Looking at recent history, 2006 was a year full of compelling storylines in the lacrosse world. The Duke lacrosse travesty; Virginia’s dominant, undefeated run; Syracuse fighting back to the Final Four after losing in the first round of 2005; Team USA losing to Canada in the World Games. But there was also one story from ’06 about a speedy, athletic freshman middie making some big waves not just in the Ivy League, but nationally.
Max Seibald came onto the scene at Cornell in the fall of 2005, and by springtime, had quickly found himself an important part of the Big Red machine. Playing on the first midfield line, he put up 33 points (with a balanced 19 and 14) through a season ending in a heartbreaking quarterfinal loss to UMass. Seibald garnered more than just attention and praise, but recognition and awards. He was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, along with first team All-Ivy. He was selected as a second team All-American.
He followed up that rookie campaign with an even more impressive sophomore year, putting up 17 goals and 20 assists through a 15-1 campaign that saw the Big Red fall three seconds and one Zack Greer goal away from the championship game. This time around, the awards were lavished upon him, First-Team All-Ivy again, a first-team AA this time, Player of the Year candidacy, and a seat at the prestigious Tewaarton finalist dinner. His play was athletic without being showy, dominant without being greedy. The air was full of positive buzz about Max Seibald and Cornell lacrosse.
And then in 2008, that talk dulled down. Sure, people still thought he was good. Yeah, the team went 11-4, but they were trounced in the first round of the NCAA Tournament by Ohio State. Sebald still earned first team All-Ivy and All-American, but with no big win and an early post season bow out, the other end of the year accolades looked over his name.
“I think it shows, I didn’t get as many accolades last year because our team didn’t do so well,” Seibald reflects. “When I was a sophomore, because our team was so successful on the field, that brought attention to me and a lot of other guys…There’s no reason to receive any of those awards if your team is not successful.”
While it may or may not be fair that Seibald’s name slid down the list of top players, his feelings about it typify the type of player he is. For Seibald, individual success is simply a reflection of team success. Moreover, individual success doesn’t exist without team success. Wins are the only stats he keeps. He would trade 100 Tewaarton trophies for one national championship.
“You never see him on the field trying to pursue greatness for himself, but you’ll consistently see him on the field pursuing greatness for our team,” said Cornell Head Coach Jeff Tambroni, the man who recruited Seibald out of Hewlitt, NY. “He gets more excited when his teammates score or his teammates make a big play than he does when he makes a great play, and I think that just speaks volumes about Max and is just very symbolic of his personality.”
“Max gets the best shot for our offense,” said Glynn. “He’ll put all the attention somewhere else; he just wants our offense to click and score.”
Seibald’s play extends far beyond the offensive end. While he got people’s attention with a penchant for scoring goals off slick, breakneck speed dodges, and ambidextrous sniping he quickly became known as a “grinder” too.
“One thing I like to bring to the team is my ability to play within the restraining lines,” Seibald said. “I can do faceoffs, I pride myself on grinding out and pickup up groundballs, creating transition…I play offense. I play defense.”
“He is just the kind of young man that will do anything, literally anything for us to be successful,” Tambroni said. “I really do believe that as a leader he cares more about his team and his teammates than he does himself.”
That attitude was well illustrated in the 2007 playoffs. In their Final Four loss, a hit at the substitution box early in the game crushed Seibald. The hit concussed him, leaving Seibald dazed, hurt, and limited in ability. Yet he played out the game, contributing an assist along with his usual hustle plays.
In the quarterfinals, Seibald played the entire game against Albany with a bad ankle, an injury from earlier in the year that was exacerbated in Cornell’s first-round game with Towson. Seibald went 2, 2 that day, but his most important contributions were never seen on a scorer’s sheet.
Knowing of Seibald’s injury, Albany middies trapped him on defense, then ran him around inverting. They slid early and often to him. Yet Seibald not only responded, he made the game’s signature play.
After playing to an 11-11 draw, Albany had their best chance of ending it in the waning minutes of overtime. Albany middie Tyler Endres grabbed a loose ball and broke down field. He seemed to have an open path to the cage, when Seibald, flying down the field on that bum ankle, closed on Endres, lunged out, and trail checked the ball out of his stick. Glynn would grab the loose ball, charge back the other way, and score the game winner off a feed from Eric Pittard.
Coach Tambroni aptly described Seibald’s effort after the game, saying, “he played the part of a warrior today.”
The 2007 season helped build Seibald’s reputation as a clutch player. While many heard of his playoff exploits, he began to show his ability for late-game heroics during the season. In Cornell’s one-goal victory over Duke, Seibald assisted Pittard on the game winner.
Less than a month later, Seibald got the chance to ice a game himself. During a classic battle in the Carrier Dome, Seibald found himself with the ball, on the wing, goal line extended, with :08 left in a 15-15 tie with Syracuse. As the whistle blew, Seibald took off, flat out burning a poorly positioned Steve Panarelli, streaking across the face of the goal, and tucking in the game winner with fewer than four seconds left.
The play was a significant maturation point for Seibald. Originally it was supposed to be a set where he would begin to dodge, then look off for a feed and someone else to finish. But after both coaches exchanged timeouts, in the second huddle, Seibald stepped up with a simpler idea.
“I just kind of said, ‘Coach, I can take him, just let me get the ball,’” Seibald said. “He looked at me and said, ‘It’s all yours.’…I was confident that I could beat him right off the bat.”
