- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

Navy seemingly came out of nowhere this season to reach the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament semifinals.

Appropriately enough, so did Joe Bossi.

The leading scorer for the second-seeded Midshipmen (14-2), who play sixth-seeded Princeton (11-3) in the first semifinal this morning at M&T; Bank Stadium in Baltimore, has turned in a stellar senior year to help key Navy’s revival in the sport. Bossi achieved only the sixth 40-goal season in academy history, scoring 41 for the Midshipmen.

“Joe Bossi probably epitomized Navy lacrosse this year,” Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. “Navy was a team that didn’t make the playoffs last year and didn’t have as successful a year as they would have liked. All of a sudden, a year later they come back and here’s a Cinderella story and they’re in the final four. I think Joe Bossi embodies that. Here’s a guy who was a good solid player the year before and now all the sudden is playing like an All-American.”

Known as a cut-up to his teammates, Bossi is usually quiet when he encounters new people. Ben Bailey, a senior midfielder, discovered that in almost comic fashion when he met Bossi at a lacrosse camp at Johns Hopkins the summer before both entered the Peddie School in New Jersey.

“I walk in and there’s this guy sitting in my room,” Bailey said. “I say, ‘Hey, I’m Ben, how are you doing,’ and he says, ‘I’m Joe.’ The rest of the day, he doesn’t say anything. We were even going to practice and games. Finally, late that night I’m getting ready to fall asleep and all the sudden he says, ‘Are you thinking about going anywhere else other than Navy?’ and I’m thinking, ‘Who is this kid?’”

It was much the same once Bossi arrived at Peddie. He kept to himself, played golf alone and got a room of his own. Eventually, Bailey discovered another side to Bossi.

“He was a hermit, but once the season started and we started hanging out more and more, this kid just wouldn’t shut up,” Bailey said.

Added senior midfielder Matt Midura: “He doesn’t come across as being this crazy guy, but the more you get to know him, the more you realize he’s a hilarious guy. He has two sides. He has this serious side, but the people close to him know he’s a character.”

Bossi brought that personality to Annapolis, but he didn’t play much as a freshman. He scored seven goals as a sophomore but gave serious thought to leaving the academy when Dave Pittard, his best friend on the team and a fellow native of Skaneateles, N.Y., near Syracuse, said he was dropping out of the academy and transferring to Cornell.

It seemed a daunting situation to Bossi to lose the main connection to his hometown. Throughout his life, Bossi has relied on older sisters Michelle and Angela for advice, and this time was no different.

“I go to Michelle and say that I want to leave, and she’s surprised and asks why,” Bossi said. “I say I don’t know if I can do this and I don’t know if I want to serve. She pretty much laid it on the line for me, saying, ‘You’re going to leave, you’re going to be a junior at another school, you’re going to have no friends there, you’re probably not going to get any financial support from anybody and your best friends in the world are there on the lacrosse team.’”

Bossi soon agreed with his sister, and it proved to be a wise choice. Bossi started all 13 games last year, scoring 12 goals and coming on strong late in the season. He had two goals against Johns Hopkins and scored the game-winner against Army.

Most importantly, Bossi picked up confidence that had been missing since his high school days.

“It started building at the end of the year when Coach started playing me all the time,” Bossi said. “This year, he said, ‘You’re going to be on the field all the time.’ Anything I do, it doesn’t matter. Obviously, if I’m horrible for X amount of time, I’ll get pulled, but I really didn’t see that happening. I just went back to what I was like in high school and just played the game and had no worries about getting pulled. When your confidence level is up, that can make or break a player.”

It can also have a serious effect on the team’s offensive chemistry. Bossi provides the efficient lefty finisher most teams need to make a long playoff run, as well as a look that can put opposing defenses on their heels.

Bossi’s also an entirely different player than Navy’s other starting attackmen. At 6-foot-3 and listed at 248 pounds, Ian Dingman is a physical presence who can force his way to the crease. Jon Birsner, a crafty feeder who thrives behind the cage, has helped set up the Mids’ offense all season.

Then there’s Bossi, the senior with a knack for turning loose balls into goals, who helps keep the two sophomores in line.

“Dinger’s like a freight train and Birsner’s like a roadrunner, and sometimes Jon goes faster than his brain lets him,” coach Richie Meade said. “Joe’s been a real steadying influence, and he really understands what we’re trying to do offensively.”

Once this wild holiday weekend — which included graduation yesterday in Annapolis and could include a title game appearance Monday — is over, Bossi will serve temporary active duty with the lacrosse office before leaving for Pensacola, Fla., in November to work toward becoming a pilot.

“I just wanted to fly around in a plane and get paid for it,” Bossi said. “I think it’s really cool. I see some of my buddies going out and getting jobs sitting in a cubicle behind some desk, and that doesn’t sound very fun. It’s just being up in the air and the challenge of it. It’s not set in stone that I’m going to be a pilot. I still have to pass all my classes and flight tests.”

And like the task of becoming one of the best finishers in the country, it’s one Bossi is almost certainly ready to meet.

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