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Mikie Schlosser (left) is healthy for the first time since the 2022 PLL semifinals.

PLL Preview: The Bill Tierney Effect on Philadelphia

May 30, 2024
Phil Shore
Premier Lacrosse League

The 2024 Premier Lacrosse League season begins June 1 in Albany, N.Y. USA Lacrosse Magazine contributor Phil Shore is going team-by-team in the days leading up to the opener, previewing each club as we enter the home cities era of the PLL.

Philadelphia Waterdogs

2023 Record: 7-3
Head Coach: Bill Tierney
Assistants: Dylan Sheridan, Louie Dedonatis

Key Additions: Michael Boehm, A; Matt Brandau, A; Kenny Brower, D; Marcus Hudgins, D; AJ Mercurio, LSM; Jake Richard, SSDM
Key departures: Chris Fake, D (Redwoods); James Reilly, FO (Chaos); Zac Tucci, FO (Cannons)


The Bill Tierney effect

The Waterdogs have quickly ascended from one-win expansion team in 2020 to consecutive appearances in the championship game in 2023 and 2024, winning the title once.

In a surprising move, head coach Andy Copelan resigned after the 2024 Championship Series. An extensive search with numerous high-quality candidates — reportedly including Steven Brooks, Spencer Ford, Tony Resch and Joe Spallina — ensued, and it was USA Lacrosse Hall of Famer and seven-time NCAA champion Bill Tierney who landed the role.

While he has an impressive resume, Tierney retired from coaching after the 2023 NCAA season and has never coached the pros.

“The biggest question mark for me,” Tierney joked, “is how am I not going to screw these guys up?”

Tierney has over 50 years of coaching experience, though, and believes he has plenty to offer the players. He pointed out how his experience in pressure situations and dealing with individual player issues is knowledge he can pass on to his new team.

He said the opportunity to coach the Waterdogs reminds him of when he coached the U.S. national team in the 1998 World Lacrosse Championship and led them to a 15-14 overtime victory over Canada in the championship game.

“I wanted to micromanage the defense like I did at Princeton, but I had veterans like John DeTommaso and Brian Voelker, these guys who knew me,” Tierney said. “These guys came to me and said, ‘Coach, we know what you’re trying to do, but we can’t do it in a matter of a week of training camp.’

“We quickly made a U-turn, and what we did was we took in what they were comfortable with, and I took on a role of little things with individuals, little things with team. My goal with all this that I want to impart on them is maybe things they don’t even recognize but things that are going to make us just a little bit better individually, so we are a little bit better as a team.”

Can they stay healthy?

Despite the success the Waterdogs have had the past few years, it hasn’t come without struggle. The injury bug has bitten the Waterdogs badly, especially in 2023.

Jake Carraway and Ryan Conrad each missed two games while Connor Kelly missed three. First-round draft pick Thomas McConvey was only healthy enough to play in four regular season games and one playoff game, and two-time All-Star and league champion Mikie Schlosser hasn’t played since getting injured in the semifinals of the 2022 PLL playoffs.

The team added a couple offensive depth pieces in the draft, taking attackmen Matt Brandau and Michael Boehm. In a piece of potential good fortune for Philadelphia, the team activated Schlosser off the injured list to the active roster on May 9.

“You have a bunch of guys there, if they all come out good, and you add a [defender Kenny] Brower and a Brandau,” Tierney said, “maybe, without me even saying anything about coaching, maybe we got a little better anyway.”

The role of Eli Gobrecht

Gobrecht, a six-year veteran, was at the center of the faceoff debate in 2023. A season after earning his first All-Star nomination at defense, the Waterdogs also used Gobrecht as the primary faceoff option, harassing his opponents and pushing them backwards, causing rushed offensive sets and turnovers.

Notably, July 8 against the Chrome, Connor Farrell won 18 of 19 faceoffs and picked up 18 ground balls; in the first half, however, the Chrome committed 15 turnovers and scored only one goal, heading into halftime with a 7-1 deficit.

For the season, Gobrecht led the team in faceoff attempts. Despite only winning 13 percent of them, Gobrecht earned his second All-Star nomination. This time, it was as a faceoff athlete.

The PLL adapted the faceoff rule this season so no player is allowed to take a faceoff with a long pole. With no natural faceoff athlete and wanting to preserve Zach Currier, it’s possible Gobrecht still takes faceoffs with a short stick.

Whatever his role is, Tierney believes he’s still unheralded, and he’s excited to deploy a multi-dimensional weapon on the field.

“He’s a Swiss-army knife,” he said. “He can play shorty. He can play pole. He can play close. He’s fast.”