Maryland is home once again to professional lacrosse.
For the first time since 2020 when the Major League Lacrosse’s Chesapeake Bayhawks played games at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, the sport will set up shop in the state after Tuesday afternoon’s announcement that the Premier Lacrosse League will base its Whipsnakes franchise in Maryland.
The Maryland Whipsnakes, as the team will be rebranded, will operate out of the state next summer. A venue will be announced Jan. 1 when the PLL schedule is released.
Paul Rabil, a Gaithersburg native who co-founded the PLL with his brother Mike and starred as a three-time All-American first-team midfielder at Johns Hopkins, joked that the process of placing a club in Maryland was a no-brainer.
“It’s my home state,” he quipped. “So I was able to make a simple decision.”
Then Rabil turned serious. He cited Maryland’s appeal based on lacrosse being the state’s official team sport, sold-out crowds for PLL games at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field in 2019, 2021, 2022 and 2023, the popularity of the sport among youth and high school players in Baltimore, Annapolis, Washington and Northern Virginia, and the proliferation of NCAA Division I and III programs that sponsor lacrosse in the region.
“There was just too compelling of an argument to own the state and connect lacrosse players with fans in Baltimore through the DMV and all the way out to the Chesapeake Bay,” he said. “Pro lacrosse has not made that attempt yet, and we feel that between what our fans have been telling us and where they show up, that was the right choice for us.”
The Maryland Whipsnakes are one of eight PLL franchises that found homes on Tuesday. The others are the Boston Cannons, California Redwoods, Carolina Chaos, Denver Outlaws, New York Atlas, Philadelphia Waterdogs and Utah Archers.
The Whipsnakes were an easy choice for Maryland as 10 of the 28 players on the current roster played for the Terps. Three others played at Virginia and one played at Georgetown.
“That was perhaps one of the easier team fits that we had based on the market,” Rabil said. “I would say the familiar cast from [goalkeeper] Kyle Bernlohr to [long-stick midfielder] Mike Ehrhardt to [attackman] Matt Rambo to [midfielder] Mike Chanenchuk to [defenseman] Bryce Young, they’re all ecstatic about the prospect of almost linking back to their alma mater. And I think a lot of pros in any sport would love to do that in a way because you’ve worked so hard for four years to win a national championship with a fan base and a larger alum community, and to be able to have a homecoming so to speak is especially exciting.”
In its first five years since launching in 2019, the PLL had employed a touring model in which the league’s six teams — and then seven when the Waterdogs were added for 2020 and then eight when the Cannons were added for 2021 — visited 12 locations for 10 regular-season weekends, one all-star weekend and three playoff weekends from June to September.
In July, the PLL announced it was altering its tour-based model to one in which each team will host the rest of the league and play two games on its home field in front of its home fans. Teams will continue to travel to other teams’ home sites or neutral venues, but the plan is for the players, coaches and staff to plant their roots in their home markets.
“It’s the biggest moment in our league history — perhaps some could say second to our launch,” Rabil said. “Something that I think about is over the last five years, what got us here will get us there. We want to build the next MLS, the next UFC in America, the relevance that [Formula 1] has had over the last few years, and there’s a lot of effort and resources and investment that is going into that. Our first stage of getting there was to roll out an incredible lacrosse product for lacrosse fans, and lacrosse fans know who the stars are because they watched them in college. There’s 100 million casual sports fans in the U.S., many of whom haven’t watched lacrosse before, and so they don’t know who the star players of lacrosse are. The next best path is to form an allegiance with a team based on where they are. That to me is what is an especially exciting addition to building real connection to communities around the country.”
Rabil said there is some consideration to increasing the number of games each team will play at home, but that is a conversation for the future. He said the current priority is establishing the PLL’s impact in their new homes and attracting new audiences, especially for the Whipsnakes, who he noted are the only professional team to adopt the state in its name.
“That ambition to link the fans and players of the state under one team is really exciting,” he said. “That type of challenge is one that we’re up for in bridging lacrosse in Baltimore and D.C. and Northern Virginia and Annapolis together and give them hopes and aspirations to continue to grow in their own skill sets and one day eventually play for the Whipsnakes.”