Waterdogs LC Has the Ultimate Underdog in Charlie Cipriano

Like many children of the 90s, members of the Fairfield men’s lacrosse team of the early 2010s loved the Mighty Ducks trilogy. On a bus ride while watching the 1994 sequel, D2, the Stags couldn’t help but notice that their goalie’s quick hands and even-keeled demeanor resembled those of Julie “The Cat” Gaffney from Bangor, Maine, who joined the Ducks to compete for Team USA in the Goodwill games in Los Angeles. 

“They put it all together and it turned into a running joke where they were calling me Julie The Cat,” Charlie Cipriano said with laugh. 

The nickname stuck. 

But the similarities between Cipriano’s story and the Disney narrative go beyond his feline-like reflexes. 

Gaffney, a backup for much of the movie to starter Greg Goldberg, asks Gordon Bombay, the Ducks’ coach played by Emilio Estevez, when she’ll get a chance to show the world what she can do. 

Cipriano will not have to ponder that question much longer. The 30-year-old journeyman will suit up for his sixth professional team in his ninth season this summer when he leads the Premier Lacrosse League’s newest club — Waterdogs LC. Andy Copelan, who coached Cipriano at Fairfield, selected him with the fourth pick in the expansion draft last week. 

The reviews were mixed. The consensus amongst fans and analysts alike was that Jack Kelly, who won a gold medal with Team USA in 2018 and did not play for the Redwoods last season due to a knee injury, was the clear favorite. Adam Ghitelman, who started his fair share of games for the Archers, was also a trendy pick. Cipriano was off most radars. 

“Which Goalie should the Waterdogs draft?” the PLL’s Twitter account asked on January 30th. 

“Anyone not named Charlie Cipriano,” was one reply. 

Amidst the wave of congratulations from former teammates and students at Fordham Prep, where Cipriano is known as “Mr. Cip” and has worked as a school counselor and lacrosse coach since 2016, he also noticed the reactions on social media that ranged from surprised to incredulous.

“When you look at some of the comments on Twitter, people are like, ‘Who is this guy?’” Cipriano said. 

For a team whose motto is, “Every game is a revenge game,” Cipriano seems like he was plucked out of central casting. He feeds off the doubt and mentions he didn’t see his name in a single mock draft. He prefers to be under the radar. His Twitter account, @JulieTheCat25, is set to private. 

“I wouldn’t want it any other way,” Cipriano said. “I love being that underdog and using that chip on the shoulder to fuel the fire.”

Given his pedigree, Cipriano might be the most underappreciated goalie in the PLL. But those who have played with him and been around him were the least caught off guard when they heard his name called in the draft. They know Copelan’s decision was based more on performance than loyalty. 

“I wasn't surprised at all,” said Andy Towers, head coach of Chaos LC. “The fact that Cope coached him in college pretty much guaranteed it was going to happen, but Charlie’s ability speaks for itself. Even if he hadn't played for Cope at Fairfield, he was the obvious pick.”

Towers was torn over the decision whether to start Blaze Riorden or Cipriano after both played “lights out” during training camp at IMG Academy. He ultimately gave the nod to Riorden, who led the league in save percentage (55.8%) and was named goalie of the year. 

Midway through the third quarter during Week 3 on a rainy afternoon at SeatGeek Stadium in Chicago, Riorden turned heads for something besides his play in the goal. He earned an unsportsmanlike penalty after he body slammed Redwoods midfielder Nick Ossello. 

Clarke Petterson scored on Cipriano 23 seconds later after he replaced Riorden. But the goalie who tracks the ball with his top hand that he refers to as “the scope” even when it’s on the opposite end of the field, remained locked in.

“He is never going to point a finger after a goal,” Chaos defenseman Jarrod Neumann said. “That's a true teammate.”

When Petterson caught another pass on the crease, Cipriano matched his stick and made the point-blank stop.

“Charlie Cipriano says, hang on, I want to stay in,” NBC play-by-play announcer Brendan Burke shouted during the broadcast.

Cipriano made three saves and let in two goals during his three minutes and 50 seconds of relief. It was the only time he saw the field all summer. 

“You have to have a next save mentality,” he said. “You never know what save is going to win the game.”

Chaos LC beat Redwoods LC in overtime, 12-11. 

“I trust him more than probably most people that I've ever played with to be ready for any situation,” said Redwoods midfielder Brent Adams, who played with Cipriano at Fairfield and was selected one spot before him with the 53rd pick in 2012 Major League Lacrosse collegiate draft. 

