2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: A star is bornA few years back I watched Herkimer win a national junior college championship with an exciting young goalkeeper named Brett Queener. He was the national junior college player of the year that season, but he stood out for other reasons, too. When the team was on the sideline and after the game he was basically a showman. It was like he was the post-game entertainment. He looked like Shia LaBeouf and he held everyone's attention effortlessly. I guessed that day that the kid might be destined for greater things than JUCO glory.
Queener went on to play at the University of Albany and was the difference in many wins, while usually impressing even in the losses. He would bring the ball down on offense probably more than coach Scott Marr really wanted him to, but he was a huge morale boost and mood lightener for two great seasons at Albany. His whole family is in the game. His dad coached him at Penn Yan Academy in the Albany area, his brother Brice played at Georgetown and his sister Sarah coaches at Claremont McKenna in southern California.
Queener went on from Albany to play and star in Major League Lacrosse for Toronto. In his rookie year he was voted onto the All-Star team. The All-Star game was this past weekend in Denver and for the first time in my life, I had the impression that the MLL could possibly succeed long term, and it was all because of Queener.
The funny part was, while Brett was exciting in the goal during the second half and the crowd loved his play, it was his halftime antics that really showed his true talents and potential value to the suffering league. The halftime was a condensed version of the NBA's night before All-Star party with a series of skills competitions. Normally I would have skipped this part of the event, but I gave it a chance and was amazed at what I saw. The three competitions tested accuracy, shot speed and creativity. The accuracy test was won by Toronto's Merrick Thompson, who barely bested Toronto's Joe Walters. The fastest-shot competition was won by Boston's Paul Rabil with a 111 mph shot, believe it or not.
The freestyle shot or creative shot competition is most like the NBA's slam dunk competition. Props can be used. One guy had a lacrosse head on each end of his shaft and a ball in each, trying to shoot both. He didn't win. The thing gets pretty campy. At one point a Drew Westervelt imposter (Matt Danowski) pretended to multi-fake the goalie while the real Westervelt shot the ball into the net effortlessly from the first row of the stands, sitting with fans. True corn. I almost turned it off when Steven Berger used a specifically modified skateboard to kick a ball up to himself. But the most ridiculous and stupid trick shot was yet to come and it was Queener who would stoop so low and oddly, save the show.
Across the field a John Deere was cruising toward the action and on its flatbed back was a fake-beard-wearing Queener who shot video of the audience as he approached, ditched the camera just before they approached the goal and dove off the back of the mini-truck toward the goal and goalie. He shot the ball mid-air as he dove, scoring past the token keeper and landing face down in the cage. It was ridiculous and yet actually funny. Like actual-world funny. Like "the kin folk said, Jed move away from here, Californy is the place you ought to be" funny. Queener won the first round but there was a second round. After a dumb Rabil/Berger combination and the two-headed guy, it was time for Queener again. He held the crowd for a couple minutes like a fine comedian as he did a Michael Jackson spoof tribute complete with one glove, a moonwalk and a shot on the cage to boot. It was as if someone had hired a Jack Black or Robin Williams to come up with some lacrosse routine. Queener was brilliant. The players behind him were in stitches and without even putting a hard or trick shot on goal walked away with the award hands down. The kid is talented and lacrosse isn't his best game.
The question is: will the league somehow figure out how to translate his electricity to the dwindling league and revive it before it's too late? They are much more prone to feature a Paul Rabil, especially after the amazing 111 mph shot and really dominating on the field, but as a celebrity personality, he's as boring as Pete Sampras. He's got a self-satisfied thing going on that is the exact opposite of Queener's drive to entertain us at every moment. I'm not dissing Rabil. Sampras was an all-time great tennis player and ruled an era, but tennis went down the crapper under his reign. Queener is John McEnroe. And McEnroe captured the imagination of a generation, love or hate him. Queener has this ability if the league can just figure out how to make a Toronto goalkeeper the goofy goateed face of professional lacrosse.