Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Kip And Ryan

TigerBlog was walking towards the parking lot yesterday afternoon when he saw seniors Kip Orban and Will Rotatori, who were walking to Caldwell Field House for the first fall practice for the men's lacrosse team.

The first practice for the actual spring season won't be held on as nice a day, TigerBlog predicts. It'll be the middle of winter, after all.

This is the fall, officially now, for that matter. And yesterday felt fall-like, which meant basically perfect.

For Princeton, it was the first step down the road to the 2015 season, one that hopefully will continue well into May.

Princeton will be playing in the Play For Parkinson's event a week from Sunday, which would be Oct. 5, at Episcopal High School in Arlington, Va. The event is part of ProjectSpark, which is dedicated to the fight against Parkinson's.

The organization was started by Christian Cook and his sister Lauren, after their mother Diane was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2008. Christian, if you don't know, was a first-team All-America defenseman and member of three NCAA championship teams at Princeton before graduating in 1998.

TigerBlog first saw Cook play on Finney Field when he was a freshman backup and saw how fast he was. And tenacious. And ridiculously fast. He had "first-team All-America written" all over him.

Cook's event is now an annual part of Princeton fall lacrosse. The Tigers will play Loyola at 1 and Air Force at 3.

The 2014 Princeton season didn't go as well as the Tigers would have hoped, as the team went 7-6 and missed out on the Ivy League tournament. Again, it was close losses that doomed the Tigers, as they lost three one-goal Ivy games on the road. One goal. Maybe it was just bad luck?

TigerBlog thinks that Kip Orban is one of the most underrated players in Division I lacrosse.

Orban ended the 2014 season without so much as an honorable mention All-Ivy League selection, despite all of the following:
* becoming the first Princeton player since Peter Trombino in 2004 to have at least one goal in every game
* the longest (or second-longest, TB isn't 100% sure on this one) current streak in Division I of consecutive games with at least one goal; Orban enters 2015 with at least one in 26 straight games
* back-to-back seasons of at least 20 goals, something only five other Princeton midfielders in the last 25 years have done
* the ability to make plays like the one at the 1:15 mark HERE

Going back to the third point, Orban is one of six Princeton middies in the last 25 years to have back-to-back seasons with at least 20 goals. Of the other five, two were on his midfield line last year - Tom Schreiber and Jake Froccaro. The other three? Brad Dumont, Josh Sims and Lorne Smith.

Of the other five, Schreiber, Sims and Smith were all multiple time first-team All-America selections. Dumont was a second-team All-America.

Froccaro was at least second-team All-Ivy this past year. Orban? Nothing this year (though he was second-team All-Ivy a year earlier).

Anyway, why is TigerBlog talking lacrosse in September? Two reasons - first, it's always a good time to talk about lacrosse.

Second, Ryan Boyle announced his retirement from Major League Lacrosse a few days ago. Boyle finishes his career as the all-time leader in assists (by a wide margin) in MLL history, and he is third all-time in points.

In what is more telling about Boyle, he is second in MLL history in playoff points. He also won four league titles (three with the Philadelphia Barrage, one with the Boston Cannons) and added two World Championships with the U.S. national team.

Without question the lacrosse Hall of Fame awaits him.

Boyle is a 2004 Princeton grad. He was a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year. He ranks second all-time at Princeton with 233 career points and 162 career assists.

He assisted on the game-winning goal in overtime in Princeton's 2001 NCAA championship game win over Syracuse, and he had the game-winning goal against Loyola with four seconds left in the quarterfinals that year.

In all Boyle would play 11 NCAA tournament games and have 37 NCAA tournament points.

When TigerBlog thinks of Ryan Boyle, he thinks of someone who is tied for first, along with former football player Keith Elias, among charismatic athletes he's seen here. They both had natural cool even as teenagers, and they both immediately commanded all attention when they were in the room, without ever trying. People are just drawn to him, and the same was the case with Elias when he was here. Boyle and Elias, 1 and 1A in that respect.

Boyle speaks softly but always thoughtfully. It's part of why he's becoming such a great ESPN lacrosse broadcaster. There aren't many who know lacrosse better than he does.

He also came along at a time when the stars of lacrosse were first starting to be seriously marketed, in marketing that ran towards the celebration of the "great player as lax bro." Boyle never fit that mold, or at least that's how it always seemed to TB. While everyone else was the wild rock star of lacrosse, Boyle was his sport's Bob Dylan, the poetic genius who left everyone else is awe of his talent.

A few weeks ago, TigerBlog suggested that Boyle may have supplanted Bill Bradley as having the most successful post-Princeton athletic career by a male athlete. Now that playing career is over.

For everything Boyle accomplished on the field, the one moment that stands out the most was in the NCAA quarterfinals in 2004, his senior year. Princeton was playing Maryland at Virginia, in the nearly empty football stadium. The Tigers trailed 8-6 with two minutes to go, and then Boyle took over in what was without question the single best individual effort TB has ever seen from a Princeton lacrosse player (and maybe any athlete).

Boyle scored two goals in the final 1:55 - including the tying goal with 12 second left - and then assisted on Trombino's game-winner 1:42 into the overtime to give Princeton a 9-8 win over the Terps and a spot in the Final Four. Boyle did all that matched against Chris Passavia, a first-team All-America defenseman.

It's not just that he scored. He scored with Passavia all over him, and he scored when he was always more of a feeder. And then he did it again. And then, when the entire stadium figured he was going to do it a third time, he found Trombino wide open for the layup.

Those aren't performances that just happen. They come from the greatest of the great players, and that's what Ryan Boyle has always been for lacrosse, from his days here through the end of his professional career. 

TigerBlog was looking back at the story he wrote about the 2004 quarterfinal, and he was struck by this quote from Boyle:  "The thought that this might be the end of my career never entered my mind."

Eventually it did, a little more than 10 years later.

With nothing left to prove.

Ryan Boyle steps away from his days on the lacrosse field, secure in his place as one of the greatest who ever played the game. 

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