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Four things to watch for in Archers-Waterdogs on PLL opening weekend

Archers-Waterdogs Archers-Waterdogs - PLL

The 2024 Premier Lacrosse League season opens Saturday in Albany, N.Y., with a rematch of last year’s championship thriller between the Utah Archers and Philadelphia Waterdogs.

Here are four things to watch in that kickoff clash:

1. Seven-time national champion Bill Tierney makes professional debut

After over 40 years of collegiate coaching, featuring seven national titles as a head coach, Waterdogs head coach and general manager Bill Tierney will make his professional debut this weekend. Tierney turned around the Princeton Tigers program in the early 1990s and then revitalized the Denver Pioneers in the 2010s. Now, he inherits a team that’s been to two straight Cash App Championship games, winning one in 2022.

Tierney is a fantastic motivator who respects individuality, but also sees value in collective culture. The Waterdogs are known for their close-knit locker room, having retained most of their players over the last two seasons. Tierney said he’s just trying to further that bond.

Denver alums Ethan Walker and Jack Hannah were instrumental in facilitating relationships between Tierney and the Waterdogs players. He’s not just the angry, referee-hating grouch that is sometimes seen on television. He’s a detail-oriented leader of men, and the players came to realize that very quickly during their offseason meetings with Tierney. – Wyatt Miller

2. Reigning MVP Tom Schreiber leads defending champs into 2024

The 2023 season was a dream for the Archers and league MVP Tom Schreiber. From an 8-2 regular season, to the No. 1 seed in the Cash App Playoffs and then Schreiber’s game-winning goal in the final 90 seconds of the title game, everything came up orange and blue last summer.

After five years of scrapping and clawing their way to the top, Utah made it to the peak of the lacrosse world last season. Now, the Archers have to fend off an onslaught of reloaded rosters hellbent on knocking them off their pedestal.

Like he has since the league’s inception, Schreiber will lead the charge for the Archers on their quest to repeat. The 32-year-old signed a contract extension this offseason that locked him up through 2026. Coming off a 37-point (16G, 2T, 17A) regular season in 2023, the three-time MVP is only getting better with age. – Zach Carey

3. No faceoff man for the Waterdogs

The Waterdogs are the only team in the PLL without a faceoff specialist on their 25-man roster. Instead, Tierney will use midifielders like Zach Currier and Ryan Conrad, both of whom have experience taking faceoffs. Philadelphia also has a number of defensive midfielders who can man the stripe.

Rookie faceoff specialist Alec Stathakis, who played under Tierney at Denver, had to return to school to finish his Master’s program and was cut from the 30-man roster because of that. However, he is still part of the team’s future plans.

This weekend, the Waterdogs will take on second-year star Mike Sisselberger, who had a lot of success against non-specialists last season, including in the Cash App Championship. Sisselberger is one of the league’s most physically dominant faceoff men, and it’ll be up to Philly’s midfield to slow him down in this title game rematch. – Wyatt Miller

4. Can a young Archers defense coalesce in the season opener?

Utah will be without four of its six 2023 defensive starters against the vaunted Waterdogs offense. As a result, the Archers’ defense will rely on six first- or second-year players.

How talented but unproven rookies Mason Woodward and Beau Pederson perform in their professional debuts will be huge indicators for whether Utah can go back-to-back. Relative veterans Warren Jeffrey and Jon Robbins will be critical for stemming the tide. Meanwhile, 2023 Championship MVP goalie Brett Dobson will provide valuable insurance policy in cage.

Still, though, against the talent and depth of the Philadelphia offense, there’s nowhere to hide. Threats like Michael Sowers, Kieran McArdle, Connor Kelly, Ethan Walker and Currier don’t neutralize themselves.

Utah defensive coordinator Tony Resch has one of the best track records in professional lacrosse history. Against the Dogs, he and his group of young pups will be put to the test. – Zach Carey