MLL Weekly: Chesapeake Faces Tall Task to Win Out
Entering the 2014 MLL season, the Chesapeake Bayhawks were in prime condition to be the first team in league history to three-peat. Additions of Brendan Mundorf, Peet Poillon, Joe Walters, Stephen Peyser, and Brian Megill had the team looking younger and more potent than ever.
For various reasons, however, the team finds itself at the bottom of the standings with four games to play. At 3-7, they may be only two games behind the Boston Cannons for the final playoff spot, but they would have to pass over five teams to get there.
Winning out is a necessity as is watching Boston, Ohio, Charlotte and Florida absolutely collapse.
It's a tall task, but Bayhawks coach Dave Cottle chooses to concentrate on one game at a time.
"In order to win out, we have to win that next game," he said. "That's the only thing you can focus on. We're going to focus in on this game, this time. We're professionals. We're going to play with great effort. Hopefully, we make one more play than Rochester."
Due to the World Championships, players like Paul Rabil, Kevin Buchanan, Rob Pannell, Ned Crotty, Matt Abbott, Kevin Leveille and Marcus Holman will all be absent from MLL games this weekend. (Bill Danielewski)
Part of the reason the Bayhawks season is on life support is because they have yet to field their lineup at full-strength. All MLL teams have to deal with players missing games due to NLL commitments and injuries, but Chesapeake has had an over-abundance of those situations.
Joe Walters, who has 24 points and is the team's leading scorer, missed the first five games of the season.
Look at the team's 9-6 loss to Denver on June 21. Mundorf, Peyser, Jesse Bernhardt, Brian Spallina, Kyle Dixon and Drew Westervelt all missed the game, while starting goalie Kip Turner was taken out in the second half with a thumb injury.
The team just acquired Kevin Crowley, who was the league's MVP last season and has great chemistry with Walters, but won't be available in Week 11 because he is playing for Team Canada in the World Championships. He is one of seven Bayhawks participating in the world games and once again unavailable.
"I think it has [been frustrating]. When you look ahead, the first game we'll have everybody back is our game [July 27] against New York in New York," Cottle said. "We're looking forward to getting everybody back. We've got to find a way to win with what we've got."
Chesapeake will host the red-hot Rochester Rattlers – who are tied for first place – in Week 11. The Rattlers defeated the Bayhawks 8-7 at the beginning of June in a tight double-overtime game.
Cottle said Spallina will dress for the game, but Turner is still inactive.
Chesapeake is decimated and the franchise's hopes of three-peating, or even just getting back to the playoffs at this point, are fleeting.
Referencing University of South Carolina head football coach Steve Spurrier and his press conference at SEC media day, Cottle continued to preach that the Bayhawks can't worry about winning out. They have to worry about winning the next one.
"You don't have to be the best team in the country. You just have to be the best team in the stadium."
Much like "taking it one game at a time," is a popular sports cliché, it's that time of year where teams face "must-win games."
Thanks to the parity motif that has been prevalent this season, there are a lot of coaches acknowledging their 11th game of the season as being of the "must-win" variety.
Like the Bayhawks, the three other teams on the outside of the playoffs looking in all have their backs against the wall and could use a victory in Week 11 to keep their playoff hopes realistic. Ohio, Charlotte and Florida are all 4-6 and one game behind Boston for the last playoff spot.
"It's a must-win game just to get us back on track," said Florida coach Stan Ross, whose team has lost four games in a row. "We need to find a way to get a win."
Florida is on the road against Denver and Charlotte heads to Ohio to continue their rivalry in a crucial late-season matchup. Those teams recognize the end is looming so expect to see a lot of urgency when they play.
"This isn't, 'Hey, we were close this time; we'll get them next time.' There won't be a next time. We have to come out guns-a-blazing and get after it," Machine coach Bear Davis said. "It's like an old western movie where you kick in the door and start firing. That's what we have to do."
With the standings so tight, with teams in must-win mode, every game is crucial. The problem is that many teams will be without their best players because of the World Championships.
Players like Paul Rabil, Kevin Buchanan, Rob Pannell, Ned Crotty, Matt Abbott, Kevin Leveille and Marcus Holman will all be absent from MLL games this weekend.
"I'm not sure how this all worked out. The teams fighting for a playoff, there's a distinct disadvantage to some playing on Thursday and some playing on Sunday," Cottle said. "As a league, you want to get the best players in the league and make sure there isn't a competitive disadvantage."
While the coaches have known this would be a predicament down the line and have had time to prepare for it, the coaches all seemed to be discouraged with the schedule.
Cannons coach John Tucker said that you can't replace offensive stars like Rabil and Buchanan.
Meanwhile, Denver and Florida will play Sunday afternoon in Denver, a day after the championship game and where the World Championships are taking place. It may not be ideal for guys like Jesse Schwartzman or Tucker Durkin to play, but they will be available if needed.
"It's a competitive disadvantage," he said. "Whether guys can physically do it Sunday, that's up to the guys. For us ... we don't have that option."
CHARLOTTE LOOKS FOR REVENGE IN OHIO
The team least affected by the World Championships is the Charlotte Hounds. When the Hounds head to Ohio to take on the Machine Saturday evening, they will be without face-off specialist Geoff Snider and defensive midfielder Casey Cittadino. Those players have played in a combined three games for the Hounds this season.
Not missing key players this weekend is crucial for Charlotte as they make a late season playoff push much like last year. The game against Ohio is a big one, especially since Ohio dominated Charlotte 15-8 in the first game of the season.
"When we opened the season down there, we played pretty good lacrosse and showed we'd be a different team," Machine coach Bear Davis said about that game against Charlotte.
Charlotte will go to Ohio with a different looking team, however. Adam Ghitelman, Justin Ward, Mason Poli, Michael Erhardt, Mike Chanenchuk, John Haus, Cody Jamieson have all made key contributions to the Hounds this season but were not with the team in that first game of the season.
"It's a good group. It's well balanced," Hounds coach Mike Cerino said about his current roster. "A lot of the guys playing now were not on the field when we first played Ohio. There's some bitterness in the guys that did play."
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