April 5, 2011

Tuesdays with Corey: Intriguing Stories Viewed Through the MLL Draft Prism

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com

Was Billy Bitter worthy of the No. 3 overall pick in the preseason MLL draft? He showed signs of such with a big game against Johns Hopkins in the Big City Classic.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

In the May issue of Lacrosse Magazine, we'll roll out our Major League Lacrosse season preview. It will feature team-by-team breakdowns, with an emphasis on the rookies drafted in January during the first ever pre-college and pro season draft for eligible college seniors.

The idea behind the six-team league staging the draft before the season was to create some interest and let fans follow draftees throughout the season. Busts or sleepers could develop during the spring depending on good or poor play, or injuries. A few have. Or a whole draft class for a team could be a dud. That hasn't happened.

But a few interesting storylines have taken shape through the prism of the MLL draft, the full results of which you can find here. They're a good indicator of what's been going on in Division I men's lacrosse.

The sleeper

Brian Karalunas, LSM, Villanova, Long Island Lizards (sixth round, No. 35 overall)
He was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year last season; that's coming in a conference that includes fellow long stick Joel White from Syracuse. But Karalunas was still largely underrated heading into this season, as he's proven by averaging 4.6 caused turnovers and 4.1 ground balls per game to end up on some Tewaaraton Award watch lists by midseason.

Karalunas and White play slightly different games as long stick midfielders. Karalunas is more of a pure takeaway threat. "A wrecking ball," Lizards coach Jim Mule said. White can be more offensive-minded and a threat all over the field. "He's leading the team in so many areas," said B.J. O'Hara, coach of the Rochester Rattlers, who selected White with the No. 2 overall pick. Take your pick as to who is the best at the long stick midfield position.

Against the top team in the country in a night game at Villanova March 26, Karalunas made a clutch play by stripping JoJo Marasco with less than a minute left and assisting on a Kevin Cunningham goal that tied the score at 4. Villanova lost 5-4, and lost to Notre Dame, 12-8, on Saturday, but the Wildcats have shown they are a top-10 team. Karalunas will have a chance to step in the lineup right away with the Lizards.

The question mark

Shamel Bratton, M, Virginia, Boston Cannons (first round, No. 4 overall)
He's twice been suspended from games by Virginia coach Dom Starsia this spring for violating team rules, and his latest suspension was termed "indefinite" by Starsia after the Cavaliers' 12-7 loss to Maryland on Saturday. Bratton didn't practice with the team last week, and spent the game on the sideline in warmup clothes. Not what you want from one of your seniors as ACC play is underway, or any time for that matter. Virginia is suddenly on a two-game losing streak.

Bratton combined with Paul Rabil in Boston would be a fun combination, but you have to wonder what's going on with Bratton's focus. Some MLL teams were also concerned on draft night that Shamel and his twin brother Rhamel would opt to play this summer on the LXM Pro Tour. Since the draftees cannot acknowledge their desire to play in the MLL until their college seasons end, we don't know for sure where the Brattons will go.

The unfortunate injury

Steve Serling, M, Hofstra, Denver Outlaws (second round, No. 9 overall)
The fifth-year senior reinjured his spleen during Hofstra's fourth game of the season March 5 against Harvard. He landed on his back hard after being hit backwards as he took a shot, and headed the hospital at halftime. A few weeks later, he was ruled out for the season with a lacerated spleen, the same injury that caused him to miss the 2009 season while at Lafayette.

Hofstra coach Seth Tierney said Serling would be re-evaluted toward the end of the summer and that not playing contact sports again was a potential option. The Pride is still working on making a deep playoff run without him.

Denver got another dose of the injury bug when it was announced Friday that Princeton attackman Jack McBride (fifth round, No. 27 overall) would be out for the season with a groin injury.

The still-can-prove-something player

Billy Bitter, A, North Carolina, Denver Outlaws (first round, No. 3 overall)
Sure, he had the nice game with four goals and showed flashes of his old self at the Big City Classic on Sunday in the Meadowlands, where he first really burst onto the national scene with a dazzling display of moves on Virginia defenseman Ken Clausen two years ago as a sophomore.

Though that zigzag reputation has remained, Bitter has not looked the same since that season when he was first named a first team All-American. Injuries have hindered him, but as Sunday indicated, he still has the potential to live up to the level of a No. 3 overall pick.

A good pick, but maybe should have gone earlier

John Lade, D, Syracuse, Boston Cannons (third round, No. 16 overall)
Syracuse has so many good players that it's difficult to pick out a Tewaaraton-type candidate from the team. But if I had to, it might be Lade.

