More than anywhere else on the field, playing defense is a team effort. Whether you’re an on-ball defender sending your matchup to the right area of the field, a crease defender timing his slide perfectly, or a backside defender communicating a recovery, a defense has to be in sync at all times. The nominees for the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year not only do their job within a defense, but communicate effectively and efficiently in order for their whole unit to do their job to the best of their ability. Tucker Durkin (Florida Launch), Joel White (Rochester Rattlers), and Matt McMahon (Ohio Machine) are the deserving nominees the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year.
Tucker Durkin, D, Florida Launch
When you think of a player being the heart and soul of his team, you think of a hard-working, level-headed, leader who unites his team in pursuit of a common goal. For the Launch, that man is Tucker Durkin. The five-year veteran out of Johns Hopkins has dominated the defensive end ever since his rookie year with the Hamilton Nationals, earning four straight All-MLL honors (and hoping for his fifth in 2017).
This season Durkin was named captain of a young, up-and-coming squad that would surprise people across the league. He led a defense, along with returning goalie Austin Kaut, which would excel throughout the 2017 season. Durkin made the biggest impact by consistently guarding the opposing team’s top attackman. Durkin’s individual statistics won’t jump off the page at you but as a team, the Launch rely on him to be a dependable one-on-one defender. The Launch’s defense is the best in the league versus opponent’s dodges from X and Durkin is a big reason why. Opponents score only 12.8 points per 45 possessions when they initiate offense from behind and only score on 22.5% of unassisted shots created from a dodge from X. Teams find trouble even when they try to feed from X, a staple in a majority of MLL offenses. Florida’s opponents’ shot only 21.4% off catch-and-shoot opportunities while the league average is 32.7%.
Joel White, LSM, Rochester Rattlers
Joel White is one of the most electric players with a long pole in the MLL. He clears and handles the ball with the ease of a short stick while also snagging ground balls away from the opponent like he has a magnet on the end of his stick. As a long stick midfielder, White isn’t on the field for every defensive possession like the other two nominees for this award but he does get more opportunities to have the ball in his stick and push transition. Although he had a down year on the offensive end, he still had four goals and one assist while the other two nominees had zero points. Throughout his career he has averaged over seven points per year and he has also averaged over 11 games played per season.
This year, White played in only eight games and the Rattlers felt his absence. Opponents averaged fewer goals per game and lost more face-offs when he was in the lineup. Rochester’s midfield defense, led by Joel White, was dominant this season. Opponents averaged 13.21 points per 45 possessions (league average is 14.92) on possessions initiated from up top. White is an agile defender who is quick to get on a dodger’s gloves while maneuvering through screens. Off ball, he always has his stick up in passing lanes where he caused 10 turnovers this season.
White’s leadership and playmaking ability played a big role in the Rattler’s impressive three-game winning streak to put them into the playoffs. Along with an explosive offense led by Offensive Player of the Year nominee Jordan Wolf and a natural leader in cage with Brine Goalie of the Year nominee John Galloway, Joel White and the Rattlers will continue working toward being Steinfeld Cup champions.
Matt McMahon, D, Ohio Machine
Yes, it’s a way of life pic.twitter.com/21AvHA2wg0
— Matt McMahon (@Matt_McMahon_11) August 16, 2017
This type of mindset is what brings your defense to be a top three defense in the league for two straight years. Selflessness and togetherness are two traits that McMahon emulates and it is contagious around the team.
In 2017, the Machine were great in settled six-on-six defense, giving up 12.63 points per 45 possessions, but they were dominant in transition, only surrendering 12.60 points per 45 possessions. When have we ever seen a team that is better against a fast break than against a settled six-on-six offense?!
Matt McMahon is a huge reason why this defense is so effective. While leading the league in caused turnovers and being third in the league in rebounds, McMahon does so much more for the Machine defense than statistics can tell you. As a close defender, McMahon can see the whole field and excels at communicating recoveries. Ohio is a team that relies heavily on supporting the on-ball defender with a slide and McMahon plays a vital role in getting that original on-ball defender to recover back to the open man. Watch him, #11, direct slides, recoveries, and switches with ease.
While Bernlohr might be the engine that makes the Ohio defense go, McMahon is the rudder that sends it in the right direction. I believe Matt McMahon will win the Warrior Defensive Player of the Year award. Although Tucker Durkin dominates his one-on-one matchup and Joel White is a vacuum cleaner in the middle of the field, I believe McMahon’s consistency, reliability, and tenacity will win him this year’s award.