Words like that from some might seem boastful, but for Seibald it was a declaration to his teammates. At some point in a star player’s career, he needs to realize that deep down, his team is looking to him. He needs to assert himself as the one who can get it done.
“You want your best player to want the ball in those kinds of moments,” Tambroni said. “So it was a pretty impressive decision by a young man to say that, to have the courage to say that, to go out and make the play the way that he did, just added to the legacy of Max Seibald.”
Seibald built on that legacy in the 2008 season opener. Down 6-7 to Navy with about twenty ticks left, Seibald got the ball at the top of the box and bull dodged his way to an underhand shot that tied the game. Cornell would go on to win in OT. Seibald would add at least one more game-winner against Yale, though not in the same last minute, dramatic fashion.
Seibald spoiled one for a service academy again in 2009. Playing at West Point, Cornell held a lead most of the contest, but a late surge by Army found the game tied at 8-8 with 90 seconds left. On Cornell’s next possession, a two-man game between Glynn and Seibald ended with Glynn hitting a cutting Seibald for the game winner.
“Those are the types of plays that he makes because of his heart and because of his investment into his teammates,” Tambroni said. “I really do believe that as a leader he cares more about his team and his teammates than he does himself.”
Seibald’s greatest maturation may be that he has truly been galvanized on this team as a leader. Quite atypically, he was voted a captain as a junior. The experience proved valuable because of the ups and downs his team went through. Seibald learned what defined the role of a leader, and how much good leadership affects the entire team from those he witnessed on the 2007 and 2008 teams.
“My sophomore year, with that senior class, we had a really successful season because those guys really kept us level-headed and kept us focused on our goal, which was to win the next game, and not look ahead and become complacent,” Seibald said. “We never really hit our peak last year, we were up and down, up and down a lot. I think a lot of it came because we weren’t a great practice team. We didn’t come out and compete like we did the year before at practice.”
Seibald and the rest of his senior class have taken that idea to heart this year. They have pushed the team to more consistency not just on Saturdays, but every day of the week.
“Max is one of those guys who leads by example,” said fellow senior, defenseman Matt Moyer. Moyer and Seibald’s relationship is particularly interesting since the two so often challenge each other at practice. “He is going to be that guy who’s going to go out there and do it, and you either get with him or you don’t.”
His attitude, skills, and work ethic have turned Seibald into a leader that teammates gravitate towards. Not necessarily a rah-rah guy, he is more soft-spoken, almost cerebral.
“When he says something, it’s one of those opportunities where people are just going to listen,” Tambroni said. “He doesn’t waste a lot of words. When he steps up, our guys really kind of tune into him.”
“He’s kind of a quite guy off the field, but on the field, when he says something, everyone listens,” Glynn said. “Everyone respects what he says, just because he works so hard and the plays he makes and his effort. He’s definitely a huge leader for us, and when he says something, it cuts deep.”
Seibald’s personality off the field does not stray far from how he is on it. He demands success of himself, working hard in the classroom, truly being a scholar-athlete. He chose Cornell because of its esteemed academic reputation before the chance at lacrosse success. As Moyer pointed out, he may be more selfless away from the lacrosse field than on it. He makes it a point to help younger players not just in their games, but in their lives.
“Where I think he is one of our greatest leaders is just in his investment to being a Cornell lacrosse player,” Tambroni said, “not just as a player on the field, but his investment into being a Cornell lacrosse player as a student, as an athlete, as a volunteer working within our community; he leads the charge in just about everything we do.”
Seibald will now have to lead that charge into the playoffs. After the early, embarrassing bounce by Ohio State last year, Cornell will have to silence the doubters early on Saturday. Drawing Hofstra in the first round gives them possibly an even bigger challenge than the Buckeyes of last year.
“We’re confident in what we have,” Seibald said. “A lot of guys have been stepping up, and for me personally, I’ve been trying to step it up another level and bring my best game throughout practice this week, which will hopefully result in a positive outcome this weekend.
“It’s the second season now, and we’re looking forward to erasing everything that’s happened in the past and continuing on.”
It will take more than just effort to advance. The Big Red will need a strong, cohesive effort against a Hofstra squad that matches up well with them on paper.
“As a freshman and a sophomore and a junior, when it came down to playoff time, I was really motivated to play for those seniors and give it my best, to hopefully keep them around as long as we could,” Seibald recalled. “For us, the senior class, we know that this is right now our last guaranteed week of the season, and we have to earn another week to stay up on campus.”
But when Seibald finally leaves the ivy-laden campus in Ithaca, NY, he leaves Cornell a different program. Though it started a few seasons before he arrived, Seibald and the rest of his freshman class have continued to elevate the Big Red revival in the collegiate lacrosse world.
In his four years, Cornell has won four-straight Ivy League Championships, taking the conference automatic qualifier every time. With his nomination this year, Seibald is the first player in Ivy League history to be named first-team All-Ivy four-straight years. Again, this year he will have a seat at the Tewaarton finalists table. Still, it is all secondary to Seibald.
“Whatever accolades come, I’ll take them, but the end of the day, I want a big national championship ring on my finger,” Seibald said.
While he has no jewelry to show yet, he does have a mature perspective on all that has transcended in his four years.
“I was part of something great, and I hope by the time I leave, “ Seibald explained, “I leave this place greater than I found it, and the younger guys and the coaches have an experience that is great and hopefully is just another building block in the tradition of Cornell lacrosse."
Few doubt that #42 will be indelibly etched into the history of Cornell lacrosse.
“I don’t think we’re going to have another guy like Max,” Coach Tambroni said. “He’s pretty much one of a kind.”