He's shut down all of the top offensive players he's faced -- Steele Stanwick, Jeremy Boltus, Alex Demopoulos, Kevin Cunningham -- and he also brought Duke freshman Jordan Wolf back to earth Sunday. All of Wolf's four points in Duke's 13-11 loss to Syracuse came in the second half, and for part of that time Lade was sidelined on the trainer's table with an ice pack on his left ankle. John Desko said after the game that he thought Lade's injury wasn't serious and that he thought he twisted the ankle.

The first goalie picked, as he should've been

John Galloway, G, Syracuse, Rochester Rattlers (fourth round, No. 20 overall)
Rookie goalies rarely step into the league and start right away, and Rattlers coach B.J. O'Hara said even as good as Galloway has played this season, it might be tough to fit him in the lineup come summer with former UMass goaltender Doc Schneider the likely starter.

Galloway at the very least has proved he should have been the first goalie selected in January's draft. His stats might not be the very best (56-percent save percentage, 19th nationally, and 7.61 GAA, 14th nationally), but he is clearly a leader for the top-ranked team in the country.

The top pick in 2012

Rob Pannell, A, Cornell, Jr.
The junior attackman leads the nation with 5.89 points per game, more than a point per game more than second place on the list, Army's Jeremy Boltus.

Pannell is leading the NCAA Player of the Year candidate right now, and if Cornell makes championship weekend come May, he could be a returning Tewaaraton Award winner as a rising senior.

High Five

Upset Alert will take a break this week after correctly hitting on two of five picks a week ago. Don't want to overdo it too much. Instead, here is a ranking of MLL teams' draft classes, listed from best to worst. It will be interesting to see if this ranking could drastically change come the end of the college season.

1. Hamilton Nationals

The picks: M Kevin Crowley, Stony Brook; M Jeremy Thompson, Syracuse; D Ryan Flanagan, North Carolina; M David Earl, Notre Dame; D Kevin Ridgway, Notre Dame; M Dan Burns, Maryland; A Stephen Keogh, Syracuse; D Bill Henderson, Army; A Jeremy Boltus, Army

The skinny: Stacked with Crowley and surprisingly many Americans. Nationals general manager Jody Gage said he wants to break the perception that the Nationals are just a bunch of Canadians. The draft showed that was true.

2. Boston Cannons

The picks: M Shamel Bratton, Virginia; M Josh Amidon, Syracuse; D Brian Farrell, Maryland; D John Lade, Syracuse; M Kevin Kaminsky, Delaware; A Tom Compitello, Stony Brook; D Pat Dowling, Delaware; M David Hawley, Brown; A Zach Howell, Duke

The skinny: Solid defensive pickups in Farrell and Lade. If Bratton pans out as he could this will be a great draft class.

3. Rochester Rattlers

The picks: D Joel White, Syracuse; M Jovan Miller, Syracuse; A Jordan McBride, Stony Brook; G John Galloway, Syracuse; D Tom Montelli, Duke; A Brian Caulfield, Albany; M Adam Jones, Canisius; M Matt Chadderdon, Le Moyne

The skinny: White should be an MLL stud and Syracuse teammate Miller is becoming more and more involved on the offensive end for Syracuse each week.

4. Long Island Lizards

The picks: M Zach Brenneman, Notre Dame; A Jay Card, Hofstra; M Rhamel Bratton, Virginia; A Ryan Young, Maryland; D Sam Barnes, Notre Dame; D Brian Karalunas, Villanova; M Peter Mezzanotte, Towson; D Matt Stefurak, Delaware

The skinny: They got the value pick of the draft in Karalunas. Brenneman has nursed a rib injury. Card and Young could help the offense.

5a. Denver Outlaws

The picks: A Billy Bitter, North Carolina; M Steve Serling, Hofstra; D Brett Schmidt, Maryland; A Grant Catalino, Maryland; A Jack McBride, Princeton; LSM Andrew Irving, Notre Dame; M Andrew Lay, Denver; G Adam Ghitelman, Virginia

The skinny: Injuries to Serling and McBride really hurt this group.

5b. Chesapeake Bayhawks

The picks: D Barney Ehrmann, Georgetown; M Steve DeNapoli, Hofstra; D Dan Hostetler, Georgetown; M John Austin, Delaware; A Andrew Feinberg, Brown; G Tom Palesky, Army; D Max Schmidt, Maryland

The skinny: Chesapeake, by virtue of prior trades involving draft picks and winning the MLL title last year, didn't pick until the fourth round, No. 24 overall, so it's not their fault. They just missed out on the top first round talents.

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