The Tie That Binds: Dowling, Mercyhurst Coaches Renew Acquaintance
|Mercyhurst head coach Chris Ryan
(above) and Dowling skipper Tim Boyle have been friends since they
were assistants at their respective programs. "We're both
Irish and we both agree on everything," said Ryan. "Who knows,
maybe that's why we get a long so well."
© John Strohsacker
From the first time they played in 1999, there has always been a similarity between Dowling and Mercyhurst. Sure, the schools are separated by nine hours, and one team is comprised mostly of upstate New York players and the other nearly all Long Islanders, but there's an underlying connection between the two schools.
It starts with the two coaches. From their time as assistants at their respective schools, Merychurst's Chris Ryan and Dowling's Tim Boyle have been friends. It started when they bumped into each other on the recruiting trail and continued after Boyle got the Lions head job in 2000 and Ryan took over the Lakers a year later.
"Chris and I are pretty good friends," said Boyle. "He's a lot taller than me, but I'm better looking."
"We're both Irish and we both agree on everything," said Ryan. "Who knows, maybe that's why we get along so well."
Ryan says that he has Boyle on speed dial and they usual talk about once a week about one thing or another. Even their staffs get along. Boyle's longtime assistant, Mike Taylor, is the de facto host when they get together while scouting in Taylor's home province of Ontario.
The two coaches just naturally clicked, but the friendship is heightened by the fact that they approach the sport in nearly identical ways.
"The things we try to instill in our program are very similar, and what we try to instill in our boys, how we want them to represent the program and how we want them to represent themselves is all very similar," Boyle said. "On the field, I think we play a similar style. We like to be aggressive and we like to put people into bad situations."
The two coaches can have an easy relationship because of the distance between them. While they crossover for a Canadian player on occasion, they aren't typically going head-to-head for the bulk of their players. Mercyhurst has found a niche attracting upstate kids while Dowling feeds off the Island. As such, there isn't that cutthroat mentality that can naturally arise when you're grinding it out against local teams for the same players.
"It's kind of difficult to develop that relationship with other coaches on the Island because we always seem to be competing whenever we turn a corner," Boyle said. "So the staff at Adelphi, the staff at Post, the staff at Tech are competing in every aspect of everything everyday. With Chris and Mercyhurst, we'd compete on the field and compete for some of the recruits in Canada, but we're not competing for all of the recruits every day.
"I respect all of the other schools on Long Island, but we're always going against each other, so you just can never tell. There has been a trust that has developed with Chris and me because we don't compete on the recruiting trail as much as I do with all of the other guys."
The difference in recruiting zones lends itself to the Mercyhurst-Dowling being a highly competitive game regardless of the bonhomie shared by the coaches. In the previous 14 meetings, which have been split evenly, eight have been decided by two goals or less and 11 have been by three goals or fewer. Both schools want to represent their section of New York well.
"There is probably a pretty good rivalry between the upstate kids on the Mercyhurst roster and the Long Island kids on the Dowling roster," Ryan said. "The kids on the two teams aren't going to know each other, and because of that you do sort of get that underlying regional rivalry on the field. It's always been competitive, it's always been fun and it's always been a meaningful game."
"Our goal is to defend Dowling lacrosse and our institution and make the people in our lives proud of us," added Boyle. "But it would be silly to say that there isn't something when it comes to upstate and Long Island; there always has been."
Saturday's game at Dowling has even more on the line. Both teams have undefeated records and gaudy rankings – Mercyhurst at No. 1 and Dowling at No. 3 – but more important is the meaning this game holds in the hunt for NCAA tournament. The winner becomes the odds on favorite to win the Central region bid. The loser, as Boyle says, will "have his back to the wall" for the remainder of the season.
Both coaches again expect the game will likely come down to the last possession.
"It's one of the teams on the schedule that we know coming into the game they'll be ready to go," Ryan said. "That's why I think there is such an interesting history between us and the games between us are pretty tight."
Just like the coaches.