Picking up from where his stellar rookie campaign left off, Lizards attack Rob Pannell is quickly emerging as one of the faces of Major League Lacrosse.
Pannell is third in MLL in points this season with 43, scoring 27 goals to go along with 16 assists, and last year's league Rookie of the Year is relishing his role as one of the sport's most visible figures.
"I love it," said Pannell, who starred at Cornell before making his MLL debut in 2013. "It comes with ups and downs but there are definitely more ups."
Pannell has earned a number of endorsement deals in his early career, including one which could see his face featured on a Wheaties box.
The Smithtown West graduate says he is willing to do "anything I can do to be an ambassador for the sport. A lot of people, a lot of young kids, look up to me and that's my favorite part."
Even with the newfound fame, Pannell says his focus is not on individual accolades but on winning a league title.
"My only goal is to win a championship," he said. "I've yet to win a championship at any level. We came close at Cornell, we came close in high school. I just want to win games."
The Lizards (6-4) already have won more games this season than they did last year, and in addition to Pannell, they have the talent to push for a league title. The team headed into the international break on a three-game winning streak, outscoring opponents by more than 5.6 goals per game during the run.
While the Lizards finished 4-10 last season, Pannell still excelled. In 10 games, he scored 25 goals and had 42 points, the ninth-highest points tally in the league.
In building off this success, he says "reading and adapting to the defense" is an area where he has improved in his second year. Pannell said he is comfortable playing either the role of playmaker or finisher, depending on how the opposing defense sets up.
Other adjustments he has made in year two include adapting to the areas professional lacrosse differs from the college game, such as the league's shot clock and its increased physicality.
Before the Lizards resume their pursuit of a title on July 19, Pannell and five of his teammates will be playing for the United States in the FIL World Championships in Denver. The United States opened the tournament with a 10-7 win over Canada Thursday night, with Pannell scoring two goals and adding an assist.
"It's unlike any lacrosse experience I've had," Pannell said of the World Championships. "I'm playing with of the best lacrosse players in the world, who are even better guys off the field."
Aside from a world championship with Team USA and an MLL title with the Lizards, Pannell also is looking to win the "Wheaties NEXT" competition and get voted onto the iconic box.
"It's a great contest," Pannell said. "What's cooler than being on the Wheaties box? Not only would it be great for me, but more importantly, it would be great for the sport of lacrosse."
Fans can vote for Pannell by visiting MapMyFitness.com/wheatiesnext or downloading the "Map My Fitness" app and registering for the challenge. Every time a participant logs a workout on Map My Fitness, it will count as a vote for his or her athlete of choice. Fans can go to http://www.wheaties.com/feature/next/ for more information.
Each of the five athletes involved also has selected a charity that will receive a donation based on the votes received. Pannell has teamed with Playworks, an organization geared toward ensuring kids live an active and healthy lifestyle.