March 9, 2011

Roy Lang: Cornell's Anti-Lax Bro from NorCal

by Joel Censer |

It has not always looked pretty, but Cornell midfielder Roy Lang has emerged as the Big Red's latest end-to-end threat on the lacrosse field.

© Greg Wall

Matt Restaino arrived on Cornell’s campus no stranger to good lacrosse. The Big Red midfielder watched his cousin Greg Papa earn All-American honors at Georgetown in 1999 and 2000, grew up on Long Island and played for prep power Lawrenceville (N.J.).

So during his first few practices in Ithaca, N.Y., Restaino was immediately struck by fellow freshman Roy Lang. One of the prize jewels of Cornell’s recruiting class, Lang was a 2008 Under Armor All-American and the heir apparent to assume some of the offensive load from graduating senior midfielders Max Seibald, John Glynn and Rocco Romero.

But to Restaino, Lang’s game didn’t bring back memories of a Matt Striebel, A.J. Haugen or Paul Rabil. Sure, the California southpaw was big, athletic and Seabiscuit-like the way he could swallow swaths of turf with just a couple long galloping strides. But Lang's side-armed slingshot and herky-jerky, upright motions differed from the way elite midfielders generally dangle their sticks.

“To be honest, it took a good week to admit to myself that his style of play was going to make an impact,” Restaino recalled with a laugh.

Now, the two are close friends, and any doubts about Lang’s game translating have long since been erased. If any question remains about the junior, it’s only to wonder he good he will be, and whether he’s ready to play lead dog for the Big Red midfield.

Lang’s unorthodox style can be traced in part to a lacrosse path that didn’t follow the traditional routes up I-95 or across I-90. A Mill Valley, Calif., native, Lang picked up the game early at the encouragement of his father, who played at Princeton. By his senior year of high school, Lang helped cement St. Ignatius’ legacy as a national power and flagship for Northern California high school lacrosse.

Playing in an emerging hotbed influenced Lang's game. While quality lacrosse has arrived in the Golden State, Lang admitted his physical tools too often allowed him to run through double teams instead of having to learn to read and react to them.

Whatever he lacked in seasoning as a Cornell freshman in 2009, Lang more than made up for with toughness and moxie between the stripes. Like San Diego native Spencer Wright, who proved to the Syracuse faithful more than a decade ago that you didn’t have to be indoctrinated at Shove Park to play the game well, Lang quickly carved out a role playing defensive midfield, with some spot duty on extra man.

As solid as Lang’s freshman campaign was (nine goals, two assists, 35 ground balls), it will probably be unfairly remembered for its last five and a half minutes. Midway through the fourth quarter of the NCAA championship game against Syracuse, Lang caught the ball at the top of
the box, ran right through a Joel White check and fired a sidearm scorcher from 12 yards out to put Cornell up 9-6. Lang’s late-game heroics, however, were overshadowed when he tipped a Matt Abbott desperation pass to Syracuse attackman Kenny Nims with just four seconds remaining in regulation. Nims scored on the doorstep to send the game to overtime, and the Orange eventually won the game 10-9.

Lang and his Big Red teammates dealt with the heartbreak of 2009 by getting back to the final four in 2010. It was a relatively smooth transition for the California lefty to the offensive end. Lang played on the first line, registered 22 points (16 goals, six assists), and provided enough offense in the post-Seibald/Glynn era to help lead Cornell to the NCAA semifinals. This year, he’s already the team’s second-leading scorer (six points through three games) and is a crucial element to the Big Red’s half-field attack.

Lang’s emergence and continued development as an end-to-end guy who can handle a pole, draw slides and play effectively off the ball comes as little surprise to his teammates.

Because for every “Roy” story that revolves around the aesthetic -- whether talking about the gaping hole in the toe of his cleat during his freshman season or about the photo of him in high school (at right) in which his chinbar was above the chinstrap -- there’s plenty more about the seriousness of his approach and his genuine enthusiasm for the game and his teammates.

This year, all his time spent shooting buckets full of balls or tweaking his overhand release was recognized by his teammates with the “Hard Hat,” an award passed out annually to the player whose work ethic and selflessness most resembles that of George Boiardi -- the beloved former Cornell player who was killed during a 2004 game after he was struck in the chest by a ball.

"He's a lax rat without all the other stuff,” Big Red attackman Scott Austin said of Lang.

As for the “other stuff,” having a midfielder who might not look the part is in a way business as usual for Cornell. Because whether it’s Lang, a Canadian attackman who grew up exclusively playing box or two starting defenders who each are 5-foot-10, the Big Red has flipped the script on what “prototypes” should look like in college lacrosse.

For his part, Lang knows the importance of his role, and that providing midfield firepower will force opposing defenses to key less on quarterback-extraordinaire and Tewaarton Award candidate Rob Pannell.

“I feel like we really need to step up,” Lang said. “Last year it wasn’t about getting to spots on the field for me." (He shot just 21 percent in 2010.)

In an era where crew socks, gear and “flow” often dominate conversation, Lang serves as a visual reminder that it’s not so much  what you look like, but how many hours you’re willing to invest. It's about how you play the game.

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