The 2023 PLL Draft is just a day away and, with Archers LC and Head Coach Chris Bates embracing a new era, the players Bates select to join the club will play an integral role in its future. The team will enter Tuesday’s draft with the 5th overall pick, followed by the 13th, 21st, and 29th. Bates has ample opportunity to address the needs his roster has now while also building towards a future led by the club’s young stars.
While there are dozens of capable players that could realistically contribute for the Archers in some shape or form, there are a select few who can be difference makers for the club at the positions of need that Bates will be looking to draft tomorrow night.
The face-off specialist position is the biggest hole for Bates’ roster heading into the 2023 season. This face-off class has a few different options who could be an upgrade for Archers LC this summer. But how the league views them and where they’ll go in the draft could be one of the leading storylines for the draft this year with questions regarding if there is a truly elite talent among the group.
Mike Sisselberger, Face-off specialist, Lehigh
The best pure face-off specialist in the college game for the last two years, Sisselberger comes to the PLL with a 68.6% winning percentage throughout his Lehigh career. At 5’9” and 220 pounds, Sisselberger has the ideal build for his position as he can get low to the ground and dominate with his sheer strength. No longer having to use the standing neutral grip should especially benefit him given his build.
Another element of his game that makes Sisselberger such an impressive prospect is how effective he is at winning the ball to himself. With 484 career ground balls on 726 face-off wins, Sisselberger has picked up the ground ball on over two thirds (66.7%) of his wins. That points to the fact — which his film confirms — that Sisselberger tends to win the clamp cleanly and possess the ball quickly without needing to involve the wings.
Where Sisselberger is slightly lacking relative to the others in his positional group is beyond simply winning the draw and with regard to maintaining possession and providing an offensive threat. At Lehigh, he shot just 12.5% for his career (seven career goals, four career assists) with 1.17 turnovers per game. While the Pennsylvania native is elite at winning the initial possession, aggressive opposing wing play after the ground ball can disrupt him from getting the ball to his offense.
If the Archers want a guy who can win the most clamps and can most likely compete with the league’s best in the split second after the whistle is blown, Sisselberger is probably the guy. Things get more complicated after that. But, the club is fortunate to have rising star LSM Jared Connors and a host of capable short stick wings who could alleviate any potential problems regarding Sisselberger’s abilities once the ball is in his stick. And, considering that Archers LC tied with Waterdogs LC as the highest scoring club in the league last year, the offense doesn’t need scoring production from the face-off specialists.
Drafting Sisselberger fifth overall may be considered a reach relative to where he stands overall in this class. But, at thirteenth overall, Sisselberger could very well be Bates’ pick in order to guarantee he gets his guy before the other clubs who could consider taking a face-off specialist — specifically Whipsnakes LC, Chaos LC, and Waterdogs LC — get the chance to take him off the board.
Zach Cole, Face-off specialist, St. Joseph’s
Another top talent as a face-off specialist, Cole is a lengthier prospect at 6’0” and 211 pounds. His career 66.2% win rate at the face-off dot is similarly prolific, but comes with a relatively different style than Sisselberger. Cole is effective with counters as well at simply winning the clamp. His adjustment to using the motorcycle grip with a knee down shouldn’t be too difficult since his first two years at St. Joe’s (when he won 66.8% of 401 draws) were before standing neutral grip became required in the college game.
Cole excels at winning the ball to himself with 678 ground balls on 1,044 career wins (64.9%). He also is capable once he wins possession, averaging just 0.73 turnovers per game while shooting 19.6% for his career and an impressive 31.6% in 2023. Cole’s 34 career points in 62 games (0.53 points per game) is also superior to Sisselberger (0.23 per game).
Where Cole is knocked relative to the other specialists in this year’s class is the level of competition he’s faced at St. Joseph’s and whether the gaudy numbers he’s put up in college will translate to a competitive extent in the pros. The week in, week out battles against the best in the world requires that a face-off athlete be at his very best each time he steps on the field and the nature of Cole’s college career hasn’t established that he is assuredly that type of player — at least not as much as other specialists in his class.
Similarly to Sisselberger, Cole probably ranks closer to being a second round prospect but could be selected in the first considering his positional value to the Archers.
Petey LaSalla, Face-off specialist, Virginia
LaSalla may not have the true winning percentage to rival Sisselberger or Cole, but his production at the highest level and the offensive spark he provides is practically unrivaled for specialized face-off athletes. LaSalla has a pair of National Championships, is gunning for a third this May, and has a long established clutch gene which put him on the map during Virginia’s 2019 National Championship run.
