Photographs by Rene Schleicher
By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 9/5/21
Matt Rambo says playing professional lacrosse in Philly never gets old.
“It’s special because I get to spend a lot of time with my family after the game,” said the former La Salle great after helping the Whipsnakes defeat the Waterbugs, 14-10, today at Subaru Park in the Premier Lacrosse semifinals. “They are my biggest supporters, especially my mom, dad, grandmom and grandpop – they have been there since day 1.
“It (playing in Philly) has been treating me pretty well professionally so I want to keep it rolling.”
Rambo scored once and his linemate, Zed Williams, notched four goals while Jay Carlson added three and Brad Smith had two as the two-time defending champion Whipsnakes advanced to the final Sept. 17 at Washington DC’s Audi Field.
They will meet Chaos, a 15-9 winner over Atlas in the first semifinal at Subaru Park.
The Whipsnakes led, 7-5, at halftime and opened the lead to 10-6 after three period. Rambo spent much of the time dishing off as the potent Whipsnakes attack looked primed for a shot at a three-peat.
The Whipsnakes went just 5-4 in the regular season, but looked a like a team peaking against the top-seeded Waterdogs (6-3).
“We have a motto with the Whipsnakes that we want to play our best at the end of the year,” said Rambo, the 2017 Tewaaraton Award winner who led Maryland to a National championship. “And hopefully we play our best in two weekends.”
Rambo missed some time during the season – including the All-Star Game – with a broken hand. But he said it’s fully healed.
“I am 100 percent,” he said. “I am happy to be here fighting with them (his teammates) and happy to be with the squad
“I just think that been to so many championship games the two past years that people didn’t have pre game jitters. That helped us out today. Plus, we had a really good game plan, and we executed for the most part pretty well. I have to thank our defense and goalie for keeping us in there.”
Goalie Brian Phipps had 13 saves in goal for the Whipsnakes. while Joseph Nardella won 16 of 27 faceoffs. Defenseman Bryce Young (St. Augustine Prep), who played with Rambo on the title team at Maryland, anchored the defense with a groundball and a caused turnover.
For the Waterdogs, Kieran McArdle scored three goals and rookie Michael Sowers (Upper Dublin, Princeton/Duke) had a goal and two assists. On defense, Chris Sabia (Haverford School) had three groundballs and three caused turnovers.
“He’s awesome,” said Waterdogs coach Andy Copelan of Sowers. “I think everyone saw that. He’s so dynamic in front of the cage, behind the cage. We tried to get him out there every shift in the second half; we tried not to be too disruptive with the attack today and get him out there when we could.
“Michael Sowers has a huge professional career in front of him.”
Rambo, who said he got comped 200 tickets and has always been the fan favorite, still enjoys hearing the cheers when he is introduced.
“I hear that (fans cheer when my name is called), it gives me little chills,” he said. “I get to look up in the stands and see 100 of them. It’s pretty special; I am happy to be back here and more happy to spend more time with the team.”
The crowd was not announced, but some estimated it at at least 7,000. The PLL plays all over the country and picked Philly for the semifinals due to its overall lacrosse interest and central location. The league continues to have a major presence on TV and social media.
“I think it’s cool to see we’re growing the game throughout the country,” Rambo said. “Being able to grow the game from city to city is the main goal – and get this thing as big as possible.
“It’s great seeing the kids being all excited. They are putting us out here through social media (like) we’re rock stars. We are trying to give back as much as we can and give the kids the best possible experience.”
Rambo is playing or coaching the sport he loves all year long. He is a star for the hometown Philadelphia Wings and a USA Lacrosse National player in the indoor sport. He also coaches at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and does camps and trainings.
“The outdoor gets me in better shape for the indoor and indoor for outdoor,” he said. “And we have a long training camp for indoor so it’s not bad.
“It’s great to get to do what I do – doing camps, coaching high school with (head coach) Brian Dougherty. It’s pretty awesome to do this for a living. We’re fortunate.”
First Semifinal: Chaos 15, Atlas 9
Blaze Riorden made 17 saves, and Chaos held the Atlas to one goal in the second half, using a 9-1 surge to gain the victory
Dhane Smith had six points (3G, 3A), Josh Byrne had four goals and an assist and LSMs CJ Costabile and Troy Reh each hit 2-pointers for Chaos. Defensive midfielder Patrick Resch (La Salle) played a key role for the defense, and had a groundball.
Also Chase Fraser (Neumann), a rookie in the PLL, scored once and helped set up another for Chaos.
For Atlas, Dox Aitken (Haverford School) had two goals in the first-half run that helped his team gain an 8-5 lead. Aitken added four groundballs and a caused turnover.
On defense, Tucker Durkin (La Salle) had three groundballs and Jake Richard (Henderson) contributed a caused turnover and a groundball at defensive midfield.
“I thought he (Aitken) had two goals that were both great, one was cut lefty to get us started,” said Atlas coach Ben Rubeor. “We weren’t clicking early and I thought that was a big goal there.
“The kid’s clutch … the kid seems to like big moments, and I thought he played great. I thought he made some great plays in the middle of the field. I wish we could’ve gotten him a couple more looks at the cage out there today.”