Stopping Lyle: David Mather's Unusual Path to Cult Hero Status
by Mark Macyk | Twitter
It would be easy to look where he came from and assume David Mather was more likely to spend time in a batter’s box than as America’s great box lacrosse hope. His dad is the president of the Seattle Mariners, and he grew up in Washington State. Not exactly a traditional lacrosse background.
But Mather knew early that baseball was not his sport.
“I love watching baseball but I love the flow of lacrosse a little more,” Mather said. “I like a continuous game, rather than start or stop.”
Which is funny, because Mather made his biggest mark at a moment when the game had come to a complete stop.
There he was, a goalie from the lacrosse equivalent of nowhere, making his World Indoor Championship debut, staring down the NCAA’s all-time points leader. A betting man would have picked Lyle Thompson to convert the penalty shot for the Iroquois Nationals.
The two-time Tewaaraton winner came down and faked left. Mather bit on the fake. Then he blacked out.
“The next thing I know the ball is in my stick,” Mather said.
It stunned everyone in the arena. Except for the goalie.
“Ever since I stepped on the floor, I knew I could make it at this level,” Mather said. “It feels like it was justifying my work.”
He grew up playing hockey and field lacrosse. When the NLL’s Stealth was based in Washington, he attended the Stealth Academy and became hooked on box lacrosse.
He kept playing field until his senior year at Issaquah High School, when he committed to box full time. That meant a nearly three-hour (without traffic) commute to British Columbia to play in the rough-and-tumble Canadian junior circuit. For a while he was the only American.
Coquitlam and Burnaby cut him in 2012. Then he landed at Delta. When new owners took over, he asked for a trade. They sent him back to Burnaby.
“It was an awkward phone call,” he said.
Soon he was trying out for the national team, where he again surprised everyone but himself by sticking. The current University of Washington senior doesn’t have the elite NCAA background of the other players — he doesn't even play for the Huskies' club team — but he never got star struck. Or at least he tried not to be star struck.
“There were a couple of times I’d look around the locker room and it was like, ‘Holy cow, Casey Powell and Joe Walters are having a catch in front of me,’” Mather said.
He hasn’t regretted picking box over the field game. He thinks others would not either.
“We have some of the best lacrosse players in general in the world, but most haven’t played box.” Mather said. “A lot of the guys I talked to who had never played box were talking about how much more they love it. It’s quick, it’s fun. Once you have the opportunity you run with it.”
Despite the big save, Team USA finished third again. Mather thinks that could change soon.
“The way the Canadians are showing up in Division I, I think coaches are starting to realize what they can do with the game,” he added. “They want kids to be playing in the fall, learning to make those quick decisions. I think we have a chance to break out of that bronze slump.”
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