Ryder Garnsey has 14 goals through three games.

The Evolution of Ryder Garnsey

AWL. It’s written in Sharpie on a piece of tape wrapped around the chin bar of Ryder Garnsey’s helmet. It’s also in his Instagram bio.

It stands for “Aren’t we lucky?” It was what his grandpa — his mom’s father, whom he affectionally calls Bups — used to say. It’s become the Garnsey family mantra. He and his siblings all have the saying tattooed on their backs. Garnsey got his once he turned 18.

Garnsey explained that there is a lot to be thankful for and appreciative of, including the experiences they have and the people in their lives.

While his play to start the 2023 Premier Lacrosse League season is anything but lucky, the experiences he’s had and people he’s worked with have made a major impact on the evolution of Ryder Garnsey the player and person.

“I think I have great relationships in the locker room, and I think my coaching staff believes in me, and my decisions are based off the right things,” he said. “I was raised the right way. I’m fortunate to have great role models who do things the right way, and the way those people have shaped me, I have confidence I’m doing the right things.”

The coaching staff of the Redwoods certainly believes in Garnsey. When Nat St. Laurent added Hall of Famer John Grant Jr. as the team’s offensive coordinator, he specifically told him he was going to enjoy coaching Garnsey.

While the two don’t play similar styles — Garnsey called Grant Jr. “a moose” — they both are lefty attackmen who aren’t necessarily the fastest. Garnsey said he should be able to pick up a thing or two from “the best lefty of all time” and his influence has been a big reason his fifth year as a pro is shaping up to be his best.

Through three games, Garnsey has a league-leading 14 goals and two assists. The 14 goals are tied for his second most in a season (accomplished in nine games twice) and are only five behind his single-season best.

“I was sort of a punk in college. I think that is something well documented, and I think it's probably fair.”

— Ryder Garnsey

It’s not just the number of goals he’s scored, either. It’s how he’s scored them. He’s scored one-handed goals with defenders draped over him. He’s scored after a toe-drag fake in front of the goal. He’s scored after selling out for a loose ball, rolling between multiple defenders and beating a few others. The never-ending stream of highlights have fans calling him a video game character.

Garnsey said he doesn’t go into a play thinking about what he’s going to do to the defense. He said he can’t play that way because he’s not fast enough to beat his man or strong enough to wear him down. He just takes what the defense gives to him and is ready to adapt. He’s willing to sacrifice his body and do the dirty work to set up someone else’s big play, too.

When asked about their favorite plays of Garnsey’s, neither St. Laurent or former Notre Dame and Redwoods teammate Matt Kavanagh mentioned a goal. They both referred to the same play from the 2019 PLL semifinals. After two consecutive failed clears, Garnsey picked up a ground ball at midfield, was flat tired and lost his shoe and passed it to Wes Berg. He earned an assist on Berg’s goal.

“I thought that tells a story about how he plays and doesn't take plays off,” Kavanagh said, “and doesn't slow down until he hears a whistle.”

St. Laurent, long an admirer of Garnsey, said he is playing at a different level. In the past, St. Laurent felt Garnsey deferred to his All-Star teammates like Rob Pannell, Matt Kavanagh, Myles Jones and Sergio Perkovic too much. He wanted Garnsey to grow into more of a leader himself. He thought so much of Garnsey’s ability and leadership that it was a reason he was willing to trade Kavanagh to the Cannons in November.

“It was extremely hard to trade Matt Kavanagh, extremely hard, but the only way we could do that is because we had two really good lefties in Ryder and [Charlie] Bertrand,” he said. “I was really expecting and hoping that [Garnsey[ would kind of take that next step, and, boy has he ever.”

In a bit of cruel irony, Kavanagh’s trade opened playing time at a more natural position for Garnsey, although it also meant that he would be losing his mentor and good friend.

Kavanagh and Garnsey first met at Notre Dame, the former being a senior and the latter a freshman. Kavanagh said the tradition head coach Kevin Corrigan created was to invite the freshmen and their families to his house after they’ve moved into their dorm rooms for a barbecue. The two played the same lefty attack position and had a similar tenacious and physical style, so Kavanagh felt compelled to mentor Garnsey.

“If you get to know him off the field, he's a soft-spoken, really nice and down-to-Earth guy,” he said. “That's just how it is in sports. You’ve got to flip a switch and become a different person on the field, and I think he does that better than, really, anyone else in the league. To see his success this year, starting off hot like he has, it's really fun to watch.”

Garnsey has looked up to Kavanagh since his freshman year and said it “sucked” when he found out his mentor had been traded, and said it felt strange when the Redwoods would go out for a team meal and Kavanagh wouldn’t be joining them. He added, however, that not being teammates wasn’t going to change their friendship. Considering their connections to their alma mater and what transpired in 2023, it actually brought them even closer.

