It may sound hyperbolic to say that fingers would’ve been on the panic button had the Georgia Swarm lost to the New England Black Wolves last weekend, but the Swarm surely would’ve been in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory.
In an East Division matchup, the Swarm and Black Wolves were heading in opposite directions – early-season bragging rights were also on the line. The Swarm were trying to prove that they hadn’t fallen off a cliff by and were hoping not to drop to 2-4 while the Black Wolves were making the case that their undefeated 4-0 stretch to start the year was no fluke.
Historically, the Swarm are not known for their prolific starts to the NLL season, but a 2-4 record would have handed them their worst six-game shot out of the gates since they were 1-5 in 2014.
The Swarm were already in uncharted territory heading into the match against the Black Wolves riding a three-game losing streak – they had not lost three or more regular-season games in a row since 2016.
Following a two-game win streak to start the year, many were saying that this Swarm team were a threat to be title contenders and were going to pose a similar threat to the league as they did during their NLL Champions Cup-winning season of 2017. But after their dominating show against the Philadelphia Wings in which the Swarm won 12-6 in their second game of the year, the team appeared to lose the mojo they had started their campaign with.
Subsequent losses to the Colorado Mammoth and Buffalo Bandits brought them back to .500 on the year. Then, facing the Expansion New York Riptide, the Swarm were met by a team that was more hungry for a win than they were and executed a few more plays than they did, flipping their season on its head.
The Swarm, ironically, had been stung more times than they would’ve expected or wished. And, even after a gritty and impressive winning-effort on the road in OT against a division rival, the Swarm, according to Assistant Coach Dan Ladouceur, were not satisfied with where they sat in the standings through one-third of the year.
“We’re not where we want to be,” Ladouceur said. “Realistically, we should be maybe sitting with one loss, definitely not where we are right now. We didn’t plan for this, so in that sense, it’s definitely been a disappointing start.”
Regardless of what the outcome was, facing the stiff competition of the Black Wolves was an important early-season test for the Swarm, and they delivered. The Black Wolves were in prime position up 10-7 to hold on to victory, but the Swarm didn’t flinch.
That Swarm team that you saw in that game, particularly during that fourth quarter comeback, was more like the team they wanted to be for the entire season.
The Swarm’s leading scorer Shayne Jackson believes that the team needs to play to its identity as a team. It’s what has brought them success in the past and last weekend. If they can do that with regularity, this team can go back to contending for a championship.
“I think it’s about finding our game,” Jackson said. “I think we’ve shown that our game is playing with speed, making smart decisions and playing for one another; I think we did that against New England. The three games before that, I think we showed signs of that, but not for a complete game. That’s our biggest challenge, to come out with intensity, don’t wait a quarter to try and turn it on because that doesn’t work.”
“We believe that we have a team that can win it all this year. It doesn’t matter if you feel it, though, if you’re not out there producing. It’s not going to work.”
In the record books, the win versus the Black Wolves will appear to be an insignificant early-season victory, but, if the team can build upon the successes of last week and surge towards being the team many expected them to be, they will be a serious threat.
And why not? This team still has many of the remaining pieces from its 2017 championship team. Ladouceur mentioned that while this may be true, having a similar roster from three years ago allows opposing teams to continue building their strategies against those players that they’re familiar with. Not only that, but when your own players are evolving and developing their play, coaching staffs need to change the schemes accordingly.
More important than any of their wins this season, Ladouceur stressed that learning from the first six games this year, taking the best aspects of each of those games and building a strategy around those successes will beget championship-worthy play. Waiting much longer could pose a serious threat to their playoff positioning or even their postseason fate entirely.
It appears they’ve understood that by following up that Black Wolves victory with another hard-fought, gritty win last night against the Wings. Yet, the Swarm still haven’t instilled fear into teams like they would’ve wished this season. With 12 weeks left in the year, the team needs to continue to build off the momentum they’ve built over their last two victories, says Ladouceur.
“We’re very aware to the fact that we had that stutter in the first-third of the season and created a bit of a hole for ourselves,” Ladouceur said. “We’re not exactly where we want to be going into the second-third of the season, but, we’ve made adjustments and we are where we are… Now that we’ve clawed back to .500, we’re ready to take steps forward. Looking back, we created a hole in the first-third and it’s time to make up some ground in the second-third.”