Cipriano’s first experience as a backup wasn’t until his sophomore year at Fairfield in 2010 when he was beat out by senior Joe Marra, who turned into an MLL All-Star. Cipriano acknowledged he got complacent the previous summer and relied too much on his natural talent. He vowed it would never happen again. He determined his playing time would not dictate his commitment. He treated every shot in practice as if it was a game. 

When Cipriano regained his spot his junior year and saw his hard work pay off, the feeling was contagious. He helped Fairfield to its most wins in school history in 2012, including victories over Denver and Ohio State and a loss to eventual NCAA champion Loyola in the ECAC title game. In addition to earning All-American Honorable Mention honors his senior year, Cipriano was a USILA Scholar All-American.  

Growing up in Williston Park, New York — a small Long Island town — Cipriano once tried hockey goalie and hated it. He had the opposite reaction to lacrosse. When he was in the sixth grade, his cousin, Joe Antolos, stopped by with a request. 

“Can I take some shots on you?” 

Antolos brandished an old, beat up goalie stick he found poking out of a trash can on his way to Cipriano’s house. The sidewalls were strung up with metal wire. 

“It was the ugliest looking thing you’ve ever seen,” Cipriano said.

Still, he agreed to put on his hockey pads and give it a shot. Despite the ad hoc equipment, he felt comfortable. He’s never played another position since. 

“Dude, what’s going on?” Antolos asked. “How are you saving all my shots?” 

Most Herricks High School opponents were probably asking the same thing when they faced Cipriano. Against Nassau Class A powerhouses like Syosset and Massapequa, the Highlanders won only 29 games in Cipriano’s four years starting in cage. He realized regardless of how the defense played or how many shots he faced, he had to focus on his job keeping the ball out of the net. His 1,366 career saves is still a national record.

“That’s when I knew I could do this,” Cipriano said. 

He didn’t know it at the time, but all the sports he played in his formative years made him a force between the pipes. He was on ice skates at three years old. He honed his hand-eye coordination in baseball and developed resilience through wrestling. Cipriano played football in high school until the team disbanded before his junior year. No matter. He became an All-County goalkeeper on the soccer team.


Before he started for three seasons in Charlotte, where he was an All-Star and led the Hounds to a semifinal appearance in 2016, Cipriano won two MLL championships while backing up Jesse Schwartzman in Denver and Drew Adams on the Long Island Lizards. Throughout those four seasons, he leaned one of the lessons that his goalie coach, J.P. Brazel, instilled.

Respect is everything. To achieve that, Cipriano tries to lead by example and be a coach on the field. His teammates praise his relentlessly positive attitude, communication skills and willingness to stand in for any drill even when the likes of Neumann, who won the PLL’s fastest shot competition last summer with a 115-mph rocket, is on the other end. 

Hours before Neumann got to the Courtyard by Marriott at Logan Airport before the Chaos’ Week 1 game against the Whipsnakes, he received a text from Cipriano — his roommate — who had already arrived. 

“Hey, what bed do you want?”

“Nobody does that,” Neumann said. Well ... Charlie does. 

“Never once did he complain,” Riorden said about Cipriano in his backup role. “He always worked hard and gave me the support that I needed. After a good game, he would praise me, and after a bad one, he was still there to let me know that it's all a part of the process. He has a lot of veteran minutes in him, and he is a great guy to have in the locker room and in your corner.”

It’s those qualities Cipriano learned through lacrosse that he emphasizes to the students at Fordham Prep. 

Be the positive leaders of tomorrow. Be educated, be humble and be the best version of yourself. 

The son of an electrician from Queens, Cipriano approaches his craft with a workman-like mindset and, at times, a sledgehammer. He’s also willing to tinker to maximize his potential.

He’s on a Whole30 diet and only eats between noon and 8 p.m. each day. After the PLL was formed in the fall of 2018, he decided to go “all in” and developed a new workout routine with Fordham Prep’s strength and conditioning coach, Adrian Newell. It includes High Intensity Interval Training for 45 minutes to an hour that’s designed to simulate the stress of a shift on defense.

Cipriano even took up yoga after reading Derek Jeter’s memoir and gets a helpful nudge from his fiancé, who signs him up for classes. He said he’s never felt better. 

For those who have not watched D2: Mighty Ducks, spoiler alert: Gaffney saves the day. Subbed in for the last shot of the shootout of the gold medal game against Iceland, she uses the “quickest glove East of the Mississippi” to stop Gunnar Stahl and seal the USA’s comeback victory. 

Cipriano believes the movie carries a powerful message, since you never know when you’ll be called on to make the play. On a call with Copelan the night before the expansion draft, he told his former and now present coach that he was motivated to prove himself once again. 

“We finally have lacrosse on the biggest stage,” Cipriano said. “Now it's my opportunity to show everyone who I am and showcase everything I've been working for the past 18 years of my life.”