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The Archers had one of the best defenses in the league in 2023.

PLL Preview: How Does the Archers' Championship Defense Rebuild?

May 31, 2024
Phil Shore
Liam Murphy / 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.

Utah Archers

2023 Record: 8-2
Head Coach: Chris Bates
Assistants: Brian Kavanagh, Tony Resch

Key Additions: Colby Barsz, D; Beau Pederson, SSDM; Troy Hettinger, LSM; Patrick Shoemay, D; Mason Woodward, D; Dyson Williams, A
Key departures: Reid Bowering, M (Atlas); Jared Conners (Redwoods); Matt McMahon, D (retired)
Holdout: Graeme Hossack, D


What is it like being the hunted?

The Archers finally got over the hump in 2023, finishing with the best record in the regular season and winning the championship. Only one team in league history, the Whipsnakes, has won back-to-back titles.

Bates anticipates that, as the defending champions, Utah will be on the receiving end of every opponent’s best effort. He acknowledged that this team’s journey will be different than last year’s, but he said this group is hungry to challenge itself and adapt.

“We all enjoyed the hell out of what we accomplished, but at the end of the day, that’s on a shelf,” he said. “We’ll get rings on Friday before training camp. On Saturday, you drop yourself down on equal footing with everybody else.”

How does the defense recover?

The Archers had one of the best defenses in the league in 2023, leading in scores against average (11.1). What was a strength last year looks like a question mark heading into the 2024 season, however.

First, Mike McMahon retired. Defensive midfielder Latrell Harris suffered a knee injury in the final game of last season that required surgery, and he won’t be available for the beginning of 2024. Then the team traded LSM Jared Conners to the Redwoods for an additional second-round draft pick. Before training camp, the Archers also moved Graeme Hossack to the holdout list.

Bates said Hossack and his wife recently had a baby. While Bates said it is possible he returns to the team this year, the team is preparing to play the season without him.

Those three departures would have been large enough shoes to fill, but then the injury bug bit during training camp. Bates was bullish on the production the team would get from Patrick Shoemay, but the Canadian tore his ACL and is out for the season.

The Archers used a first-round draft pick to draft Marquette’s Mason Woodward, who Bates said can anchor the team down low; they also used the pick they received in the Conners trade to take Beau Pederson, who many considered the top defensive midfielder in the draft.

When Shoemay went down, they also added second-year pro Troy Hettinger, who played in five games for the Chrome last season.

“We have guys like Cam Wyers and Jon Robbins that can play both as well,” Bates said. “We’re a work in progress. I’m very thankful, and we’re blessed to have Tony Resch as our defensive coordinator. There’s nobody better. We have full faith he’ll whip the boys into shape.”

Grant Ament’s Role

He was the first overall pick in the 2020 college draft. In 2021, he was an All-Star, All-Pro and Attackman of the Year.

The injury bug hit in 2022, however, as he pulled his left hamstring and missed the team’s first five games. In the first game of 2023, he strained his left hamstring and missed two more games. He also was ruled out of the 2024 Championship Series with a left knee injury.

Ament finished the 2023 regular season with only four goals and nine assists, the lowest assist and point totals of his career. He seemed to come alive after the All-Star game, though. While deployed as a midfielder, Ament scored two goals and dished out six assists over the final five regular-season games.

He then went off on the Redwoods in the semifinals, scoring three goals (including one two-point goal) and adding four assists for a game-high eight points. In the championship game, he added another two goals and one assist.

While Ament thrived in the midfield, Matt Moore joined Mac O’Keefe and Connor Fields on attack. Moore earned a spot on the All-Star team in 2023 and improved his assist total.

In training camp, both were listed at attack along with Fields, O’Keefe, Tre Leclaire and Jack VanOverbeke. Rookie attackman Dyson Williams is also waiting in the wings and was placed on the Unable to Travel list.

The question for Ament is where will he play, back at his natural position of attack or in the midfield, where he made a big impact in the championship run?

“Grant was dynamite late in the season,” Bates said. “Hopefully, if he’s healthy, he’s going to push for time. In both of their [Ament and Moore’s] ideal worlds, they’ll both be down there. I don’t think we’ll mix and match. I think we’ll probably make a decision and try to stick with it.”