How ‘Sweet Lou’ became secret weapon for Waterdogs coaching staff 5/15/24

Photo courtesy of PLL

By Wyatt Miller | May 15, 2024

When Ben Rubeor stepped away from the PLL after the 2022 season, his assistant with the Atlas – Louie DeDonatis – wasn’t ready to follow suit. So, Rubeor connected the former Grand Canyon LSM with then-Waterdogs head coach Andy Copelan, and the bond was instantaneous.

“I had a 20-minute conversation with him right out of the gate and instantly connected with him,” Copelan said. “He’s super bright, he’s super thoughtful, he loves the sport of lacrosse, he loves the PLL, and we had a really easy conversation.”

DeDonatis landed his second assistant role in as many years, this time with the Waterdogs. That entailed “a little bit of everything,” Copelan said, with a particular focus on advanced stats and film study. Throughout the season, Copelan began to lean on him more and more. But there was one problem.

“To be honest with you, I had no idea how to pronounce his last name,” Copelan said. “It’s just as simple as that.”

And thus, “Sweet Lou” – sometimes shortened to “Sweetness” – was born, and the nicknames stuck. Copelan said that if someone polled the returning Waterdogs, most would call DeDonatis by one of those two names. For the record, here’s how it’s actually pronounced, courtesy of DeDonatis himself:

Copelan relied on DeDonatis to find trends and patterns that could give the Waterdogs an edge in specific matchups last season and in the Championship Series. Now, DeDonatis is officially an assistant coach on Bill Tierney’s staff, doing similar work with film and analytics to find specific advantages the Waterdogs can exploit.

In the 2023 Cash App Championship, he did precisely that for Ryan Conrad. After making the trip to Philadelphia, DeDonatis made Conrad aware that, in his career, he had the best shooting percentage of any Waterdogs player against Atlas goalie Brett Dobson. Conrad then scored a hat trick in the title game on 50% shooting. That wouldn’t have happened without DeDonatis’ insight.

“That’s just something that helped my confidence going into the championship game,” Conrad said. “50% of shooting is confidence when you’re releasing the ball. … I had never really taken a step back and thought about that, so that just gave me a ton of confidence.”

Earlier in the season, Copelan said DeDonatis was instrumental in managing the Waterdogs’ unique approach to the faceoff stripe without a specialist. He dove into the faceoff film and stats, analyzing different tactics they could take to succeed with the shortened shot clock.

“Louie and I spoke almost daily to the point where my wife would give me the stink eye occasionally, just like ‘Louie again?’ ” Copelan said.

And in the Championship Series, he was on the sideline managing the substitution box while also taking point on the defensive strategy. Managing personnel in-game is much more significant in the pros, Tierney has learned, and he was intrigued by DeDonatis’ expertise in that area.

Conrad said DeDonatis earned a lot of respect from Waterdogs players at the Championship Series by taking ownership of the substitution box, and they heeded his instructions.

“One of the most important things is having good control in the substitution box, so I’ve moved that up on my priority list, and this guy Lou jumped out at me,” Tierney said.

The bond between Copelan and DeDonatis grew quickly. They were on the same page more often than not, and Copelan raved about the way DeDonatis sees the game, making complicated concepts seem simple. But beyond that, he was driven and devoted to the team, despite not being on staff officially.

“He would be great at whatever it is he decided to do, but I think the sport of lacrosse is lucky to have him, frankly,” Copelan said. “Because he cares a great deal about the sport. You can’t get enough of the Louies in this thing, he is made of the right stuff.”

DeDonatis was equally complimentary of Copelan and was adamant about giving the former head coach his flowers.

“Coach Cope is the absolute best,” DeDonatis said. “We built a really great friendship very, very fast. I learned so much from him in such a short time.”

DeDonatis became deeply entrenched in the Waterdogs’ season. After meeting the players at training camp in Albany, he was on the team’s weekly Zoom calls, soaking up information and chiming in whenever necessary.

DeDonatis was the easy choice to join Copelan for the Championship Series, and he helped the Waterdogs reach the championship game by leading the tournament’s best defense. The ‘Dogs ranked first in scores against average and save rate while allowing 11 fewer twos (eight) than the next-closest team.

DeDonatis led defensive film meetings and created a strategy that worked wonders for the ‘Dogs, especially goalie Matt DeLuca, who gave him a postgame shoutout after saving 52% of shots in the second pool-play match.

“I felt comfortable,” DeLuca said. “And that’s all thanks to ‘Sweet Lou’ over there and the defense giving me the looks we wanted. We had a game plan set out, and we executed.”

That was DeDonatis’ job, even before the tournament: create a game plan and put each player in a position to execute that plan. In service of that, his statistical analysis was extensive, with information on where to shoot on certain goalies, where to pick up certain players defensively and more. So, when Tierney got the top job this offseason, Copelan and a slew of players gave glowing reviews of “Sweet Lou.”

Just like Copelan, Tierney had some trouble pronouncing DeDonatis’ last name. But he spoke very highly of his new assistant and the tactical skills he brings. His modern approach to the game will help Tierney adapt to the hyper-competitive professional landscape.