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Four players with ties to Maryland enjoying Premier Lacrosse League championship: ‘It’s a very good feeling’

The rejects proved worthy.

Less than three years removed from its formation as an expansion club, the Waterdogs captured the Premier Lacrosse League championship on Sept. 18. Players such as midfielder Ryan Conrad said the victory validated their previous status as castoffs.

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“I don’t think anyone can overlook the fact that we’re technically — by being an expansion team — the rejects,” said Conrad, a Timonium native who graduated from Loyola Blakefield and Virginia. “That’s something that every one of us holds as a chip on our shoulders because of that. So to be able to come into the third year of existence of our team is something that I know we all hold in high regard in terms of being a big motivator for us.”

Added midfielder Connor Kelly, who graduated from Maryland: “We were guys that were written off. Guys like [midfielder] Steven DeNapoli, myself, [attackman] Kieran McArdle were left in the expansion draft, and it goes to show that this league is deep with talent.”

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The Waterdogs’ 11-9 victory over the Chaos in the Premier Lacrosse League championship game on Sept. 18 at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania, was bolstered by the presence of several players with connections to Maryland, including former Terps midfielder Connor Kelly, center.

Kelly and Conrad were two of four players with ties to Maryland who contributed to the Waterdogs’ 11-9 win against the Chaos at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania. Attackman Ryan Brown, a Sykesville resident who graduated from Calvert Hall and Johns Hopkins, and midfielder Jake Higgins, a Hampstead native who graduated from Gerstell and Maryland, also played roles in the Waterdogs’ title run in the PLL’s fourth year of competition.

Kelly led the league in 2-point goals (four) and ranked 14th in points (26). Conrad racked up 18 points on 10 1-point goals and eight assists, while Brown added 11 points on nine 1-point goals and one 2-point goal. Higgins added faceoff duty to his usual role as a short-stick defensive midfielder and ranked seventh in the league in draws at 47% (69 of 147) and scooped up 28 ground balls.

“It’s a very good feeling,” said Brown, who added the PLL crown to ones he earned with the Cardinals (Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference in 2012), the Blue Jays (Big Ten Tournament in 2015), and Team USA (World Lacrosse Championship in 2018). “You just feel accomplished.”

Capturing this season’s crown was a welcomed departure from last year’s playoffs. Despite earning the No. 1 seed and coveted bye in the quarterfinals, the Waterdogs found themselves on the short end of a 14-10 setback to the two-time reigning champion Whipsnakes.

“We weren’t that prepared coming into the game against the Whipsnakes last year, and I think what we learned from that was the opportunity to play in the playoffs is something that you can’t take for granted,” Conrad said. “You need to do absolutely everything that you can to prepare going into that game, and we took that approach into the quarterfinals, we took that approach into the semifinals, and then we took that approach into the championship game against the Chaos, and I think it paid dividends for us.”

Former Maryland standout Connor Kelly led the Premier Lacrosse League in 2-point goals (four) and ranked 14th in points (26) while leading the Waterdogs to the championship on Sept. 18 at Subaru Park in Chester, Pennsylvania.

The 2022 season did not open well as the Waterdogs dropped their first three games. An 18-9 rout over the Chaos on June 24 at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field in Baltimore proved to be a dramatic turning point.

“It was gut-check time,” Kelly said. “We were looking at everybody and thinking, ‘We have the lineup, we have the skill, we just need to start clicking.’ It seemed to be an individual game for the first three games where we beat ourselves up. So after losing that third one and going down to Baltimore and getting that ‘W’ against the Chaos, we were kind of like, ‘Hey, we put a beating on them, and we can do this.’”

As the No. 5 seed in the playoffs, the Waterdogs defeated the No. 4 seed Atlas, 19-14, in the quarterfinals, turned the tables on the top-seeded Whipsnakes, 11-10, and then finished off the Chaos for the title. Conrad noted that coach Andy Copelan pointedly reminded the players of how their former clubs felt about them when they were left unprotected for the expansion draft.

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“Now that we’re in our third year, I’ve heard it mentioned less and less,” Conrad said. “But going into the playoffs, our coach mentioned it again, and I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but I think we always have that in the back of our minds without really needing it and without needing it to be said. I think Cope saying that before one of the games was a big motivator for us in general, but I think we hold onto that no matter what.”

The Waterdogs’ march to the crown was especially meaningful for Brown, who sat out several games until the final because of a pair of concussions.

“This is my seventh or eighth postseason [in the PLL and Major League Lacrosse], and I hadn’t won yet,” he said. “We lost last year, which was a bum rap after being the No. 1 seed. And then I come back this year and get two concussions going into the end of the year. So I miss four or five games because I’m out, and I’m able to come back for this last one, and to win was pretty special.”

The end of the 2022 season presents the players with a chance to return to their non-lacrosse lives. Conrad, 25, is working for a private equity firm in New York City, and Kelly, 27, is an assistant boys lacrosse coach at Darien High School in Connecticut and has been running lacrosse clinics.

For Brown, 28, the offseason is an opportunity to coach his club team and the boys lacrosse squad at Highland Park High School in Texas and prepare for his upcoming wedding in November to Sloane Serpe, a three-time All-American first-team defender at North Carolina. He is also mulling his future.

“Would I love to fly all across the country to play lacrosse? Oh yeah, I would do that until I was 40,” he said. “But I’m going to have a wife and kids. ... You never know when your last game is going to be your last. So being able to win this one toward the end of my career makes it a little bit extra special.”


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