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PLL Year One: Johns Hopkins Alum and Redwoods Midfielder Kyle Harrison Looks Back
Up until its highly anticipated kick-off in June, the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) was generating tons of buzz across the sports world with one focus in mind — creating an opportunity for the nation’s best lacrosse players to do what they do best.
The league’s first season proved to be a big step forward for lacrosse, elevating the game in a bigger way — and on a bigger stage — than ever before. Stadiums were sold out, viewership expectations were shattered and doors were opened that will continue to grow the sport for a new era.
We sat down with legendary midfielder and PLL leader Kyle Harrison — who’s seen his fair share of attempts at a pro league — to get his take on the league’s inaugural season and where we go from here.
Now that you've had a few weeks to process and reflect on the season, where's your head at?
It was an incredible season without a doubt! I think no different than any other season — once it's over, you take a few weeks to reflect on the positives, the negatives, target the improvement areas and get back to work. We came up short with the Redwoods, but we've got a young team and a ton of talent, so we're excited to take another run at it in 2020.
What were some of the season's biggest surprises?
There were a handful of surprises throughout the season, but for me I think the most interesting surprise was how evenly matched all the teams were. Most games came down to one goal or went into overtime, and from a fan’s perspective, that's as good as it gets. The shortened field and shortened shot clock also sped up the game, which I think unlocked new strategies and skill sets from guys we hadn't seen before.
In what ways did this first season represent a major step forward for the sport? How do we continue to build on the foundation of season one to create a better future for all lacrosse players?
From the PLL content team to how NBC covered the weekend games, we showed the sport in a way it hasn't really been seen before. Players are mic'd up on the field, so you get to hear the communication going on between teammates and with the other team. We're hearing from them in real time what they're seeing on the field as the plays are happening.
Did you have any "wow" moments this season when you realized "We're really doing this?”
I had a few of those moments, but the biggest one was walking onto the field in Boston for week one. I'd been working on this project with Paul, Mike and the team for so long — to finally be walking on the field to play a game was so surreal.
Apart from giving players the opportunity to play professional ball at the highest level, what are some of the other ways the PLL has already impacted the sport?
I could talk for hours on this topic, but I'll try and be brief. For me, what I've seen as I've traveled the country the last few months is an aspiration from younger players to get to the PLL. I hear "Roll Woods" when I walk through the grocery store or airport. My nephew and his friends talk about playing in the PLL one day, instead of the NBA/NFL like my generation. There's real energy around professional lacrosse and wanting to get to this level that I've never felt before. Through our PLL Assists arm of the business and our partnership with US Lacrosse, we're connecting with a number of organizations that focus on growing the sport in underserved areas throughout the country — and that’s the kind of momentum we need to really make a difference.
What made the Redwoods team so special for you?
It all comes back to our leadership — Coach Nat and his staff. They were all selfless, energetic and competitive leaders, which trickled down to the rest of us. We had the right mix of veterans, young guys and rookies — and in the end, we had a chance to win it all. We'll be back, but our 2019 group was really special.
Playing in the championship game for the inaugural season—how did that feel?
It would have felt a lot better if we won, that's for sure! But to reach the championship in year one, especially how we got there, made it a special season. We lost a few big ones mid-season and had to win by more than seven in Albany (which is damn near impossible in this league). Then, as the lowest seed, we had to win two more games to get to the championship. While it was great to get there, we don't play to get there. We play to win. But what put it all back in perspective was getting to run around on the field with my 4-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son after the game. They didn't know whether we won or lost — they were just excited to be on the field! We'll definitely be back.
What are you looking forward to heading into next season?
I’m just excited to get our group back together. With the season ending the way it did and with the amount of energy and effort we put in, you just want to get back to it and right the ship. So for us, it's about taking the off-season to improve as individuals and come back to training camp next May ready to make another run at the Cup.
With a solid debut under their belts, the PLL players are ready as ever to get back on the field. Now we look ahead to the 2020 season, which was recently announced will welcome a seventh team to the league.
Until then, we’re counting down the days until April’s second annual collegiate draft, boasting one of the most talented senior classes we’ve seen in the last decade.