Mike Powell Defines the Modern Lacrosse Player
No individual has influenced today’s lacrosse player in the way that Mike Powell did. He’s the guy lacrosse fans think of when they ponder the ideal lacrosse player — explosive, unpredictable, relentless, possessing some of the best stick skills ever seen and incredible vision.
Not everyone got to see Mike play lacrosse in high school, but I did. Looking back on it, the opportunity was the equivalent of catching Mick and Keith at the Ealing Jazz Club in the early ’60s, or maybe like seeing one of the first Phish shows at Hunt’s or Nectar’s in Burlington, Vermont, in the mid-’80s.
Essentially, it was a chance to see a future star, arguably the best to ever pick up a lacrosse stick, as he was ascending to greatness, but before he was thrust into the media spotlight and several years before he would become synonymous with lacrosse — known simply by his high school nickname, Mikey.
“Watch the way Mike Powell handles a lacrosse stick, watch what he does when his team has the ball,” we’d hear from our head coach, John Murtha, a SUNY Cortland alum who started lacrosse at my high school, Indian River, a neighboring district to Carthage. When I acquired my first stick — a Brine M1 purchased at Klein’s All Sports — Mike’s older brothers, Casey and Ryan, had already made names for themselves.
Growing up in the North Country, my teammates and I knew the older Powells as stars. As bright-eyed youngsters, most kids in the Watertown area idolized Casey — and rightly so. We’d all watched him lead the Orangemen to the 1995 NCAA Championship, hearing his name and his hometown referenced on ESPN. And we’d seen Ryan on the front page of the Watertown Daily Times sports section enough to know he was on his way too.
With all that in mind, it was natural that we found ourselves in awe of Mike on the field, watching him make the game seem so simple. We might not have realized it then, but we were also watching Mike showcase lacrosse as a work of art.
At times, it became a bit awkward — trying to compete against one of the area’s best teams, all the while admittedly enamored by Mike’s skills, his athleticism and, for me, his stoic nature. Much like my favorite athletes — Barry Sanders and Mark Messier — Mike never appeared to lose his sense of direction, his poise, his focus. I remember playing against Carthage. It usually consisted of me engaging in friendly conversations with Comets defenders as we casually watched Mike and guys named Ian Dingman and Josh Coffman put on a lacrosse clinic.
I remember talking with Chris Dingman, Ian’s brother, as I watched Mike put passes by Ian’s ear over and over again, seeing one of my best friends — Stephen Rajner — get pummeled in the cage. According to Rajner, who is something of a human stat book, we lost to Carthage 23-0 and then 24-4 in 1999. Ouch.
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