Cole McCormack and Mike Linehan try their best not to think about those last grains of sand trickling into the bottom of the hourglass — sands of time that represent their Rye varsity careers.
The senior captains of the Garnets’ lacrosse team have been the best of friends since the halcyon days of their childhood on the Rye Youth Soccer fields. Now, at the height of their high school athletic powers, the idea of not being able to play sports with lifelong friends is upsetting.
“It’s a bittersweet thing,” said Linehan. “Growing up I watched the best athletes I thought I would ever see in my life – Connor O’Grady, TJ Smith, Franny Archibald, Colin Hart – and when I first started playing I wanted to be one of those guys that kids look up to. I wanted to earn that respect. It’s going to be tough graduating, but I feel like I’ve been blessed.”
Both young men have excelled at other sports while sporting Garnet and Black – McCormack a football star and Linehan an ace soccer goalie – but will finish side-by-side on the lacrosse team in an attempt to win back the Section crown. The Garnets relinquished their four-year stranglehold on the title in last year’s Section championship game. Although currently playing only .500 ball, they have the tools to make another run.
The Cornell-bound McCormack is a four-year starter for the program, and the best face-off man in school history. A variety of colleges courted him – a process that he likened to speed-dating 15 different women – yet Cornell instilled a sense of family and made the decision easy. He loves the speed and physicality of lacrosse, as well as the tight-knit community that supports the game. In a time where young athletes are focusing on one sport in which to excel, McCormack believes it’s variety that has made him into the lacrosse player he is.
“At youth clinics I tell the kids to play as many sports for as long as you can,” said McCormack. “Although my baseball career was short-lived, being a catcher and getting down in that uncomfortable position prepared me for face-offs. The physical nature of football and the open field of soccer have been key factors as well. I wish I played hockey, because I love how players like Taka Katsuta move behind the net. It’s unfortunate he doesn’t play lacrosse anymore.”
Linehan believes that, while McCormack’s skills are obvious, it’s his tireless work ethic that has led to his success.
“Cole is a moose who works his butt off; he feels the same way I do about earning respect,” said Linehan. “He’ll be the first to compliment you, but will be right out there whipping your tail. If more guys take pride in what they do the way Cole has, there will be more and more State championships for Rye.”
McCormack’s infectious desire is what initially attracted Linehan to lacrosse. Although only an eighth grader, McCormack was already on the JV team when he convinced his friend he could excel at the sport. Linehan has always trusted McCormack’s judgment, so he quickly signed on.
Linehan, who will play lacrosse at Marist, took over as the starting goalie for the Garnets last season. Careful not to make the seniors think he was overstepping his boundaries, he wasn’t the boisterous player you see today. That all changed on the soccer pitch this fall, with his team being outplayed and losing 1-0 at home to Keio Academy. Linehan stepped up in the middle of the huddle and, according to him, “started screaming like a maniac.” He told his teammates to forget about everything that happened and to play their game. Rye stormed back to defeat the Unicorns 3-1.
“The experience in the soccer goal has transferred to lacrosse and vice versa,” said Linehan. “It’s about having your head on a swivel and seeing the field. I’m always barking out to guys making sure they’re aware. I like to instill confidence in my defenders and don’t mind the pressure of guys leaning on me to get us out of a tough spot.”
Linehan says he doesn’t meet a lot of fellow athletes who strictly play goalkeeper, but would rather make the big save than the winning score. If he could go back and do it over again, he’d play the same position even if his mother says, “you have to be a little whacko to be a goalie.”
For McCormack, having one of his best friends backing him up on the field means everything.
“He is a leader and the rock of our defense,” said McCormack. “I’m very glad I could talk him into playing. He is a great goalie and an even better friend. It’s a unique thing.”
Off the field, the two buddies are relishing all that comes with senior year of high school and are – as Linehan puts it – “letting their hair down and kicking back.” They do the usual teenage thing of going to the movies or hanging out in a friend’s basement, but there is one particular activity that Linehan avoids when it comes to his friend.
“I don’t really like playing cards with Cole,” said Linehan. “He’ll take your money if you’re not careful.”
“Mike loves competition,” replied McCormack. “We could be flipping a coin and he’ll be sweating profusely because he wants to win. When it comes to cards, Mike’s problem is that he doesn’t know how to play.”