He was the baby brother, with five older sisters, so naturally attention was lavished upon Stephen Rehfuss.
He produced gigantic scoring numbers at Shaker High, but he was small, barely 100 pounds as a freshman, so he got no attention from the big college lacrosse programs.
Somehow, Rehfuss not only made his way to one of the most storied powerhouses in the sport, Syracuse, but he comes into Thursday’s 5 p.m. game against UAlbany as the Orange’s leading scorer.
The 6-foot, 183-pound attack has 34 points on 18 goals and 16 assists, a little bit of a departure from each of his first three seasons at SU, when his assist totals were slightly higher than the goals. Defenses are overplaying him as a distributor more, though, so shots are available, and he’s taking them.
The biggest shot of all was to transfer from Holy Cross to Syracuse — “very intimidating,” he said during a Zoom conference on Tuesday — but Rehfuss has thrived at SU with a well-rounded game based on smart decisions more than anything else.
“He’s just the type of player who knows what the right look is at the right moment and what the team needs in a variety of different situations,” said his sister Abby, the Siena women’s lacrosse coach. “He’s always been a real student of the game.”
“He’s playing really well in all aspects of his game,” Syracuse head coach John Desko said. “He’s dodging well, he’s seeing the field well, he’s getting other players involved, he understands the offense and knows how to distribute the ball. He’s a very good rider, which, for an attack man, a lot of people don’t focus on. But he really gets after it in the ride and is just a very complete player.”
“Teams have kind of been forcing me to become a scorer,” Stephen Rehfuss said. “I’ve been trying to take advantage of some of the opportunities there and have been able to shoot the ball pretty well and, hopefully, I can keep that up and take advantage of the chances the other teams are giving me.”
Syracuse gave Rehfuss a chance after a rocky year at Holy Cross, one of the few schools to show interest in him after he piled up a school-record 319 points in four seasons at Shaker.
Rehfuss never played for the Crusaders and put his name in the transfer portal.
His coach at Shaker, Shawn Hennessey got the ball rolling by contacting Syracuse assistant coach Lelan Rogers, and Rehfuss decided to take the plunge when Syracuse offered him a roster spot.
“Definitely, to come into Syracuse is very intimidating, especially coming from a place like Holy Cross, where it’s a very different program, for obvious reasons,” Rehfuss said. “But it’s been a cool journey to see how my role and my mindset has progressed from being intimidated by them to being such a part of it.”
“I don’t remember him out of high school,” Desko said. “I don’t remember seeing him anywhere. And at the time, knowing he was a lefty, we were in some need there. So just being left-handed, and looking at all the points he scored in high school, you’ve got to be a decent player. There was a need for him at the time, and fortunately he chose Syracuse coming out of the portal.”
Rehfuss totaled 12 goals and 13 assists in his first season, 2017, and went 20-28-48 in 2018 and 18-21-39 in 2019.
Through seven games for the 4-3 Orange in 2021, the redshirt senior has been a consistent goal scorer, with either two or three goals in each game.
“I think a lot of that has to do with how the games played out,” he said. “I think over the last couple years of my career, I’ve been more known as a feeder by the other team, so people haven’t been sliding to me as much recently just because if they do, I can feed people.”
“I think people are looking at him this year and thinking, ‘Oh, wow, Stephen’s having a breakout season’; I don’t think that at all,” Abby Rehfuss said. “He’s been there all along, and people are just noticing him a little bit more for whatever reason. But it’s not because Stephen’s any different.”
Rehfuss had plenty of lacrosse tutors in the household as he was growing up.
Besides Abby, who played college ball at Loyola, his sisters Caroline (Princeton) and Anne (Williams) also played college lacrosse.
“I think Stephen had it pretty good,” Abby said with a laugh. “I think he had it better than the rest of us, honestly. Being the youngest, and being the only boy, he just immediately became the favorite child, for obvious reasons, and everyone was very protective of the little guy.
“But he was a trouper. He got dragged around to all of our sporting events for his entire life, and I think that probably piqued his interest quite a bit, especially in lacrosse.
“Now we’re all returning the favor. If he has a game, we literally plan our weeks around it.”
That included one instance when Syracuse was playing a game while Abby Rehfuss’ team was practicing.
That’s what AirPods are for. She was able to listen to the broadcast while putting the Saints through the workout. Stephen had two goals and two assists as Syracuse crushed Holy Cross 15-6.
“I knew how much work I had put in through my entire life and how much I appreciated the game and paid attention to the game and just worked on my game all the time,” said Stephen, who will follow another family tradition when he attends Albany Law School in the fall.
“Growing up, I was watching players and teams and knew I could play at that level. I just needed to get my shot. It was a frustrating process through my whole high school career and freshman year at Holy Cross. But I really just kept that confidence, and also that confidence was instilled in me by my family and my parents and my sisters.”