Major League Lacrosse has handed out the Most Valuable Player award every year since its inception in 2001. It’s been won by legendary players like Gary Gait, Ryan and Casey Powell, Jay Jalbert, and Mark Millon, as well as more recent icons like John Grant Jr., Paul Rabil, Tom Schreiber and Rob Pannell.
While there have been 19 recipients in 18 years (Gary Gait and Mark Millon were co-winners in 2005), no rookie (outside of Ryan Powell in 2001, the league’s inaugural season when all players were in their first season) has ever won the award.
In 2019, however, a pair of first-year pros from the Dallas Rattlers — goalie Sean Sconone and long-stick midfielder Craig Chick — are looking to make history. Both Sconone and Chick were among 10 players nominated for the award.
“It’s a huge honor,” Sconone said. “I can’t believe I’m up for it. There’s so many great players in this league like Rob Pannell and John Grant, Lyle Thompson. To be considered in the same category is a true honor. I never thought I’d be in this spot, but I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the Rattlers giving me a chance. The guys around me guided me through. I just jumped on board with them. They accepted me right away.”
MLL Director of Marketing Carrie Gamper said award candidates were selected based on statistics, rankings, weekly honors and “categorical performance,” as well as other considerations.
While history could be made, Sconone and Chick were caught by surprise with the nominations.
“When I got picked up from the airport someone mentioned something; I had to go on Twitter and Instagram real quick,” Chick said. “I was a little shocked. I don’t think I played that well this season. I was very appreciative. It’s an awesome feeling. There’s other Rattlers for nominations, and I’m hoping we can rack up some awards.”
“I found out through social media,” Sconone added. “Major League Lacrosse tagged me in a post. I saw that and was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s a pretty cool thing.’ I saw Craig’s name on there. I saw a lot of Rattlers guys on there.”
Replacing a core of players who left for the Premier Lacrosse League, Dallas played a lot of rookies. Sconone, Chick, Jake Pulver, Jake Seau, Lucas Wittenberg and Bradley Voigt all received significant playing time, as did second-year players like Chris Keating and Eli Salama, who did not appear in any games as rookies.
Without having other veterans to hide behind, the Rattlers rookies were front and center, which may have helped elevate them into the MVP conversation.
“We have a young team, save a couple returners,” Dallas coach Bill Warder said. “It’s not surprising to me those guys would be in the spotlight for us. We had young guys in the lineup right away. For us, from a rookie standpoint, you have Salama, Chick and Sean. Those three together have been amazing for us in different ways. Craig is a ground-ball takeaway guy. Eli is a transition leader. Sean has been incredible in goal.”
After four years at Lehigh and two USILA All-American selections, Chick, who set the NCAA record with 160 career caused turnovers, was selected in the second round of the MLL draft by the Rattlers. He stepped into a prominent position in the lineup from the beginning of the season and played in the MLL All-Star Game.
Through 15 weeks, Chick leads the team with 44 ground balls and is tied for fourth in the league with 19 caused turnovers.
“Craig is the best takeaway guy, turnover machine in the league right now and probably in pro lacrosse,” Warder said. “He’s a defender. He’s a ground-ball disruptor. He has super-high value.”
Sconone wasn’t as highly regarded in March, going undrafted. He was added to the Rattlers roster, however, and made an incredible impact.
Dallas’ season can be viewed in two parts: before Sconone and after Sconone.
The Rattlers infamously started the season with a seven-game losing streak. At the time, Christian Carson-Bannister was in goal, and while Warder heaped lots of praise on Carson-Banister as a goaltender in professional lacrosse, he decided to give Sconone a shot in a Week 8 midday contest against the Denver Outlaws.
Sconone caught fire and remained in that spot for the remainder of the season. He made 22 saves and helped hold the then-league leading Denver Outlaws to only eight goals.
Dallas would go on to win six straight games and reemerge in the playoff hunt before falling to the Atlanta Blaze 15-14 in Week 14. It was Dallas’ second consecutive one-goal loss.
“It was tough,” Warder said. “We lost the last two games, and we could easily be at 8-7. There’s not a guy in that locker room that doesn’t believe if you put us in the championship game, we wouldn’t win it. We’re playing incredible lacrosse. The league is balanced, but we’re playing incredible lacrosse. We lost two one-goal games, which knocked us out. After Atlanta, I said, ‘It doesn’t feel good. We ran out of season. We spotted the field seven games.’”
Sconone leads MLL in save percentage (54.75 percent) and is third among goalies with more than 20 minutes played in goals against average (11.90).
“What Sean brings is a tremendous amount of stability and quality of goaltending,” Warder said. “He’s been a tremendous leader, stopper, locker-room guy, awesome presence in the cage. It doesn’t surprise me. The baseball stat is wins above replacement. It’s hard to equate there’s someone who’s given us more wins than he has so far.”
While rookies have no history winning the MLL MVP award, there is also small precedent for long poles and goalies to win the award. Of the 19 MVP winners, only one has been on the defensive side of the ball: goalie Greg Cattrano in 2002.
In fact, only one other player — faceoff specialist Greg Gurenlian in 2015 — has won the award and not been an attackman or midfielder.
Sconone said it can be hard to notice how talented and vital the goalies are when the offensive stars are so good.
“These guys are professional lacrosse players and professional shooters,” he said. “They know how to shoot the ball. They know where to put the ball and keep a goalie on his toes by changing up his shot and stuff like that. These guys really know how to shoot the ball. They move the ball, get the goalie moving out of position, and then they fire the ball. They know goalies’ weaknesses, they watch film, and they shoot the ball to the guys’ weaknesses.”
Chick isn’t bothered by the lack of accolades, however.
“I just think defense is the behind-the-scenes type guys, at least to the outside world,” he said. “A lot of credit for the success of the team goes to the defense, but the offensive players are putting the ball in the back of the net. Goalies, defenders, LSMs, short-stick d-middies, they are the core of the team. Offense gets the love, though. It’s all good. We’re not a prideful bunch, us defensemen.”
In addition to voting by team coaches and team general managers, MLL has opened up voting of its league awards to the fans.
While Dallas may not have earned another trip to the playoffs, Sconone and Chick certainly turned heads and are looking forward to bright futures in the league.
“As the season went along, we got comfortable with each other,” Sconone said. “That comes from those other guys. Those guys helped me out in games, getting me some saves to get me going, and then the offense gets going.”
“I like to think I did a small part to win some games for the squad,” Chick added. “I feel I let them down a little bit not making the playoffs, but hopefully, we have time in the future to turn it around.”
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