The Premier Lacrosse League Champion Whipsnakes and the Major League Lacrosse Champion Bayhawks met to crown a true Pro Lacrosse Champion?
Earlier this week, Lax Sports Network offered up the question that has been on the back of all pro lacrosse fans’ minds really since the inception of the Premier Lacrosse League… what if the two champions played each other?
After the not-so-subtle creation and discernment of the Premier Lacrosse League from Major League Lacrosse, it’s very unlikely that we’ll ever see this happen, but it’s certainly fun to look at what the match-up might look like if we ever got so lucky.
After reading over the comments on LaxSportsNet’s post, and running a post of our own, we got the overwhelming consensus that the Whipsnakes would win easily. People went so far as to predict a 10+ point victory for the PLL Champions. Maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate here, but I don’t think that would be the case. The PLL did a great job at creating a very vocal fan that would defend the league with all they have, something the MLL lost at the creation of the new league, but I’m a firm believer in facts over opinions, and there’s a lot of facts that could make this game incredibly close.
For starters, the Bayhawks were one of the MLL teams that did not lose a huge crop of players to the PLL. An offensive core that not only features All-World and NCAA record holder for most points in a career Lyle Thompson (46 goals, 27 assists in 2019), but also prolific point scorers Colin Heacock (37G, 9A in 2019) and Steele Stanwick (23G, 27A in 2019), the Bayhawks wreaked havoc on opposing defenses all summer long. Joined by midfielders Nick Mariano, Matt Abbott, and Isaiah Davis-Allen, and long-poles Jesse Bernhardt, CJ Costabile, and Kyle Tucker, the starting group for Chesapeake has a ton of experience together and clearly work well in nearly any situation. Anchored by returning goalies Niko Amato and Brian Phipps, I think people look past the Bayhawks’ ability to run with the Whipsnakes.
Photo courtesy of OurSports Central
Now don’t get me wrong, losing guys like Miles Jones, Jake Frocarro, and Stephen Kelly to the PLL certainly hurts, but the Bayhawks’ point-heavy attack and experience on the defensive side of the ball could give them a very competitive advantage in this one.
On the flip side of this though, of all the teams to try to use the “team chemistry” card against, the Whipsnakes are the least favorable. With 22 (yes, 22) former Maryland Terrapins on the ‘Snakes, experience and chemistry are the name of their game. Boasting arguably the toughest goal-scorer in the game right now in Matt Rambo (19G, 23A in 2019), coupled with former Terps Mike Chanenchuk (15G, 4A in 2019) and Drew Snider (9G, 6A in 2019), the Whipsnakes have a unit that gels very well together, and can certainly run up the score on teams when called upon. In their first professional season together, defensemen Bryce Young, Tim Muller, and Matt Dunn locked down opposing offenses, and kept veteran goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr relatively unscathed throughout the whole season.
Photo courtesy Lacrosse Magazine
Another factor that would need to be looked at is how the game will be played. The PLL made waves by changing up the rules to make the game faster and more high-scoring by adding a shorter shot clock on a shorter field, and the pace of play certainly ramped up. This would be a huge determiner in this matchup, as I think the advantage goes towards whichever team’s rules are played. Chesapeake is able to play a slower-paced game and get the right personnel matchups to initiate their offense, whereas the Whipsnakes can play that run-and-gun style that would look to exploit the Bayhawks in transition.
Another factor worth looking into is the length of the season. The Bayhawks played 16 regular season games over the summer, then two playoffs games before being crowned champions. The Whipsnakes had the luxury of only playing 10 plus two playoff games before being awarded their hardware. If this game happened today, one could argue that the Whipsnakes would be fresher and have the legs to run the Bayhawks, but the slower pace of the MLL could help keep Chesapeake competitive in the stamina department.
Photo courtesy Testudo Times
I really do have trouble picking a clear winner in this hypothetical game that will never happen for a plethora of reasons. The lacrosse player in me watched how fast the PLL was played this season, and can look at the big name guys that fill the Whipsnakes roster and think that they would win easily, but the stats-and-intangibles nerd in me can look at the team chemistry and experience together that the Bayhawks have, in addition to arguably the best attackman to ever play the game in Lyle Thompson and think that the Bayhawks could pull one out too.
With how close nearly every PLL game was this year, and with the Bayhawks winning their championship by 1 point (albeit amidst some controversy), I see this game going the distance, and needing overtime to decide a winner…
Photo courtesy The Denver Post
However you cut the cake, one thing we can all agree on is that the growth of lacrosse thanks to both leagues, and the huge strides the professional game is taking to even make this conversation possible is incredible for the sport moving forward. Here’s to hoping this momentum can continue, and that Major League Lacrosse and the Premier Lacrosse League can settle their differences and make this game, or a similar crossover, game possible in the near future. I can tell you one thing, I’ll be there front-and-center ready to watch the best lacrosse players in the world from either league play for overall supremacy.
This article was originally published on November 11, 2019, and has been updated with new information.