For the love of the game

"We went from a 'Where did they come from?' team to one that, I think, people take ser­i­ously now." — Ry­an seni­or Tim Taylor on the school's emer­ging lacrosse pro­gram.

Ry­an Lacross Seni­ors left to right: #14 Pat Peif­fer, #8 Kev­in Smyrl, #13 Steve Buch­in­sky, # 16 Greg Soussa, #27 Nick Har­kins, #5 Kev­in Nelms, #7 John Lee, #4 Tim Taylor, and #33 Kev­in Clifton. (photo cred­it Dav­id Buch­in­ski)


For those search­ing for val­id­a­tion in the grow­ing pop­ular­ity of lacrosse in North­east Philly, look no fur­ther than the clos­ing seconds of Fri­day’s quarterfi­nal play­off game between Arch­bish­op Ry­an and Ro­man Cath­ol­ic.

With just over a minute to play and Ry­an hold­ing a 14-6 in-the-bag ad­vant­age, Raid­ers seni­or mid­field­er John Lee leveled a Ro­man play­er with a clean hit on the near side­line, which sparked a benches-clear­ing brawl that saw sev­er­al par­ents rush the field to try to break up the skir­mishes.

The refs called the game be­fore it of­fi­cially ended, but this much was clear: Ry­an has ar­rived as a le­git­im­ate lacrosse pro­gram, and the Raid­ers were go­ing to make sure every­one there knew it.

Lacrosse, a sport im­mor­tal­ized in states like New York, Vir­gin­ia and Mary­land (and pop­u­lar at af­flu­ent private schools in Philly), is quickly catch­ing on in the North­east, and much of this is due to the emer­ging pro­gram on Academy Road. Two sea­sons re­moved from win­ning just four games and get­ting blown out by nearly every league op­pon­ent, Ry­an has used a core group of nine battle-tested seni­ors to es­tab­lish a found­a­tion for fu­ture suc­cess.

“Lacrosse used to be a game that bored foot­ball play­ers would play in the spring to keep busy; now, it’s ex­ploded in­to a le­git­im­ate pro­gram in a lot of area schools,” said Paul Taylor, lacrosse dir­ect­or at Cal­vary Lacrosse and fath­er of two Ry­an play­ers. “The hard­est part is to con­vince the dads to have their kids give up base­ball to learn lacrosse, but I al­ways tell people that once they get a stick in their hands, they won’t put it down. In fact, I’d say if I give out twenty sticks, then sev­en­teen or eight­een of them aren’t com­ing back to me.”

Cal­vary Lacrosse, a pro­gram star­ted five years ago, helps de­vel­op the tal­ents of boys in first- through eighth grades; that way, they already know how to play the sport when they get to high school, as op­posed to learn­ing it on the fly. There are cur­rently 130 kids in the pro­gram, and past pu­pils have gone on to play at schools all over the city (Ry­an, Ro­man, Fath­er Judge, Arch­bish­op Wood, Holy Ghost Prep and Penn Charter, to name a few). In a sense, Cal­vary acts as a pipeline, spread­ing lacrosse tal­ent all over Philly…and nobody has be­nefited more from this than the Raid­ers, who now have more than 50 play­ers in the lacrosse pro­gram between the varsity and JV teams.

“I think we all grew to love it be­cause it’s a com­bin­a­tion of all sports,” said seni­or at­tack Tim Taylor, son of Paul and one of the most ex­per­i­enced play­ers on the team. “The of­fens­ive style is sim­il­ar to bas­ket­ball and it of­fers some of the hit­ting in foot­ball, and un­like base­ball, the ac­tion is non-stop. In base­ball you can stand around in the out­field for hours and not touch the ball once. It’s bor­ing. In lacrosse, you’re al­ways in­volved.”

This sea­son has ce­men­ted the ar­rival of the Raid­ers as a ser­i­ous lacrosse team. Ry­an lost just four games all sea­son, three of which came at the hands of per­en­ni­al Cath­ol­ic League power­houses La Salle and St. Joseph’s Prep. (The Prep again upen­ded Ry­an on Monday night, this time in a 17-3 bruis­ing in the Cath­ol­ic League semi­finals that ended the Raid­ers’ fant­ast­ic sea­son.) And al­though Ry­an hasn’t quite caught up to those two schools, the gap is clos­ing. Teams that used to con­sist­ently blow out the Raid­ers in years past have met an in­verse fate in 2012.

Head coach Steve Pa­pe, Paul Taylor and the afore­men­tioned nine seni­ors have had a re­mark­able im­pact on the loc­al lacrosse scene, so much so that Ry­an’s lax pro­gram now boasts more play­ers than the foot­ball pro­gram.

“It’s no longer something the kids do just to kill time,” Paul Taylor said. “Now, they love it, thrive at it and take it ser­i­ously. Their ded­ic­a­tion and hard work have been tre­mend­ous to watch. They might re­gress a little bit when they lose all of these seni­ors, but there’s a lot of light at the end of the tun­nel. The fu­ture is cer­tainly bright.”

It should be. Even though the Raid­ers will gradu­ate Tim Taylor, John Lee, Pat Peif­fer, Kev­in Nelms, Steven Buch­in­sky, Kev­in Clifton, Nick Har­kins, Kev­in Smyrl and Greg Soussa, there is plenty of tal­ent re­turn­ing in 2013. Goalie Mark Os­traszweski, who made plenty of pretty saves against Ro­man, came in­to his own this year and will be back, as will nine fresh­men, in­clud­ing the young­er broth­ers of Taylor and Lee. The Raid­ers may not win 15 games again a year from now, but they’ve at least reached the point where nobody would be sur­prised if they did.

“We’ve had so much fun,” said Peif­fer, who tal­lied five goals in the win over Ro­man. “When (most of us) came to­geth­er as sopho­mores, we wer­en’t very good, but we grew little by little in a short time. And all of the young guys who will be back be­long on the field. There’s more in­terest than ever in the sport, and with our pro­gram evolving the way it has, I think Ry­an will be good for the next ten years.”

Des­pite the sting­ing semi­final loss to the Prep that cut short the Raid­ers’ ma­gic­al run, not one play­er on the team was hanging his head. After all, they worked so hard to­geth­er to change a four-win af­ter­thought of a pro­gram in­to a 14-win power in just two sea­sons. All of the seni­ors were sad that it came to an end without a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship. However, they took some solace in the fact that they had brought some prom­in­ence to a sport where a lot of people didn’t know what a lacrosse stick looked like.

“I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber how we sur­prised a lot of teams,” Tim Taylor said. “Ac­tu­ally, I’ll re­mem­ber how we sur­prised every­body, in­clud­ing ourselves. Nobody ever ex­pec­ted us to be good, and nobody wanted to take us ser­i­ously. We were something new, and I think every single one of us em­braced that un­der­dog role. We came out and proved ourselves, and that’s the sign of a good team. We went from a ‘Where did they come from?’ team to one that, I think, people take ser­i­ously now.” ••


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