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Nakeie Montgomery is entering his third season as a pro in the PLL.

PLL Preview: Redwoods Looking to Channel 2019 Style

May 21, 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.

California Redwoods

2023 Record: 6-4
Head coach: Nat St. Laurent
Assistants: Chris Collins, John Grant Jr.

Key Additions: Levi Anderson, A/M; Jared Conners, LSM; Garrett Degnon, A/M; Chris Fake, D; Holden Garlent, LSM; Chris Gray, A; Chayse Ierlan, G; Ricky Miezan, M
Key departures: Garrett Epple (Cannons); Eddy Glazener (retired); Jules Heningburg (Chaos); Kevin Rogers (Chaos); Sergio Perkovic (Chaos); John Sexton (retired); Tim Troutner (Atlas)


How quickly does California rebuild on the defensive end?

For five years, Epple, Glazener and Sexton were fixtures on the defensive side of the field for the Redwoods. California enters a new era, however, as none of the three are with the team any longer. It’s not just the on-field talent that the Redwoods lose. With those three gone, the defense loses its experience and leadership, too.

California made a pre-draft trade to acquire Conners, a three-year pro LSM who is also a championship winner with Virginia and the Archers. The rest of the additions are unproven. Garlent played 19 games in 2021 and 2022 with the Cannons but did not play in 2023. Fake played in only one game as a rookie in 2023, while Malik Sparrow didn’t play in a single game.

St. Laurent said he tried to convince Glazener to stay for one more season to groom the new defensemen, but the captain reassured the coach that they were talented enough and wouldn’t need him.

One thing St. Laurent likes is the amount of championships players on the defensive side of the ball have won. Additionally, he is excited about the new voices that have made themselves heard on the team.

“It’s been really neat listening to Jack Kelly talk and step up and speak more in the meetings,” St. Laurent said. “Isaiah Davis-Allen, him stepping up and doing things. Arden Cohen, who, last year, if you remember, struggled a little early in the first couple games, but by the end of the year, he was being every bit as physical, if not more, as Garrett was. You start seeing Owen Grant chime in here and there. It just is really neat to listen to some of these guys that didn’t have a voice now have a voice.”

How does the youth movement affect the team?

California has been hit hard by retirements over the past few years. Glazener and Sexton join the likes of Kyle Harrison, Joe Walters, Greg Gurenlian, Jack Near and Patrick Harbeson as impact players that ended their careers with the Redwoods.

For all the talent and leadership that will be missed, it does give the team an opportunity to refresh its roster with some younger players. St. Laurent has hoped to make the team better in the middle of the field, faster from arc to arc, to mimic the 2019 team that pushed the pace and went to the championship game.

By the end of 2023, Nakeie Montgomery was used more as a two-way midfielder and on offense, and that should continue in his third season in the PLL. As a rookie, Cole Kirst led all midfielders with 18 points. The team then used one of its third-round draft picks on Levi Anderson.

There are some unheralded guys that St. Laurent thinks could really improve the offense as well.

One is Alex Simmons, who just won the NLL Rookie of the Year while helping the Albany FireWolves reach the NLL Finals for the first time.

The other is defensive midfielder Ron John, who was recommended to St. Laurent by Wes Berg and Davis-Allen. St. Laurent said that although he is quiet, he’s already brought a lot of energy to the Zoom meetings, and he is looking forward to seeing him on the field.

Can Berg pick up where he left off?

In 2023, Berg played all 10 of the Redwoods’ games, the first time since the 2020 bubble season he’s played in every contest. It also was the first time he’s played at least 10 games since the 2017 MLL season with the Denver Outlaws.

While Rob Pannell and Ryder Garnsey received a lot of the attention early on, Berg was consistently effective, especially in the second half. In the team’s final five games of the regular season, Berg had a hat trick in four of them, including the final three; he scored the game-winning goal in overtime against the Chrome in Week 9.

Then, in the playoffs, Berg scored seven goals against the Chaos, the team he won a championship with in 2021.

While Pannell, Garnsey and newcomer Chris Gray will command a lot of attention, Berg will be just as important for opposing defenses to plan for.

“[Berg] has really, really stepped up. It’s been so fun to see him,” St. Laurent said. “Towards the end of the year, when Ryder got a little quiet, he put up like seven hat tricks. He started using his voice a little bit. I don’t think you can find anybody that’s more of a winner than him in terms of championships. His resurgence as a guy down there leading has been awesome.”