Always Ready, Brian Phipps Saves Whipsnakes' Season


The two-time defending Premier Lacrosse League champions had their backs against the wall.

After going the distance in both PLL seasons, the Whipsnakes were in danger of an early exit in 2021, down 9-5 at halftime of a first-round contest against the rival Redwoods.

A spark came from an unlikely source, however. On a team featuring the previous two PLL MVPs and six 2021 All-Stars, the man that gave the team a boost at the most crucial time was someone who wasn’t even on the team at the beginning of the summer: backup goalie Brian Phipps.

Appearing in just his second game with the Whips, Phipps entered for Kyle Bernlohr in the second half and made six saves on 10 shots. He sparked a huge Whipsnakes comeback. Matt Rambo scored the game-winning goal with 55 seconds remaining to defeat the Redwoods 14-13.

“My friends joke,” Phipps said. “They call me the Ryan Fitzpatrick of pro lacrosse. I might be a starter, I might not be, but when my number is called, I can produce. I enjoy being around the game of lacrosse and being around guys that were like-minded.”

Throughout his career, Phipps has shared time between the pipes with his teammates.

After earning the majority of minutes as the starting goalie his freshman year at Maryland, Phipps entered a platoon with Jason Carter over the next two seasons.

In Major League Lacrosse, he played four seasons with the Ohio Machine, sharing time with Scott Rodgers in 2013 and 2014. With the Chesapeake Bayhawks, fellow Maryland alumnus Niko Amato took over the starting position in 2017 and 2018, even earning the co-Goaltender of the Year award in 2018. Amato entered the 2019 season as the starter and earned a spot in that summer’s All-Star Game, but Phipps was promoted to starter soon after and helped lead the Bayhawks to a championship.

Despite many years of alternating between starter and backup, Phipps’ commitment to his teams never wavered. He was always ready whenever called upon.

“My role doesn’t change, whether I’m in the pipes, on the sidelines or wearing a coaching hat. I want to bring whatever I can to help our guys on and off the field,” Phipps said. “It’s just the way I was brought up, being a teammate first and an individual second.”

Whipsnakes defender Matt Dunn has known Phipps for many years. Phipps was the volunteer coach at Maryland when Dunn was recruited. Dunn was also roommates at Maryland with Whipsnakes teammate Nick Manis, who was family friends with Phipps.

Dunn was thrilled when the Whipsnakes acquired Phipps at the end of June.

“He’s a guy a lot of guys respect,” Dunn said. “He brings a lot of experience. He’s a coach. He understands the game really well. The IQ he brings is awesome. He brings a veteran presence off the field. He understands what great team culture is like. He’s the first to remind us it’s not about him. He had a great week, but it’s about the team.”

In the playoff opener, the Redwoods scored five of the first seven goals. Whenever he could, Phipps said he made sure to continue to provide Bernlohr — whom Phipps coached at Maryland — with encouraging words.

“’The most important shot is the next one. Stay with it,’” he said he told Bernlohr. “He was in that spot the week before against the Archers. He played well in the second half to force overtime. I told him to stay with it. ‘You’ve proven you can do it, so keep believing in yourself.’”

Phipps said the Redwoods came out ready, and the Whipsnakes came out flat. From the sidelines, Dunn said the defense didn’t play with enough urgency and that they were “passive.”

Those critiques aren’t necessarily things Bernlohr, a PLL All-Star in 2019 and 2021 and the player Dunn said was “the reason we won two championships the past two years,” could control. The game against the Redwoods was just not his day; he made only two saves on 11 shots in the first half.

When Whipsnakes head coach Jim Stagnitta made the switch, Dunn said it was easy to get behind the move because of the relationship Phipps and Bernlohr have.

“I hate seeing Kyle pulled from a game,” Dunn said. “I have faith in him and love playing in front of him, but I respect Coach Stags. The wonderful thing was seeing how Kyle and Brian handled it.”

Jumping into a high-pressure game midway through doesn’t sound like an easy task, but Phipps said he didn’t mind the little warmup he got leading into the second half.

“In my stage of my career, the warmup is more mental than physical,” he said. “It’s about getting the mindset right and getting comfortable. My warmup is three minutes total. It’s not long.”

Heading into the second half, Phipps said he focuses on two things. He knew the defense needed to be more aggressive and play faster. He also said he knew he had to “bark” more, giving the players in front of him directions to get them organized.

After the final whistle, a picture tweeted by the Whipsnakes shows Phipps jumping into Dunn’s arms. Not only had the team won the game and continued on its quest for a three-peat, but Dunn was happy for his friend to have some on-field success.

“It was cool to have a guy we trust and has been valuable to our team in other ways step up and be valuable on the field,” Dunn said. “Coach Stags gives a little snake to the player of the game. Brian got the snake. Right when he got that, he said a couple words about how he was happy to be a part of the team and play his role, and it’s not about him; it’s about the team.”

As the Whipsnakes move on in the playoffs, it’s likely that Phipps moves back to a supporting role on the sidelines rather than a starring role once again.

He’s OK with that, though, and he’ll also make sure to be ready to play, just in case.

“I’m a nerd of the game of lacrosse,” he said. “I will be watching film and sending my thoughts to the players, the coaches, Kyle. It will be the same thing for me. We will go with whatever Coach says. I’m going to prepare like I’m starting, but that’s how I prepare anyway. You’re a shot to the hand or thumb away.

“We have each other’s back,” he added, “and that’s the best thing about this group.”

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