up as champion, and out of the seven teams, the Whipsnakes finished fifth with a paltry 10.1 percent of fans choosing them to three-peat (their opponent in the championship game, the Chaos, finished last, picked in only 3.2 percent of brackets).

The Whipsnakes were the fifth seed in the playoffs, and that is partially because of a late season swoon that saw the team go 2-4 in its final six games. Whipsnakes midfielder Brad Smith acknowledged the team needed to fight through adversity to earn a trip to the championship game.

“The talent level across the league, any team is dangerous,” he said. “You really have to show up. We were lucky in the bubble to go undefeated, but with the two leagues merging, it’s a different story. We let a few slip past us.”

While it wasn’t an easy road, the Whipsnakes have won three of the past four games. The team has moved past its midseason struggles and is looking forward to its third championship game in three years.

“We’re excited we’re there,” Rambo said. “We went through so much adversity with injuries. We’re happy everyone is back. Let’s see if we can come in there and come out with a third ring.”

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