Ryan Boyle's hat trick against Canada helped the United States win the 2002 International Lacrosse Foundation World Championships, but it was shortly after the tournament that the former Gilman star realized he should expect the rest of the world to start catching up.
Traveling around Perth, Australia, where the last world event was held, Boyle learned that lacrosse had spread much farther than the Baltimore area where he grew up. Hanging out with Australian club players, Boyle saw backyards full of young players throwing a ball around and practicing.
"Seeing the development is really incredible," said Boyle, who will again play for the United States in the 2006 World Championships which begin today in London, Ontario. "Every world games, the talent is getting closer and closer."
The United States has dominated the quadrennial event, claiming the trophy eight of nine times and winning all its games except for a loss to Canada in the 1978 championship. This year's team is expected to continue that tradition with what may be the best lacrosse team ever assembled.
Boyle, who had 23 points in Perth, will again be joined by midfielder Doug Shanahan, the 2002 tournament's Most Valuable Player; standout goalie Trevor Tierney, and the Powell brothers (Casey, Ryan and Mikey).
Recent local college standouts Joe Walters (Maryland) and Kyle Harrison (Johns Hopkins) make the U.S. undoubtedly the deepest of the record 21 teams in the field.
"We play five games in five days, so it will have to be a team effort to get by," Walters said. "I think we all know that we're a talented team and that if we play our game we'll handle [our opponents] pretty easily."
Last Thursday, the U.S. team played its final exhibition in Boston against the Major League Lacrosse All-Stars and throttled what may be the second-best team in the world, 18-10, behind a hat trick from attackman Mikey Powell (27 points in 2002).
Coached by Syracuse's John Desko, the United States plays Australia this afternoon and also faces England, Canada, the Iroquois Nationals and Japan in divisional play.
Host Canada probably provides the best competition, as Gary Gait reunites with former Bayhawks teammate Tom Marechek on the attack in an attempt to add an elusive line to his legendary lacrosse resume.
When the event was held in Baltimore in 1998, Canada rallied from an 11-1 deficit to take the United States to overtime in the championship game before losing, 15-14. In the 2002 final, the margin was three goals.
Australia is also a veteran team with hopes of competing with the U.S. and Canada, and another squad with upset ambitions is Japan, which beat North Carolina in an exhibition last month.
"Japan is all about playing fast and athletic," said Harrison, who made a trip to Japan to play its national team when he was with Hopkins. "They're always moving at 100 miles per hour."
Boyle also visited Japan while at Princeton, and after getting a sense of the skill coming out of other countries, you won't find him touting the U.S. as the greatest team of all time just yet.
"Certainly the talent amassed on this team is pretty impressive," he said. "[But] I think any time you throw around labels like that, it's a little preemptive."
Tournament at a glance
Who / / A record 21 nations will compete in the World Championships; the United States has won it eight of nine times.
When / / Divisional games begin today, with the tournament concluding July 22.
Where / / TD Waterhouse Stadium and North London fields, London, Ontario.
Notes / / The U.S. (41-1 all time in the event) opens play this afternoon against Australia and will play England, Canada, the Iroquois Nationals and Japan in the Blue Division.
TV / / CSTV will televise the U.S. game against Canada live on Sunday at 4 p.m. and the gold-medal game July 22 at 3:30 p.m.
Online / / www.2006worldlacrosse.com.