How Chaos, Waterdogs Defied All Expectations En Route to PLL Final


Waterdogs faceoff specialist Zac Tucci and Chaos midfielder Marc Glicini vie for a ground ball during a June 24 game in Baltimore.

CHESTER, Pa. — The Premier Lacrosse League held a media day Friday in advance of Sunday’s PLL championship game at Subaru Park.

The defending champion Chaos will play the ascendent Waterdogs in the nationally televised final (3 p.m. ET, ABC), a clash of two talented teams giving off underdog vibes. 

“We’re just that 2-8 team that everyone picked to lose in the first round of the playoffs. Then everyone said that was lucky and we were going to lose last week,” Chaos coach Andy Towers said. “There’s no waver in our locker room. They know exactly what has to happen in order for us to accomplish our one team goal and we’ve got one [more game] to go. We’re not celebrating anything.”

“You don't get to championship weekend and then try new things. You stick to who you are and what your identity is,” Waterdogs coach Andy Copelan said. “We have our identity and they have their identity. You have to stay true to who you are. If we’ve done anything well, we have the right locker room. Every single one of them. They’re made of the right stuff."

Neither team was considered a serious title contender coming into the playoffs. Just 6.9 percent of PLL fans voted for the Waterdogs to win it all. Even fewer, 2.8 percent, were convinced the Chaos could win back-to-back titles after finishing seventh out of eight teams and backing into the playoffs with a 2-8 regular season record. Yet, neither coach has ever been concerned with outsiders’ opinions of their locker rooms.

“We’re not focused on the voices outside of our locker room,” Chaos captain Mark Glicini said. “We’re focused on team cohesion more than anything else.”

“While we certainly didn’t win any style awards over the course of the summer to make the playoffs, we made it. We’re certainly not going to apologize for what happened during the regular season,” Towers said. “Every single time we lost, it hurt a ton. There’s always that fear of losing, but the bigger fear is not going down swinging.”

Both teams started the year 0-3 and finished the regular season with a negative scoring differential. It wasn’t until these two teams met in Week 4 that the Waterdogs (5-5 during the regular season) secured their first win. The Chaos would have to wait another week before they earned their first win.

For the Chaos in particular, it was their third straight season with an 0-4 start. Yet, like the past two seasons, they would right the ship in time to advance to their third straight PLL championship game. While they’re not focused on their poetic history of getting hot in the postseason, they emphasized how the cohesion in their locker room has helped them get to this point again.

“There’s a lot of maturity that happens year over year,” Glicini said. “Obviously the scene changes whether it’s during a COVID year or in a bubble, but I’d say it’s more of a change in landscape than in our locker room.”

“We all at this point know each other’s strengths and realize that no matter who we play against, we just have to dictate what [our opponents] do,” Chaos goalie Blaze Riorden added. “Being able to get beat up all year long, but still have the confidence to compete for all the guys around you — that comes with trust, communication and a little bit of swagger.”

While the Chaos are making their third trip to the title game, it is the first appearance for the Waterdogs. That inexperience does not seem to phase them.

“The reality is past records don't matter. This is a new Chaos team,” Waterdogs attackman Michael Sowers said. “That's the mentality for the full 48 minutes. We're gonna go out, and we're just gonna play.”

Waterdogs midfielder Connor Kelly echoed similar sentiments.

“We have a great opponent led by Andy Towers. They’ve been incredible in the playoffs,” Kelly said. “We're happy to be here, but we're definitely not satisfied.”

Kelly is the only Waterdogs player to have won a PLL championship, as he did with the Whipsnakes in 2019 at Subaru Park — the same field on which he’ll get to compete for his second PLL title.

“I learned a lot from my time on the Whipsnakes on how to get the job done,” Kelly said. “I’m happy to be back [in the championship] and happy to be competing.”

The Waterdogs are nearing full strength after dealing with injuries earlier in the season. While Copelan confirmed that midfielder Mikie Schlosser will be out due to a lower body injury, he did announce that attackman Ryan Brown would return to the lineup after missing the past two games due to injury.

“Brownie has so much big game experience. He’s as smart of a lacrosse player as I’ve ever met,” Copelan said. “We’re happy to have him back.”

Sowers, who also battled injuries throughout the season and most recently dealt with a hamstring issue midway through the Waterdogs’ 11-10 win over the Whipsnakes in the semifinals last week, assured everyone he was ready to go for Sunday.

“I feel great,” he said. “I’m 100 percent.”

The Chaos also struggled with personnel issues, not only because of injury but also due the National Lacrosse League playoffs and military commitments. They entered the season missing seven players, six of whom were playing in the NLL Finals. The seventh was starting defenseman Johnny Surdick, who was forced to miss the entire season due to his service in the U.S. Army.

“People can look at challenges — whether it’s training camp, whether it’s injuries, whether it’s travel or family emergencies — and they can use those things as an excuse on why they’ve failed or they can use it as fuel,” Towers said. “And our guys have used it as fuel.”

Towers in particular gave credit to the play of long pole Matt Rees, who was inserted into the Chaos’ starting defense during their past two playoff wins, and defensive coordinator Jamie Hanford, who replaced former Chaos defensive coordinator and now volunteer assistant Ryan Curtis.

“Hanford has done an unbelievable job and he had what I think was the most challenging job to step into who he took over for and what we did last year,” Towers said. “All he’s done is step up and get better and better. I couldn’t be happier for him as a friend. He’d be the first one to tell you, ‘We’re not done yet.’”

As Towers prepares to coach in his third straight title game, he reflected on what it takes to be a championship team in the PLL.

“Everybody in this league has the talent to win a PLL championship,” he said. “It’s the group that connects best, shares a mutual passion and puts the success of the team ahead of anything else that has enough to win.”

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