Coaches, Players Adapt to New Sixes Format Heading into PLL Championship Series Semis


The Atlas dominated the round robin portion of the Championship Series, earning Saturday's top seed.

When the final whistle sounded in the Chrome’s 18-14 victory over the Whipsnakes on Friday night, it marked the end of round robin play for the Premier Lacrosse League Championship Series. It was also the final opportunity for coaches and players to experience the unique Sixes format without the thought of elimination looming over them.

“We told the guys, ‘This is a process,’” Chrome’s acting head coach Jacques Monte said. “We wanted to get better every day.”

Jim Stagnitta’s Whipsnakes, which went 0-3 in round robin play, know it’s Saturday’s game that matters most.

“We’re learning right now,” Stagnitta said. “The only way this makes any difference for us is if we learn from it and get better from it. We’ll see if we can put it all together tomorrow.”

The Archers earned the second seed and a matchup against the Chrome in the semifinals. Head coach Chris Bates and his players have learned on the fly.

“It’s so up and down. It’s a game of momentum,” Bates said. “I think we’ve evolved and got better every day. As a coach, there are some limits to the adjustments we can make as the game’s going so the ownership comes from our guys and how they communicate. I expect that to continue.”

Players had similar thoughts. They’ve learned quite a bit, but it still isn’t perfect just yet.

“It’s been refreshing to still learn so many things on the lacrosse field as professionals,” Grant Ament said. “We took these three games with the understanding that it could serve as practice, and we hadn’t been in the position [of trailing late in the game]. So, I’m happy that we were able to because who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow or Sunday?”

The Archers fell to the Atlas 31-26 in a high-octane offensive showcase. Atlas coach Steven Brooks spoke about the “dogfight” between the two previously 2-0 teams.

While he’s happy with the win, he said the team is focused on taking what they’ve learned into the semifinals.

“Tomorrow’s a new day and a new chapter for us,” Brooks said. “The past three days are in the past, and we have to continue to move forward.”

One of the rules that has most affected the approaches of the players is that a missed shot out of bounds gives possession to the opposition. With no need to run out missed shots in Sixes, few teams have utilized the area behind the cage. But on Friday night, a handful of players ran plays from X.

“X is an unknown area at this time in Sixes, so we’ve been trying to experiment with it,” Ament said. “We have guys that are certainly comfortable back there. I think an array of different dodges is definitely the key to winning this.”

The 30-second shot clock is also shorter than what PLL players use in the summer, and that, compounded with no faceoffs, has forced players to treat possessions differently.

“It is nice to know that in 30 seconds or less you’ll have the ball back so maybe you do try some more creative plays and take a little bit bigger risks that you wouldn’t in the summertime with the 52-second shot clock,” Brad Smith said.

While some players like Smith say the quick possessions have led to a more aggressive style, others feel like they’ve become more patient as the week has progressed.

“There’s more time on the shot clock than you probably realize,” Ament said. “We’ve learned how to take a breath during some possessions, and, defensively, how to defend the two-point arc.”

“One of the biggest things is we thought the game was going to be a lot faster when the ball goes out of bounds,” Brooks said. “It turns out that having that 20 seconds to get it over, you can kill 10-15 seconds and allow guys to catch their breath.”

Arguably the biggest variation to the PLL’s version of Sixes is the 13-yard, two-point arc, and the Atlas have used the closer two-point line to their advantage. The Atlas have scored 25 two-pointers through three games, accounting for nearly half of the team’s shots that have hit the back of the net.

“Coach Spencer Ford was pretty big on ‘hunting the two,’ but not settling for it,” Romar Dennis said.

“With our personnel, we know we’re able to make those shots,” Dox Aitken added. “It’s just a matter of not forcing it and getting early action down the sides to open up looks up top. [The two-point arc] is the great equalizer for us, so we’re happy to have it.”

The Whipsnakes were victimized by a barrage of two-bombs from the Atlas in the first game of the Championship Series. Ty Warner said it’s a game-changing addition to Sixes.

“[The Atlas] are built to hit that shot with Romar, [Bryan] Costabile and [Jake] Carraway,” Warner said. “With that team, you want to make sure you take that shot away because when you’re counting by twos, it’s hard to keep the game close.”

Warner and the Whipsnakes will have a chance to try and limit the Atlas’ two-point threats in their rematch on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET. The second game at 7 p.m. ET will feature a rematch between Chrome and Archers, with their last meeting being the only game so far decided in overtime.

“We felt like we had one slip away a few days ago,” Monte said. “Today, we wanted to get back on track and take some momentum into tomorrow. We’re excited to get another shot at the Archers.”

Ament emphasized how the Archers’ differing game outcomes has prepared them for the first elimination game of the week.

“Out of the three games, we’ve come from behind, we’ve had a team sneak back up on us and now we’ve played from behind. So, we’ve gotten all three of those scenarios, which as a team you need going into the playoffs.”

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