Bayhawks Find Going Tough in Title Defense
by Mark Medina | LaxMagazine.com
Because he's known for his dodging and shooting abilities, Kyle Dixon's defense gets overlooked, according to Chesapeake Bayhawks head coach Brendan Kelly.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com
Despite limping into the playoffs, the Chesapeake Bayhawks could not have expressed more confidence this week.
"We all remain hopeful," attackman Danny Glading said, "that we can get it together."
They've tinkered all season with various lineups and adjustments to new personnel, but the Bayhawks believe the right combination will click.
"I don't think anything goes into chemistry," head coach Brendan Kelly said. "I think chemistry is found."
The fourth-seeded Bayhawks (6-6) open the Major League Lacrosse playoffs Aug. 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., against the top-seeded Boston Cannons (9-3). Despite backing into championship weekend by losing three of its last four games, Chesapeake is the de facto home team and enters this matchup far from feeling intimidated.
"Whenever we're put in a corner," Chesapeake goalie Brian Phipps said, "we seem to fight our way back, get on top and get fortunate with the outcome."
That's exactly what happened last season.
A five-game losing streak midway through the 2010 campaign forced the Bayhawks to fight for a playoff spot and prompted the organization to replace head coach John Tucker with Kelly. After losing the first game to Long Island, the Bayhawks won four consecutive contests en route to a Steinfeld Cup victory over the Lizards, the same team they lost to in the regular season.
After winning this season's first two games, the Bayhawks lost three of their next four. A two-game winning streak quickly followed with a two-game losing streak. And just when Chesapeake's 13-11 victory Aug. 6 over the Rochester Rattlers prompted Kelly to say "we're starting to play our best lacrosse right now," his team followed with a 15-9 loss last week to the Denver Outlaws in which it allowed 12 unanswered goals.
The Bayhawks may have squandered their chance to earn a No. 2 playoff seed with that loss, but they haven't squandered their chance to defend their championship.
"It's possible to be a fourth seed and be able to make a run at it at the end," said Glading, who leads the team in points (38) and assists (15). "But it's a completely different season. We can take confidence from what happened last year, but we have to come out and play our best lacrosse. We all know that. We don't expect anything to happen just because it happened last year. I think that's the right mindset to have going into it."
Several challenges have surfaced in Chesapeake's title defense. The Bayhawks traded their leading point-scorer Peet Poillon to the Denver Outlaws for midfielder Dan Hardy, who has just 12 points in eight games. Veterans Buggs Combs, Shawn Nedelan and Brian Vetter retired. Chris Garrity, the MLL's most experienced goalie, missed four games after suffering a knee injury practicing in Denver in June. Though Kelly called Garrity and Phipps "the two best tandem goalies in the league," Phipps ranks last in the MLL in goals allowed (14.14). The first six games also featured two midfield lines that never got untracked. Combinations of Hardy, Kyle Dixon, Ben Hunt, Michael Kimmel, Steven Brooks and Brian Carroll have lacked chemistry.
But the Bayhawks have adjusted in various ways.
First is their consistency at attack. Glading and Ben Rubeor provide a solid one-two punch, where they've combined for 55 points. Their chemistry roots back to their playing days at Virginia, a luxury Glading admits serves well for an offensive unit that didn't gel right away.
"We're familiar with what we like to do and what each other's habits are on the field," Glading said of his on-field chemistry with Rubeor. "When he has the ball, I know where he will be and I think he knows where he should be when I have the ball. It definitely helps out a lot. "
Second is Kelly's deft touch for lineup changes. He switched Carroll and Ryan Hurley at attack. He gave rookie defenseman Bray Malphrus his first start of the season last week. And he's emphasized the importance of the tema's defensive midfielders, including Jeff Reynolds, Matt Abbott, Kyle Hartzell, Jake Deane and even Kyle Dixon, who's not known for his defense. Kelly called Dixon "one of the best defensive middies in the league."
"We have the best athletes on the field and we've felt that all season," he said. "Instead of putting pressure on our shooters as much, we put the pressure on the athletes and asked them to be athletes."
Another adjustment can be found in the team's attitude. The Bayhawks have earned a league-wide reputation for their tough practices. Coach and player accounts suggest they didn't panic during the constant ups and downs of this season. They also, of course, have last year's outcome to give them confidence it can be replicated again.
"This is what it's all about in August," Kelly said. "We're excited to be in the playoffs. We have an extreme amount of experience for a championship run, from defense to offense to the goal and faceoffs. We're just really pumped up it's August. Every game counts. "