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, 'Nice pitch.' "
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 of lacrosse."
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."