April 17, 2008

Hurley Moves Into Main Attack Role

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It’s Friday night, and the members of the men’s lacrosse team are holed up in their hotel rooms. It’s the life of a college athlete during the season — stuck on Friday night amidst miniature soaps and shampoos, Styrofoam cups in plastic wrapping and an ice bucket that no one ever fills.
Sophomore Ryan Hurley, then a freshman, is sharing the two-bed room with David Mitchell ’07. Not out of boredom, but out of routine, Mitchell grabbed his lacrosse stick.
“Being his roommate, I saw how he would get focused the night before,” Hurley said. “We would get our sticks ready and pass the ball around the night before — just kind of getting that mental focus and visualizing the game. That was a good experience for me.”
The similarities between Mitchell and Hurley are almost too easy to point out. Hurley runs through them like he’s done it more than once before.
[img_assist|nid=29946|title=Hurley burley|desc=Sophomore Ryan Hurley (left), filling the role left empty by the graduation of David Mitchell ’07, angles to escape from a Dartmouth defender in the Red’s 16-11 win last weekend.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“David being the player he was, he was very similar to me,” Hurley said. “Tall, left-handed, what they call a finisher, from a not-hotbed of lacrosse.”
The difference then was that Mitchell was on his way to a 47-goal season and from Saskatchewan, Canada. Hurley would only score twice before the season ended and grew up slightly south from Mitchell in Eagan, Minn. Still, having a year to pick the brain of one of the nation’s best goal scorers certainly didn’t hurt Hurley.
“I would just ask questions about his game and learn how he thought,” Hurley said. “I paid a lot of attention to how he moved just so that I could try to fill that role when I got my chance to play.”
On the other hand, though, playing alongside Mitchell and a talented attacking line meant Hurley developed the mindset of a second-stringer.
“Last year, I knew that the best way I could help the team was in practice and trying really hard to make the [first-string] defense better by playing hard on the scout team.”
“I don’t know if he saw himself as a Division I starting attackman,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni. “Coming in from Minnesota, there weren’t high expectations for Ryan in terms of notoriety or Inside Lacrosse’s top-50 recruits. So I don’t think he had a lot of billing to live up to. We saw flashes on certain days. There were other days, we felt like he took a back seat to guys like David Mitchell and Eric Pittard [’07].”
With all three starting attackmen graduating, the Red needed to replace a combined 153 points. Much of that pressure fell on Hurley’s shoulders. At times, he was touted as the next David Mitchell.
“We really tried to push him mentally to just think of himself as not only a starter for our program, but to think of himself as a presence in Division I as a big time attackman. … We felt this fall that he could go through the season as one of the nation’s best.”
And that’s exactly what Hurley has been. Hurley’s 3.27 goals per game rank him fourth in the country, putting him in a class with established attackers like Zack Greer of Duke and Mike Leveille of Syracuse. His 4.18 points, seventh best in the country, also puts him in elite company.
“I think my confidence level [is one of the biggest changes for me this year],” Hurley said. “Trying to grow into that spot of being the starting attackman, my confidence in my game has grown a lot.”
“I feel like he’s starting to look himself in the mirror and see the guy that can realize that potential,” Tambroni said. “He’s realizing that potential.”
And who can blame Hurley for not seeing himself as a big-time collegiate lacrosse star. He comes from a place where lacrosse is second, third, fourth, or fifth fiddle behind hockey and several other sports. In fact, Hurley only ended up playing lacrosse because his dad wanted him to try some sports other than hockey.
“I just picked one and I knew a couple of friends who had been playing so I figured I’d give it a shot,” Hurley said. “I ended up liking it a lot.”
An understatement, most likely. But that’s Hurley’s nature. He’s kind of quiet and not that excitable. It comes across as more out of politeness than shyness, however.
“He’s an extremely laid back young man,” Tambroni said. “He’s the kind of young man that is very easy to root for and get excited about when he plays well just because he’s such a humble young man.”
Humble, even-keeled, subdued — those were all words that Tambroni repeatedly used to describe Hurley. Perhaps because of his laid-back nature, Hurley had some trouble making that final jump into the role as one of the Red’s main attacking option.
“The one thing he needs to continue to do when he’s on the field is just impose his presence,” Tambroni said. “Sometimes, he takes a backseat to guys like [junior co-captain] Max Seibald and [senior co-captain] John Glynn.”
And in true Ryan Hurley fashion, he waited to have his coming out party when no one was watching. While all the Cornell students had evacuated campus for Spring Break, the men’s lacrosse team set up shop in Dallas, Texas. In a game against Denver during the Red’s time there, Hurley exploded for what was then a personal-best seven points. Wanting to fit as much in as he could before people got back to campus, he netted the game-winning goal over Yale in overtime a few days later.
“I think for our offense early on we weren’t on the same page with all the guys graduating,” Hurley said. “We just learned to play together and play off each other. Our offense started to click and we started to do well.”
But despite all of his success, Hurley still does have games here and there where he disappears. Against No. 1 Syracuse, Hurley was barely there on the field, scoring one goal.
“He’s still very young,” Tambroni said. “It’s the one thing we have to remind ourselves as coaches He’s going to have moments like that. We’ve come to expect greatness out of Ryan every time he steps on the field.”
But with Hurley on pace to top 40 goals and 50 points easily as a sophomore, there is no reason not to expect greatness, or at least more goals, in the future.