For his career, LaSalla has scored 37 goals and added 11 assists. His 0.65 points per game leads this face-off class and the way that Virginia uses him is unlike any other specialist in the country. LaSalla will legitimately initiate invert offense for the Cavaliers a few times a game as he exploits matchups in settled offense.
LaSalla’s 59.2% win rate in college is definitely a notch below Cole and Sisselberger. He probably doesn’t have quite the quickness of hands that Cole and Sisselberger have and the way he tends to lose big when he does lose a battle indicates that his counter game isn’t fantastic. But the level of competition he faced in the ACC, the value he brings offensively, and his appetite for the biggest moments could appeal to Bates enough to select him over the other two.
Looking beyond the face-off position, because this draft class is chock full of capable poles, the club is set up well to add the piece they need at close defense. While face-off is a more pressing need, the depth of elite talent in this class means the Archers could realistically get a top close talent at the fifth pick, should Bates decide to hold off on taking a face-off specialist until round two.
For the purpose of looking at the players most likely available to Archers LC at the fifth overall pick, we’ll assume that 1a and 1b defensive prospects Gavin Adler and Will Bowen will be off the board when Bates makes his selection. If either of them (or offensive midfielder, Sam Handley for that matter) is available, that’s the direction to go.
There’s an argument to be made that Virginia’s Thomas McConvey or another offensive midfield prospect could be a fit at the fifth pick. But the reality of the Archers’ current roster is that the club needs another pole to play close defense in the present and the future. Consequently, here are a few guys who could fit that mold and could be around when Bates goes on the clock.
Brett Makar, Maryland
In plenty of other classes, Brett Makar would be the top close defender on most draft boards. An experienced player lauded for his leadership traits, Makar has anchored an elite defense in College Park for years now. He’s stout at 6’1” and 210 pounds with elite footwork and the ability to out-tough even the strongest of attackmen. Makar simply doesn’t make mistakes as it takes a special type of player to beat him one-on-one.
He’s not an elite playmaker with his 1.29 turnovers per game in 2023 good for 62nd in the country and his 0.79 caused turnovers per game throughout his career the lowest among the top defensive prospects. But the value he brings goes beyond those numbers.
Makar seems like just the right type of player to add to the Archers defensive core. With veteran leader Matt McMahon now 30 years old, Makar would be the perfect piece to build around for the future of defense. He is known to be a high character individual with all the lacrosse IQ to be the voice of a defense while also handling one of the toughest matchups.
Especially with the play-making star LSM Jared Connors under contract for two years, Makar could be the missing piece that Bates’ defense needs to reach that championship level. It’s difficult to predict if he’ll be picked before the Archers are on the clock since he’ll likely be the third or fourth defender off the board. But, should he be there, Makar would be a fantastic addition for the club.
Owen Grant, Delaware
Fundamentally a playmaker, the 6’3” lefty Owen Grant averaged over two caused turnovers per game for his entire career at Delaware. His physicality and proficiency as a checker is arguably unmatched in this class and playing him alongside Graeme Hossack on the Archers defense would be a nightmare for opposing attackmen.
Grant also has versatility regarding who and where he plays on the field. He can take on a tough matchup in the midfield and, with chops in transition, could further add to the Archers’ rampant two-way scoring ability. Grant’s 24 career points (18 goals, 6 assists) speak for themselves.
There are times when Grant’s aggression on defense can cost him. He also can get caught lacking off-ball at times, but those shouldn’t be substantive enough red flags to knock him out of the first round because of the physical traits and talent he has.
There’s a very realistic scenario where both Grant and Makar are on the board when Archers LC is picking at fifth overall. If that happens, Makar would probably make more sense fit-wise, but each player has particular strengths that Bates could favor over the other.
Other Names to Watch
James Reilly, Face-off specialist, Georgetown
Reilly is the fourth top face-off specialist of the class. He doesn’t have the elite traits of the other three, but could very well be an effective specialist at the PLL level that the Archers could target in rounds three or four.
Kenny Brower, Close defense, Duke
Brower would be an underrated but really quality pick for the Archers at 13th overall, if Bates doesn’t address close defense in the first round. The quick but strong lefty could even fall farther than that considering the depth of this defensive class and should be a value pickup for whichever club lands him.
Chris Fake, Close defense, Notre Dame
Fake’s stock has fallen a bit as he’s been exploited by quicker attackmen in recent seasons. But he remains a high floor player who could be a quality addition in the late rounds to provide depth and a capable shutdown presence against more physical dodgers.
Grayson Sallade, SSDM, Virginia
Sallade is a heady defender who has played tons of high level lacrosse in his five years at Virginia and could be a nice late round pick. He plays angles particularly well to make up for some slightly lacking quickness, and brings unquestionable leadership chops as a two-time captain in Charlottesville.