Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Partners In Lax

The binder for the 2001 men's lacrosse season sits on a shelf here at TigerBlog HQ. After spending much of Monday afternoon speaking with Ryan Boyle and Matt Striebel, TB broke out the binder of that season to look up one fact – and came away wondering why TB had gotten it wrong all those years ago.

Boyle's arrival at Princeton moved Striebel from attack to midfield, a fact that wasn't represented in the starting lineup listed in the game notes in the binder in any of the games that season until the last, which just happened to be the NCAA championship game against Syracuse, won by Princeton 10-9 in overtime.

The starters on attack for the opener are listed as Striebel, B.J. Prager and Sean Hartofilis. Boyle isn't listed as a starter until Game 3, though he started every game. Hartofilis is listed as a midfielder as Prager, Striebel and Boyle are listed as the starters on attack for much of the year.

TigerBlog has no idea why it is like this, as the attack unit for every game was Boyle, Hartofilis and Prager. By season's end, Striebel was a first-team All-Ivy midfielder.

Anyway, the reality is that Boyle moved Striebel out of the attack position he had played for his first three years – and the result has been a partnership between two Princeton athletes unlike any other TigerBlog can think of or remember.

All of this came to the forefront Monday, when Striebel and Boyle were named to the 23-member U.S. team for the 2010 lacrosse World Championships.

As an aside, the 2010 championships will be held in Manchester, England. The host team is one that has played Princeton three times in the last 16 months, and the ties between the English and Princeton are pretty strong right now. Were it not for the whole being American thing, TigerBlog would be rooting for England.

Boyle and Striebel won that national title together at Princeton in 2001, their only year as Tiger teammates. Back then, they "barely knew each other," as Boyle said. Since then? They've more than made up for lost time.

The two have gone on to win three championships in Major League Lacrosse as teammates with the Philadelphia Barrage (who no longer exists). They were also teammates in 2002 on the U.S. team that won the World Championship and in 2006, when the U.S. was stunned by Canada in the final. The two, along with Kevin Cassese (Duke alum and current Lehigh head coach), are the only three players to be on each of the last three U.S. national teams.

TigerBlog can't think of another pair of Princeton teammates who have won the championship together in college, professionally and internationally. They've played together all over the world, in Perth, Australia, for the 2002 championships, in Ontario in 2006 and now in England next year.

Beyond that, they also work together with Trilogy Lacrosse, which promotes youth lacrosse and general physical fitness throughout the country.

They're an interesting partnership, Striebel and Boyle. They're somewhat different, with Boyle the quiet, understated, soft-spoken one and Striebel the one who instantly lets you know that he's in the room. Or, as was the case Monday, on the phone, as when Boyle politely said "how are you?" and Striebel blasted "you want some quotes about being an old man and still playing?"

They are high on the list of TigerBlog favorites. Boyle came to Princeton with unbelievable hype and then spent four years exceeding it, beginning with his first game freshman year in which he had four assists against Johns Hopkins and culminating with the second-to-last game senior year, when he carried Princeton past Maryland into the 2004 Final Four in what remains the best clutch performance TB has seen from a Princeton athlete.

As for Striebel, he was a soccer/lacrosse player who played in the NCAA tournament in both. He was part of the great Princeton lacrosse Class of 2001, one that came in on top and went out on top. For someone who has become one of the best midfielders in the world for the last few years, he was not a dominant player at Princeton. In fact, it wasn't until after he became an assistant coach with the Tigers for a year that he really began to emerge professionally and internationally.

Boyle, one of the greatest lacrosse quarterbacks of all time, is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer one day. Striebel has played himself into a borderline one since he left Princeton.

Striebel oozes personality, whether it's playing lacrosse or lunchtime basketball in Jadwin or working with kids. Mention his name to anyone who knows him, and the first reaction is usually a laugh.

Boyle oozes charisma, a slightly different commodity. In fact, TigerBlog puts Boyle up there with football's Keith Elias as the two most charismatic athletes he's met at Princeton.

Together, they have built quite a legacy. Individually, their accomplishments are tremendous; when coupled with the fact that they have done it largely on the same teams the whole time, it's even more extraordinary.

TigerBlog Jr. plays with his Twist team in tournaments that often feature teams from Trilogy. At one tournament a year ago, TigerBlog saw a Matt Striebel jersey for sale in the merchandise tent and couldn't help but think how much of a star to the lacrosse kids he has become.

And then there's Boyle. Every time anyone sees a Trilogy team, the kids always point to the other coach and say: "That's Ryan Boyle." When TigerBlog points out that Trilogy has many teams and that this coach isn't Ryan Boyle, he's inevitably asked how he knows and then is hit with the same comment, always uttered with awe: "You know Ryan Boyle?"

Yes, he knows Bolye - and Striebel. He's seen them develop up close as lacrosse players and followed their careers ever since, including Monday, when they were named again to the U.S. team. They are unique in Princeton history, and they are great ambassadors for the University and the sport.

Partners in lax, one might say.

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