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Goal-Minded Focus

All-American lacrosse players Stephen Rehfuss and Jamie Trimboli put their post-college plans on hold to return to Syracuse and pursue a national championship.

Lacrosse player Stephen Rehfuss dodges past a defender in the dome.
Stephen Rehfuss (29) dodges by a defender in the Orange’s 9-7 win over Army.

In addition to being All-American lacrosse players at Syracuse University, Stephen Rehfuss ’19 and Jamie Trimboli ’20 are teammates, friends and scholar-athletes. If all went according to schedule this year, they were ready to set their sticks aside and launch their post-graduation careers: Rehfuss was headed to law school, and Trimboli was set to join a financial planning firm. But that changed when the pandemic brought the 2020 season to a halt.

At the time, the Orange were on a roll. They were 5-0 and the top-ranked program in the country—and that’s where they would remain in the shortened season. For the players, it was a season of unfinished business as they looked to return the Orange to the NCAA Final Four for the first time since 2013 and shoot for the team’s 12th NCAA national championship. “Every year you have high expectations and your goal is to make it to that Final Four and win a national championship,” says Rehfuss, who was a redshirt senior. “We only played five games, so who knows what would have happened, but we were definitely talented and had a legitimate shot.”

When the NCAA announced on March 30 that it was granting another year of eligibility to seniors in spring sports, Rehfuss and Trimboli put their future plans on hold, welcoming the opportunity to return for the 2021 season. “We seniors thought it was all over and were on an emotional roller coaster,” says Trimboli, a team captain. “We didn’t know what the future would hold. It was rough, but when the news broke about the eligibility, our focus switched and immediately we all just wanted to do whatever we could to get back. It’s been great since then—business as usual.”

Rehfuss and Trimboli are among five graduates who will rejoin a talent-laden squad that will feature nine All-Americans in 2021. As Trimboli puts it, the abrupt end to the season had left them facing the reality that their days of competitive lacrosse could be over as they contemplated the thought of entering the working world. “We weren’t ready for that yet,” he says.

Orange From His Earliest Days

Lacrosse player Jamie Trimboli carries the ball through a check by a defender
Jamie Trimboli (12) looks for a shot in Syracuse’s 9-7 victory over Army. Trimboli scored a career-high five goals in the game, including three straight strikes in the third quarter and the go-ahead goal in the fourth quarter.

Trimboli grew up in Victor, New York, and has been a Syracuse lacrosse fan ever since he picked up a stick in elementary school. He dreamed of being part of the program and says he’s lived out that dream, even during the tough times. Trimboli entered his first year at Syracuse as a high school All-American and his talent was evident—he played in all 16 games, including 10 starts. However, he recalls one game early that season when he was struggling and Coach Roy Simmons III ’85, the team’s director of operations, approached him on the sidelines. “He came up to me, put his arm around me when I was waiting to go on the field, and told me to take a deep breath and said, ‘You’ll figure it out, bud. Just relax, you’re going to be an All-American someday,” Trimboli says.

Trimboli took the advice to heart and never looked back. The midfielder is a three-time All-America selection, including earning first-team honors in 2020 and a spot on the watch list for the Tewaaraton Award, recognizing the nation’s top player. He was joined on the list by fellow midfielders and All-Americans Tucker Dordevic ’22 and Brendan Curry ’21. In the shortened season, Trimboli was the nation’s leading midfield scorer (3.4 goals per game), and the Syracuse trio was on the way to netting one of the highest scoring seasons in Orange history. “We really care about each other and we’re best friends off the field,” Trimboli says. “On the field, it’s the same thing. We have a great relationship—open communication and we’re not scared to let each other hear it, and that ends up paying off pretty well for us. We learn a ton from each other, and I’ve learned the most from those two because, in my opinion, they are the best in the whole country.”

Trimboli matched his feats on the lacrosse field with exceptional performances in the classroom. As part of the 2020 One University Awards, the College of Arts and Sciences biology major received the Student-Athlete Award for posting the highest GPA among senior athletes. He earned Dean’s List and Athletic Director’s Honor Roll recognition throughout his entire Syracuse academic career and was a two-time ACC All-Academic Team selection. “Biology was definitely challenging, but I enjoyed my time with it,” he says.

