How large an impact did Ryan Boyle have on Princeton's lacrosse program this spring?
All the freshman from Gilman did was bump the coach's son out of the starting lineup and move the Tigers' top feeder of the past two seasons to midfield.
"Those two kids started in the national championship game a year ago," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said of his son Brendan and Matt Striebel. "Now one is at a different position, and the other is playing a lot less. Everyone has been open and verbal about what's best for our team. That says volumes about our kids."
And Boyle, whose precocious talent for directing an offense - whether in lacrosse or football - probably had him directing pee-wee teammates when he was 4. Princeton began the season with an accomplished playmaker in Striebel, but after the Tigers couldn't keep up with the Syracuse Orangemen and suffered their only loss two months ago today, Tierney put the ball in Boyle's stick.
"The first practice after the Syracuse game," Boyle said, "I was told that Striebel was being moved to midfield. Coach said, 'You're going to be a marked man for three years, we might as well make it four.'
"We just weren't getting the offensive production out of all the offensive talent we have, but it wasn't my place to say anything at that point. Matt [Striebel] is a senior captain; I'm new. You have to know your place. On the field, there are no classes, no freshmen or sophomores or juniors or seniors. Off it, I still have to clean the bus after road trips."
Princeton wiped up the Ivy League after that lone loss at the Carrier Dome, and takes a nine-game winning streak, a No. 1 ranking and the second seed in the NCAA tournament into Saturday's semifinal against Towson at Rutgers.
The Tigers and the Orangemen have won 11 of the past 13 titles, and the Princeton brain trust knew it had to narrow the gap on Syracuse after a 14-8 loss. Boyle and Striebel were getting in each other's way, until the latter suggested that he move to midfield - where he played when the Tigers took their last title in 1998 - and let Boyle run the show exclusively.
"I've had a more reduced role," Striebel said, "but it was a way to get Ryan involved more. I appreciated his talent, and we need him on the field. He's got a great sense of the game, and he was ready to step in and be a leader."
Striebel isn't the first to switch positions for the good of the Tigers. While their offense entered the season in flux, the defense consists of four veteran starters, including Ryan Mollett, the Ivy League Player of the Year, who was recruited out of Boys' Latin as a midfielder.
Boyle was a unanimous choice for Ivy Rookie of the Year. His 48 points, on 16 goals and 32 assists, are the second highest by a Princeton freshman, behind the 55 posted a decade ago by Kevin Lowe.
Tierney and the Tigers anticipated that The Sun's Player of the Year in 2000 might require them to restructure their offense. Alex Lieske, now a junior at Duke, ran the offense in Boyle's first two years at Gilman, but he made an impression from the day he made the varsity as a freshman.
"This was when Ryan was on second team," Gilman coach Dave Allan said. "We were implementing a defense, and he asked a question that was absolutely mind-boggling. I was stunned that a young player figured out the one thing that was a weakness in what we were doing."
Boyle is just doing what comes naturally. His father, Darby, played attack for West Point in the late 1960s. Before he went off to play at Georgetown, his brother Michael drew up X's and O's for Boyle as he came up through the Cockeysville Rec program. He knows when a defense is going to slide, recognizes his cutters and is judicious with his own shot.
Allan said that Boyle's transition to college was quickened because Gilman runs some of Princeton's plays. Tierney said that's irrelevant, that Boyle's vision would be a weapon in any scheme, on any team.
"Give the credit to Ryan," Tierney said. "Go back to his high school football days as a quarterback. As a senior he called his own plays, in an intricate offense. Lowe as a freshman was equal to Ryan in a lot of ways, maybe even better, but I haven't seen any other guys who understood all of the nuances of a [assistant coach] Dave Metzbower offense at this juncture of their career the way Ryan does. The young man has some unique traits that we're taking advantage of."
At a glance
Where: Rutgers University, Piscataway, N.J.
Syracuse (12-2) vs. Notre Dame (14-1), noon
Towson (14-3) vs. Princeton (12-1), 3 p.m.
TV: Both games on ESPN2
Princeton at a glance
Coach: Bill Tierney, 14th season at Princeton, 158-48; 17th season overall, 192-60.
How it got to Rutgers: Second-seeded Princeton beat Loyola, 8-7, in the quarterfinals, as Tigers took command in the second half with a 5-1 run.
NCAA history: Princeton has gone to seven final fours, all in the past nine years. The Tigers have won five titles, the most recent in 1998.
Goal leader: Sean Hartofolis, sophomore, and B. J. Prager, junior, 29.
Assist leader: Ryan Boyle, freshman, 32.
Faceoff specialist: Matt Bailer, senior, won 47.8 percent.
Goalie: Trevor Tierney, senior, 5.0 goals allowed, saved 69.5 percent.