Since the 2021 season, Garnsey has been a volunteer assistant coach for Notre Dame. Two of the program’s top players in 2023 were Kavanagh’s brothers, Pat and Chris. Pat Kavanagh, a senior, was a Tewaaraton Award finalist who led the Fighting Irish with 77 points on 25 goals and a team-best 52 assist. Chris Kavanagh, a sophomore, finished second on the team with 62 points with a team-best 46 goals.

Matt Kavanagh said his brothers have known Garnsey for as long as he has, and they have an immense amount of respect for him as a person and coach.

“They take his coaching and his criticism of them in a positive way knowing that he has the best interests for them,” he said. “Pat and Chris in their own ways play similar to Ryder in that kind of flashy but gritty way, so I think having a guy like him where he can kind of coach them up and tell them to tone it down or give them that freedom to do and play how they play, it's a confidence boost for them, and I think has really helped with their skill development and their overall confidence.”

It isn’t just the Kavanaghs that looked up to Garnsey, either. Arden Cohen has been a teammate of Garnsey’s at both Notre Dame and now in his second year with the Redwoods. He remembers admiring him from afar in 2017, the year before he arrived on campus, and cheering from the couch as Garnsey scored the game-winner in overtime against Virginia off an assist from Garrett Epple. Then he got to team with him and remembered all the extra shots he took after practice every day. He was still playing for the Fighting Irish when Garnsey became a coach, and he was always impressed with how much he knew.

“Nobody knows the game better than Ryder,” he said. “Every kid, after working one-on-one with him, would leave the session being like, ‘Holy cow. I just learned a tremendous amount.’ I mean, he just knows so much about the game.”


Garnsey has made a habit of scoring highlight goals in 2023.

Garnsey called the 2023 Notre Dame season, which ended with the team’s first national championship in program history, a “dream come true.” He said it was something he had wanted to achieve since he was 5 years old and felt bad that he couldn’t deliver it while playing there himself. His final two seasons at Notre Dame included their share of controversy. First, it was reported going into his junior year that he was granted his release from the program and that he was looking to transfer before ultimately announcing a week later he was staying with the program. Then, he was ruled academically ineligible for his senior season and wasn’t reinstated until the final two games.

Despite the mistakes Garnsey made off the field, it was clear to his coaches and teammates that the team’s success meant everything to him. Cohen remembered when Garnsey was ineligible but played with the practice squad. He never complained, and — in his words — brought those players up to his level with an infectious attitude.

What Garnsey is grateful for is that his teammates and Corrigan never gave up on him, and he was able to come back and make a more positive impression on the program. Talking about it had him choked up.

“I certainly made it pretty tough on my parents and coach sometimes, and they have supported me tenfold. I don't think that that was something that certainly he had to do,” he said. “I was sort of a punk in college. I think that is something well documented, and I think it's probably fair. I didn't do everything that I possibly could have in order to help our team be successful when I was there, whether that's on or off the field, and I think that his loyalty to me has been something that he didn't need to do, but I’m eternally grateful for it.”

Not only has Garnsey’s coaching experience acted as redemption. St. Laurent believes that coaching at Notre Dame under Corrigan and assistant coaches Ryan Wellner and Chris Wojcik has improved Garnsey as a player, particularly in his decision making. Garnsey committed a number of questionable turnovers during the 2020 bubble season that he doesn’t see him committing anymore.

He also thinks Garnsey’s improvement comes from him being in a better place mentally.

“It’s almost like he’s at peace. He’s not playing to prove anything,” he said. “Now, the way he plays, he’s just trying to make plays for his team. Everything he does is for this team. I think being around the Notre Dame locker room, being a coach, knowing the importance of that and seeing it from a different view as a coach instead of a player. He understands the magnitude of that.”

St. Laurent called Garnsey one of his favorite people he’s been able to coach, and he isn’t the only one in his family that thinks that. He said his son, 9-year-old Jamarcus, is a lefty attackman like Garnsey and wears a Redwoods jersey with the number 50 on it.

Like the Kavanaghs and Cohen, St. Laurent thinks Garnsey is a good role model.

“If [Jamarcus] wants to grow up and be like Ryder,” he said, “I'll be 100 percent OK with that.”

Hearing that makes Garnsey smile, adding that if he wasn’t a team player, St. Laurent wouldn’t say things like that. It’s comments like that from his coaches and his teammates that have helped Garnsey feel comfortable in the Redwoods roster.

He’s always believed in his abilities, but thanks to the people that have supported him and the experiences he’s had, the Redwoods are off to a strong start and fans are lucky to be treated to what St. Laurent calls the evolution of Ryder Garnsey.

“I've certainly matured and been better about identifying the spots that I'm successful, identifying the things that I need to do off the field that make me successful on the field and better putting those in during the offseason,” Garnsey said. “I've always believed in myself that when the game’s on the line, I'm going to be able to make a play.”


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