Initially, Trimboli considered a medical-related career but was unsure of his future path. However, a burgeoning attraction to the financial world led him to shift his plans, and he accepted a position with the Angelo Planning Group, a financial planning firm based in Rochester, New York. He connected with managing partner Ralph Angelo through lacrosse—Trimboli gives lacrosse lessons to kids and mentored Angelo’s son. They got to know each other and Angelo sparked Trimboli’s interest in wealth management. Amid his schoolwork and lacrosse, Trimboli spent the past 18 months studying for certification exams. This summer, he’s interning with the firm, mainly via Zoom meetings, and being introduced to things he’d learn if he’d started his full-time position. This fall, he will enroll in the certificate of advanced study (CAS) program in information security management at the School of Information Studies (iSchool). Throughout the journey, he’s been grateful for Angelo’s ongoing support and guidance. “I had to talk to him about getting the green light to go back,” he says. “I wanted to make sure my spot there was still going to be intact if I spent another year in Syracuse. He was very supportive and said I’d be wasting an incredible opportunity.”

A Life-Changing Program

Lacrosse player Stephen Rehfuss steps into a low-to-high shot
Stephen Rehfuss (29) moves past a Colgate defender in the Orange’s season-opening victory against the Raiders. Rehfuss registered seven assists in the game—a career high that he matched in Syracuse’s win over Johns Hopkins.

The opportunity to return for another season was one Rehfuss fully embraced. After discussions with his family, coaches and teammates, he decided to defer his enrollment at Albany Law School for a year. “Obviously, everyone has their own unique situation. I thought I can always go to law school, but I know I can’t ever get this year back,” he says. “I felt if I had another opportunity—especially when I haven’t been to a Final Four and haven’t won a national championship—I couldn’t pass up the chance to do that.”

Rehfuss, who lives in Latham, New York, was a high school All-American and began his collegiate lacrosse career at Holy Cross, but transferred to Syracuse University before ever playing there. Since then, he’s enjoyed his entire Syracuse experience, from playing, coursework and campus life to the tremendous school spirit and dedication of Orange lacrosse fans. “This program means everything for me. It’s changed my entire life,” he says. “I’ll never forget the day when I got the call from Syracuse to transfer there and how my life from that point on has changed drastically for the best. It’s given me so many of my friends, so many great experiences and a great education.”

Rehfuss comes from a family of lacrosse players and lawyers. He has five sisters—three played college lacrosse and one is now a college coach and two are lawyers. His dad is also a lawyer and former student-athlete. Rehfuss took up hockey and lacrosse at an early age and set his sights on playing college lacrosse at a high level. “I’m competing with the best players and against the best teams to hopefully compete for the national championship and play on the biggest stage,” he says.

With law school on hold, he can pick up where he left off as an All-American attackman, dishing assists to teammates on one of the most potent offenses in the country. In the shortened season, he topped the ACC in assists, was third in the nation with 3.6 assists per game and produced a pair of seven-assist games. He’s led the team in assists for three seasons and is among the program’s all-time top 20 in assists. “I guess I’ve always had good vision and loved getting everyone involved,” he says. “The kids I’m playing with make that job a lot easier. They’re getting open all the time and finishing everything you’re throwing to them. We definitely had a good offense.”

This spring, Rehfuss was a recipient of the Doris Soladay Award, the highest honor for a Syracuse student-athlete who succeeds athletically, academically and in the community. In 2019, he was a member of the ACC All-Academic Team and Honor Roll and earned a bachelor’s degree magna cum laude in communication and rhetorical studies from the College of Visual and Performing Arts. Continuing his studies, he received a CAS in information technology management from the iSchool in May. He’s honed his knowledge working as a paralegal assistant at his dad’s law firm, and last summer he interned with Nike at its Oregon headquarters. This fall, he plans to pursue a CAS program in intercollegiate athletics advising and support at the School of Education. While he’s unsure of what path in law to pursue, his background—combined with his strong interest in sports—may lead him into the field of sports law.  “Being a student-athlete at Syracuse has really been important for me,” he says. “I’ve had a great academic experience and can’t really say enough about everything Syracuse has done for me.”

The Season Ahead

Every Orange lacrosse team seeks to contribute to the program’s proud legacy. While members of the 2020 squad dealt with the disappointment of the season’s unexpected ending, they proved resilient and their unique story adds to the program’s celebrated tradition. Trimboli calls the coaching staff “legendary” and says, “The program has been everything I ever thought it would be. It’s a fantastic program and I have only great feelings toward it.”

Those feelings were reinforced this past season. There was a strong team chemistry and the players were dedicated to performing their best together. “We really had a special group and I just loved every single guy in the locker room—and I think everyone would say the same about everyone else,” Trimboli says. “When you feel that way about a group of guys, you’re really willing to play for them. We wanted to go to practice every day and work toward our goals. That's what we were doing. We were locked in, playing for each other and having a great time on and off the field.”

As Trimboli, Rehfuss and their teammates gear up for the 2021 season, they have an added bonus to look forward to: playing under a new roof on their home turf. “It will definitely be a cool experience,” Rehfuss says. “I think everyone’s looking forward to that.”

Says Trimboli: “It’s going to be awesome.”

Jay Cox

This story was published on .

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