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The Whipsnakes were under .500 in 2023 for the first time in the PLL's existence.

PLL Preview: Maryland Whipsnakes Hitting the Reset Button

May 28, 2024
Phil Shore
Nick Ieriadi / 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.

Maryland Whipsnakes

2023 Record: 4-6
Head coach: Jim Stagnitta
Assistants: PT Ricci, Drew Snider

Key Additions: Grant Haus, SSDM; Colin Heacock, M; TJ Malone, A; Adam Poitras, A; Matt Rees, LSM; Ajax Zappitello, D; Stephen Zupicich, LSM
Key departures: Michael Ehrhardt, LSM (retired); Connor Kirst, M (Cannons); Brian Phipps, G (retired); Tyler Warner (retired); Bryce Young, D (Cannons)


Can the Whipsnakes get back to the top?

For the first few years of the PLL, the Whipsnakes were the blueprint. They played in each of the first three championships, winning two of them. Even in 2022, the first year they didn’t make the title game, they finished the regular season 9-1 and lost by a goal in the semifinals to the Waterdogs, the eventual champion.

In 2023, the Whipsnakes finished with a regular-season record under .500 for the first time and experienced their earliest playoff exit.

Head coach Jim Stagnitta pointed out two reasons things did not go as hoped: an aging roster and getting too comfortable, losing the hunger they had the first couple of seasons.

Stagnitta brought in new assistant coaches to bring different voices into the locker room. He also said he challenged some of his veterans whose production fell off. With a few retirements, it was time to make some changes and add competition from the get-go in training camp.

“They weren’t pushed, but there was no reason to. We were successful. That’s changed,” he said. “This is going to be the first training camp since year one where guys are going to come in and there will be competition for spots all over the field.

“It’s wide open,” he added, “and that, itself, creates that sense of urgency.”

There will be training camp battles all over the field, but the offensive side has a lot of All-Star caliber players vying for only a few spots. The team has MVPs Matt Rambo and Zed Williams; All-Star veterans Will Manny, Colin Heacock, Brad Smith, and Mike Chanenchuck; and rookies or youngsters like TJ Malone, Adam Poitras, Jackson Morrill and 2023 Rookie of the Year Tucker Dordevic.

With so many mouths to feed, there won’t be enough spots for everybody to get their touches.

“Nineteen people dress. That 19 isn’t set,” Stagnitta said. “We’ve been successful with some core principles. The best team wins, not the best players.”

Additionally, the faceoff position will be a heated battle, as Joe Nardella returns from injury to vie for the role against second-year pro Petey LaSalla, who had a good year winning 58 percent of his faceoffs as a rookie.

Colin Heacock: Something to Prove

It wasn’t just the players on the Whipsnakes that experienced underwhelming seasons in 2023. Free-agent signing Colin Heacock had the lowest scoring season of his career, putting only two shots in the net and earning no points in six of the eight games he played in. It was agreed that a change of scenery would be best for the seven-year pro.

In what was a long-awaited move, the former Terrapin joined the team that also employs his friend and former teammate, Matt Rambo.

Stagnitta believes the high-profile free agent has something to prove in 2024.

“He brings some leadership,” he said. “Giving him a new opportunity and place, sometimes that reignites guys. He has the ability to make us better.”

New faces earning new opportunities

Stagnitta said over the past couple years, there had been one or two spots up for grabs in training camp. With some roster turnover heading into 2024, something Stagnitta said was needed, there are some new faces — especially on defense and in the midfield — that have flown under the radar but could become future Whipsnakes fixtures.

“There will probably be some surprises,” Stagnitta said.

With Young and Ehrhardt gone on defense, one player Stagnitta wants to see is second-year pro Elijah Gash. The mammoth defender who dominated at Albany was taken in the fourth round of the 2023 draft, but he never dressed as a rookie.

Stagnitta also thinks Grayson Sallade and Garrett Leadmon, sparingly-used midfielders who were primarily used on the defensive midfield side as rookies, can be more two-way threats that allows for more flexibility on the field and with rosters.

“We have the foundation again of a young, hungry, no expectations for us again,” he said. “We have some of the people that will take the pressure off Rambo and Zed and allow them to play without having the ball in their stick all the time.”