Our series titled My Five Best on MLL Press Box collects lists written by MLL players ranking five items of their choosing. This edition of My Five Best was composed by the man responsible for the most points ever in a single MLL season, Rob Pannell. The Cornell grad and former Tewaaraton winner ranks the five toughest defenders he's ever faced, and even includes a defenseman/goalie combination that has haunted him since college.
Major League Lacrosse thrives on marquee matchups. At the younger and even college level, these matchups have been lost due to a change in strategy. There is a specialization of approach when it comes to game planning, the short-stick matchups, the positioning of players behind the crease. You used to have a playmaker and you trusted him to make the play and create offense.
I am always looking for that attackman when I am watching college lacrosse – that guy the announcers are highlighting. I want to see him attack with the ball.
When you look at sports, it makes it fun and exciting for people to go to the games and watch these marquee matchups. That’s what people gravitate towards. MLL still has those matchups.
I used to watch these matchups when I was growing up. I would see guys like the Powell brothers or Conor Gill, who was my all-time favorite growing up.
These guys would get the ball and be counted on to make a play with no hesitation, and the guys who covered them were just as trusted. People knew who to watch.
As far as my career goes, there are certain guys that I go up against – it could be one time and he could be the best guy to ever cover you, or there’s the guy you go against every day and he challenges you and that’s the matchup.
These are the five guys that are the best and worst things to happen to me as a player:
Matt Jankow (Smithtown High School West)
Matt was someone who I played with in high school and he went on to play at the University of Vermont. He was truly the first defenseman who I consistently battled.
We competed against each other every practice and he is one of the reasons I was able to develop as a player. I progressed pretty late and from the start of my junior year to the end of my senior year of high school, he helped make me so much better in that time.
He was a little on the smaller side, but his speed and agility was incomparable. He was an incredible athlete and his consistent challenge really upped my level of play. We went after each other each and every day.
Bill Henderson (Army)
Just when you thought you had him beat, he managed to get a stick in there and get you with his range.
I only played against him once a year, but for the two years that we overlapped in college, Bill Henderson was one of the hardest guys I played against. He is an unbelievable defenseman.
Army vs. Cornell is a great rivalry game and for my first two years there, we played them three times. Bill was standing next to me all three of those times. Going up against a man of his size and ability in my second game of college was eye-opening for me.
Chad Wiedmaier & Tyler Fiorito (Princeton, Boston Cannons)
Chad and I entered the Ivy League together freshman year. The two of us were one of those marquee matchups, but with Tyler behind him in goal it was a very unique dynamic.
Those two made my time playing against them much more difficult. They are as great of a goalie-defense combo as I have ever played against. If I got by Chad, I would still have to get by Tyler. I was always excited to go against them, but they are always one of the more difficult matchups I face.
We played each other two times my freshman year, twice my sophomore year, and then once my junior year – I was consistently facing them in college. Now that they’re together playing for the Cannons, I am still facing them consistently. I have been seeing that duo for a long time and it hasn’t gotten any easier…and I don’t expect it to.
Steve Holmes & Joe Fletcher (New York Lizards)
Steve is one of the guys who I matchup with at practice for the Lizards and he is as good as it gets. Between his stick checks, toughness, speed and agility, he is a deadly combo.
It’s a matchup that I don’t look forward to in practice. I always wake up sore the next day.
Joe is also someone who I butt heads with at practice. He is such a unique defender and has great range. Whenever we meet it’s a challenge, and he is an extreme competitor. He makes me perform to the best of my abilities.
Although he doesn’t necessarily look the part of one of the best defenders I have faced, he plays it as well as anyone. I’m definitely thankful for those matchups when it comes to games, but it’s not something I’m looking forward to at practice.
Guys like Steve and Joe are extremely important to my development as a player. It was guys like Max Feely and Jason Noble at Cornell that were just as important as the two guys I went up against the most. When playing against great players on a daily basis, you hold each other to a higher standard and keep each other accountable. I am thankful for guys like this!
Tucker Durkin (Florida Launch)
Tucker is the ultimate combination of brute strength and power, but he also combines that with great footwork and agility.
He is a lethal defenseman and the last guy I want to see standing across from me in a game. He is always a challenge to go against, but we both have fun with it. He is someone who I consistently see throughout the MLL season and is a great talent on the field, but is also one of the greatest people off of it. The mornings after a game against Tucker are always ones I do not look forward to!
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