Although the Rochester Knighthawks haven’t been in action for quite some time now, the world of lacrosse has started back up in other leagues across the country, which has enabled a lot of our own players to get back to the game that they love.
Right now, we’re specifically speaking of the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL), which is home to eight different franchises, including the Archers, Atlas, Cannons, Chaos, Chrome, Redwoods, Waterdogs and Whipsnakes. Unlike most modern sports leagues, the PLL is unique in the way that they set up their season in which their teams are not solely based in one city or state. They instead use a touring model across North America, meaning each team has different games in different cities each weekend of the season, which in turn has contributed to the overall growth of the game.
This tour-like setup is one of the many reasons why Knighthawks transition player Ryland Rees has enjoyed his second season in the league as much as he has, especially considering how different his first year was in the league.
“It’s a lot different,” said Rees, Rochester’s second overall pick in the 2019 NLL Entry Draft. “Last year in the bubble there were no fans and it was a two-and-a-half-week tournament and then it was over. This year, obviously, it’s a lot different with it being a tour-based league and being in different cities each weekend. It’s a lot of travel, too, but it’s been really enjoyable.”
WATCH: RYLAND REES WITH SUZIE COOL
Rees is the lone long-stick midfielder on the Waterdogs Lacrosse Club roster, and he’s had himself quite the year on top of his team being the number one seed in the league heading into the PLL playoffs with a 6-3 overall record.
Appearing in all nine regular-season matchups for the Waterdogs, Rees has accumulated six points, all on two-point goals, racked up seven caused turnovers and 30 groundballs. Arguably, his best game of the season came in the first outing of the year for the Waterdogs when Rees notched one of those two-point markers, had one caused turnover and racked up eight groundballs to boot.
Rees is the first to admit that last year was a struggle in terms of finding team chemistry within the PLL bubble on top of being a new expansion franchise, so having a regular season to grow as a team has been one of the highlights of the 2021 PLL season.
“Being an expansion team last year in the bubble, we kind of didn’t have enough time to build chemistry,” said Rees, who was named to the NLL All-Rookie Team following the 2019-20 campaign. “This year we got a lot of new faces through drafts and through trades, so once we found our core five defensemen and gave the offense some time to build that chemistry on and off the field, we kind of just started to blend.”
Blending is exactly what the Waterdogs did as they ended the regular season atop the league with a 6-3 record, a 13-goal differential, with 111 scores for (95 1G + 8 2G) and winning 52% of their faceoffs (118-226). With all their hard work a combined chemistry, the Waterdogs were the number one seed in the league heading into the PLL playoffs, which earned them a bye week during the quarterfinal round held Aug. 21-22.
This little bit of extra time off is exactly what Rees says will help give him and his squad a leg up on the Whipsnakes come Sunday afternoon in the PLL semifinals.
“We’ve had a lot of time off. I think this will be two-straight bye weeks, so having three weeks off from lacrosse is a lot of time to prepare, to get our bodies right, watch our film and get ready to be back to playing Waterdogs lacrosse.”
Prior to the Waterdogs and the Whipsnakes closing out the PLL semifinal action, the Atlas Lacrosse Club and the Chaos Lacrosse Club will faceoff at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday morning. The Waterdogs will then be squaring off against the Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club Sunday afternoon in the semifinals at 1:30 p.m. ET at Subaru Park in Philadelphia, Penn. Both PLL semifinal matchups can be found on NBC Sports Network.
If the Chaos come out victorious in the 11 a.m. matchup and the Waterdogs defeat the Whipsnakes, there’s a chance to see some Knighthawks go head-to-head in the championship game on Sept. 19 at Audi Field in Washington, DC. Veteran defenseman Dan Coates and rookie forward Ryan Smith will be battling it out on Sunday morning as well in hope of meeting Rees in that final face-off.