Matt Striebel was out to lunch with his wife and two kids, and then he saw his phone ring. He didn’t recognize the number, so he let it go straight to voicemail, as one does.
The message, he quickly realized, was from US Lacrosse. It was right around the annual giving time for the men’s national team, Striebel said, so he called back to let them know his check was ready to be sent out.
But on the other line was Rick Lake, men’s game senior manager at US Lacrosse. His message was a tad different.
“He goes, ‘Matt, we’re actually calling you to let you know made the Hall of Fame,’” the Gill, Mass., native recalled. “It was an amazing moment that was made doubly better that I found out I was going in with Ryan (Boyle). As soon as I hung up that phone call, I called Ryan and was like, ‘This is crazy. Can you believe it?’ It was the perfect, poetic bookend to a journey of our playing careers.”
Striebel is one of nine set for the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019, entering with his close friend, Boyle — a fellow champion at Princeton, with the U.S. national team and in Major League Lacrosse. They now work together at Trilogy Lacrosse, the company Boyle co-founded, though their roots extend back to 2001 at Princeton.
The Tigers, then coached by fellow Hall of Fame member Bill Tierney, had Boyle entering as a blue-chip recruit down on attack. Striebel, a captain and returning All-American on attack, was excited by playing with a player of his quality. Plans went another direction, though.
“We tried to coexist for two games, then I went into the coach’s office and they basically looked at me and said ‘Striebs, it’s been a great run. How about you try midfield?,’” said Striebel, who gave himself 24 hours to sulk before embracing his new role.
“I decided it’s my senior year, I really want to win and am here to win a national championship. From a lacrosse standpoint, it’s the best thing that could have happened to me, because I am more of a midfielder talent-wise and it made us a better team and opened opportunities on the U.S. team and as a professional.”
That’s not hyperbole from Striebel, either. That 2001 season marked Striebel’s second national championship while at Princeton, as well as a fourth straight Ivy League championship. On the national stage, he captured gold at the World Lacrosse championships in 2002 (Perth) and 2010 (Manchester), plus silver in 2006 (Ontario).
Striebel also secured three MLL championships (2004, ‘06, ‘07) with the Philadelphia Barrage, earning earning MLL All-Star honors on nine occasions. Boyle was right there at nearly every step.
“I’m far happier for him than I am for myself,” Boyle said.
“I often say there are some guys out there who are A-plus in a couple categories. Oh, he’s an A-plus shooter or an A-plus dodger,” Striebel began. “For me, I think I just had the versatility to be B-plus, A-minus guy in a lot of different categories. That allowed me to change and adapt my game as I got older.
“The first 10 years I was in the MLL, I think I took one two-point shot and it was on an open goal when we needed goal differential for the playoffs. Then as I got older, like a basketball player who’s adding a different aspect, I became more of a shooter so I could develop other parts of my game and maintain relevance as a player.”
But like most great players, Striebel’s connection with the game didn’t cease once he put away the pads and cleats. He’s spent the last seven years coaching at Northampton High School in Massachusetts, plus working for Trilogy. He’s especially close with coaches in the Colonial Athletic Association, so he’ll often swing by nearby UMass-Amherst to catch games and chat with old friends.
Those experiences also remind Striebel of his time at Hotchkiss, in Lakeville, Conn., during the mid-1990s. He said that was the “dawn of the post-graduate lacrosse era” at New England prep schools, where he played alongside several NHL draft picks.
“You had kids who played multiple sports at a very high level,” Striebel said. “There were great athletes and for better or for worse, lacrosse has become a 365-day endeavor where kids have an opportunity to play every day.”
The multi-sport athlete topic is one that hits close to home for Striebel, as he was also an All-Ivy League soccer player at Princeton. He credits those roots with much of his success in lacrosse, finally able to focus just on the latter when he was drafted by the Bridgeport Barrage for the inaugural MLL season in 2011.
“I was a two-sport athlete in college, so I never really specialized in lacrosse until after I graduated,” Striebel said. “I was fortunate in the sense that a lot of guys graduate and they’ve spent four years getting to the peak of their talents. When I graduated, I felt, for lack of a better phrase, like there was a lot of meat still on the bone in terms of my ceiling and player development.”
As each chapter was written, Striebel never quite thought would end up in the Hall of Fame. As a player, he found himself staying in the moment, keenly aware of how his game needed to improve. He went to induction ceremonies for Roy Colsey, Brian Dougherty and Jesse Hubbard, more to pay his respects than longing to be on that stage, too.
“That’s what is out there at the end of your career, but you almost don’t want to get your hopes up with it,” Striebel said. “Then to have that call come, in a real way it verifies the hard work and hours you put in and sacrifices you made to be the best lacrosse player you can be.”
As for being inducted alongside Boyle? That’s just the cherry on top.
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