No. 3 Powell's latest goal another first for Syracuse

Star, Orangemen work to remedy slow start

March 15, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

It's Lacrosse Legends Day in Syracuse, where the visitors include top-ranked Johns Hopkins and more than 100 former players who led the Orangemen to eight NCAA titles over the past two decades.

Not all of the luminaries at the Carrier Dome will be in civilian clothing.

Syracuse's latest national championship came courtesy of Michael Powell, whose clutch play as a 19-year-old sophomore at the 2002 final four turned the selection of the best player in college lacrosse into a formality.

Two Orangemen were twice recognized as the nation's best, but Powell is in position to eclipse both his big brother, Casey, and the great Gary Gait. Never mind that the middle leg of what could turn into a three-year run as holder of the Tewaaraton Trophy got off to a bumpy start. Powells and Syracuse typically save their best for May.

Syracuse, which is No. 4 in The Sun/Channel 2 rankings, has two easy wins, but Powell was held to two assists in a 16-15 loss to Virginia March 1. A shoulder injury has delayed the return of attack mate Liam Banks from a year off, and Powell himself had to shake off some rust after missing fall practice because of academics.

"I got caught up in lacrosse a little more than I should have," Powell said. "I have got to realize, which I do now, to be a good lacrosse player you have to be a good student."

The single-mindedness that Powell once practiced was evident last summer in Australia, where his U.S. teammates at the world championships included several Hopkins players.

"Bobby Benson and Adam Doneger got to know him pretty well," Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. "They can't reiterate often enough how he always had a stick in his hand. That's a sign that the young man loves lacrosse. He's a lacrosse rat. Besides tremendous quickness and speed, he also thinks on his feet quickly. He's got a great sense for the game."

Powell wears No. 22, traditionally assigned to Orange offensive stars. Listed at 5-10 and 165, he seems slighter. With a demeanor as cool as his blue eyes, he's doing what comes naturally.

Carthage didn't have a high school team until Casey Powell was a freshman in 1991, but what Michael describes "as a small hick town in upstate New York" caught up in a hurry and produced the first family of lacrosse. The Syracuse record for career points, 287, was set by Casey in 1998. It was equaled two years later by another Powell brother, Ryan.

"Casey's the biggest and strongest, Ryan's the toughest competitor," Powell said of his older brothers, who teamed indoors this winter in Rochester. "I try to combine Casey's quickness in going to the goal and Ryan's vision. When I go to the goal, I want to pass, because it's more special, setting other people up. That's the Ryan in me. At the same time, when the game's on the line, I want the ball. That's Casey's game."

Four years separate Ryan and Mike, who is inspired more by a contemporary than family.

Powell and Gilman's Ryan Boyle were two of the nation's best high school attackmen in 2000. Two years ago, Boyle helped Princeton beat Syracuse in the NCAA final. The title-game matchup was the same last year, when Powell and the Orangemen ruled.

"If I'm down on myself in practice," Powell said. "I'll stop and say, `What do you think Ryan Boyle is doing at Princeton?' He probably does the same thing. We've been battling since we were seniors in high school. Then, it was to get on the cover of the recruiting issue of Inside Lacrosse. He got it. Now it's who can win more national championships. I think Ryan is a better player. He's a smarter player who makes better decisions."

No one chose more wisely last May than Powell, who matched his career high with four assists in an NCAA quarterfinal win over Duke, had two goals and an assist in the semifinals against Virginia and was brilliant in the title game against Princeton. He had four goals and three assists -- one point shy of his career high -- and figured in nine of Syracuse's 13 goals.

"I don't get too much credit for it, but riding is my favorite part of the game," Powell said. "It's my time to pay back the defensemen a bit. It gets sloppy when they're passing it around with those big sticks, and it's an opportunity to get easy goals. The last two years, we've been the best riding attack unit in the country. I take pride in that."

Catching up

Junior attackman Michael Powell is on pace to pass his brothers, Casey and Ryan, who share the Syracuse record for career points, 287.

Year G A Pts. Avg.

2001 30 40 70 4.4

2002 42 42 84 4.9

2003 6 5 11 3.7

Totals 78 87 165 4.6

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