Casey and Ryan Powell fought constantly while they were growing
up. That is what brothers do. There was the time Casey pushed a
totally dressed Ryan into a bathtub full of water because Ryan
was going to wear Casey's jeans to school. Then there was the
day Ryan chased Casey up the stairs, ripped off his older
brother's shirt and landed a few solid blows. "Probably the
greatest feeling in my life," Ryan says. Last fall the brothers
were guarding each other during a pickup basketball game in a
gymnasium at Syracuse, where they are standout attackers on the
Orangemen's tournament-bound lacrosse team. Ryan fouled Casey,
Casey fouled Ryan. Shortly thereafter, their teammates were
pulling them off each other.
Sitting in an office adjacent to Syracuse's lacrosse practice
field, the brothers recount their litany of bruising sibling
battles, laughing themselves silly. "One time we were playing in
a peewee baseball game," says Casey, who is two years older than
Ryan. "I was the pitcher and he was the catcher. I was pitching
really badly, and we were yelling at each other for four
straight innings. Every time I threw a bad one, he'd be like,
Ryan can hold his tongue no longer. "He tried to throw a
curveball, and it sailed over the backstop," Ryan says. "I just
fell on my knees and started laughing. He throws down his glove
and goes, 'I'm not pitching anymore.' When we came off the field
after the fourth inning, we got into a fistfight. Our dad was
the coach, and he had to step in."
Welcome to the best one-two punch in college lacrosse. Casey,
22, a senior, is leading the nation in points scored (goals and
assists combined) with 5.8 per game and is a good bet to win his
second consecutive player of the year award. Ryan, 20, a
sophomore, is No. 2 in the nation in points (5.2 per game).
Syracuse completed the regular season with a 10-2 record and
earned a No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA
tournament. The Orangemen will face Virginia on May 16. But the
tournament is more than an opportunity for Syracuse to win its
seventh national championship and its first since 1995. The
Powell brothers have been winning lacrosse titles together since
they were in elementary school, and the NCAAs look to be their
final run, one last opportunity for them to fight the good fight.
"Ryan is my best friend," Casey says. "It's not just a brother
thing. It's a teammate thing and a friendship thing. We picked
up the sticks together, and we've been on a great ride because
A brother act is not new at Syracuse. Eight years ago the school
was gearing up for the NCAA final with Gary and Paul Gait,
identical twins from Brentwood Bay, B.C., who, in addition to
winning three national championships and being named first team
All-America three times, played with a flair that brought the
game unprecedented exposure and helped to build its popularity.
Near the end of their senior year, Gary and Paul were sent out
together during player introductions at home games. The public
address announcer presented them as the Golden Gaits.
The Powells grew up idolizing the Gaits, often making the
89-mile drive from their upstate New York home in West Carthage
to Syracuse to watch the twins play. When they practiced, Casey
wore Gary Gait's number 22 and Ryan wore Paul's number 19.
Casey, in particular, worked hard to embellish his game with
moves that mimicked the Gaits' baroque style. That was evident
to Syracuse's Hall of Fame coach, Roy Simmons Jr., the first
time he saw Casey play as a high school sophomore. "He did a lot
of things with either hand that you wouldn't have seen before
unless you had seen Paul and Gary Gait," Simmons says.
That kind of hubris can drive a coach batty, so Kirk
Ventiquattro, Casey's high school coach, devised a simple rule.
"Anything went, as long as it worked," Ventiquattro says. "The
behind-the-back shot that missed meant he was coming out. And
the worst thing you can do to him is take him out of the game
for one second."
Still, Simmons was impressed enough that he gave Casey number
22, the jersey worn for the Orangemen not only by Gary Gait but
also by Charlie Lockwood, another All-America, who played from
1991 to '94.
Casey was an instant sensation, leading the '95 national
championship team in scoring as a freshman and earning first
team All-America honors the following year. In an NCAA
quarterfinal game last spring, Loyola coach Dave Cottle
dispatched a slew of defenders to throttle Casey, preventing him
from scoring a goal for only the fourth time in his collegiate
career. Casey's riposte: eight assists, which tied an NCAA
tournament record, in a 13-12 win. Says Maryland coach Dick
Edell, "Casey Powell is the best player in the world."
Ryan bolstered his schoolboy credentials during Casey's first
two seasons at Syracuse, and he wasn't sure if he wanted to join
his brother in college or set out on his own. Ryan had been the
backup quarterback to Casey on Carthage Central High's football
team, and he also had relieved Casey at point guard on the
basketball team. As for lacrosse, Ryan recalls, "The newspaper
articles wouldn't even say my name first. They'd say, 'Casey's
brother, Ryan, scored two goals.' But my ultimate goal is to win
a national championship, and that's why I came here. I knew I'd
be in his shadow, but I think I've learned to accept it very
well. My junior and senior year I'll be ready to take over."
Last year, as a freshman, he started at midfield in all 14 of
the Orangemen's games and was an honorable mention All-America.
Syracuse finished with a 11-3 record but was eliminated 18-17 by
Maryland in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. Ryan has had
an even bigger impact this season as an attackman. He had a
career-high six assists in the season finale, a crucial 14-11
victory over No. 8 Georgetown. No one would blame Ryan, though,
if he thought he was playing inside a George Orwell novel, given
the way Big Brother is always watching. "If Casey sees Ryan
letting down just an inch, he rides him pretty hard," says
redshirt freshman Robby Mulligan, a reserve goalie.
"He always thinks he's right," Ryan says. "If Coach tells me to
do something, and Casey wants me to do something else, Casey
will still get on my case."
Ryan has a specific instance in mind here, but Casey doesn't buy
it. "Coach didn't tell you to throw that ball out-of-bounds," he
says with a smirk.
These days the kids in upstate New York pretend they're the
Powells, and just like the Gaits before them, Casey and Ryan
will not leave a game until every autograph is signed. The
Powells arrived officially on April 26, when public address
announcer Carl Eilenberg surprised the brothers during player
introductions by calling them out together before a home game
against Massachusetts, saying, "From West Carthage, New York, a
pair of Powells...." As their mother, Sue, teared up in the
stands, Casey and Ryan looked at each other and had the same
thought: just like the Gaits.
Actually, the Powell brothers might give Syracuse a dimension
that even the Gaits couldn't provide. Mike Powell is a
15-year-old sophomore at Carthage Central who handles a lacrosse
stick with more aplomb than his brothers did at the same age.
"The reason I recruited Casey and Ryan is so I could get Mike,"
Simmons says with a wry grin.
Says Casey, "We call Mike 'Smalls' because he's only five-four,
but once he grows, he's going to be phenomenal. He's facing a
lot of pressure from being our little brother. It doesn't really
bother him, but he's got some big shoes to fill."
kids, they idolized the Gait twins.