Malvern's Hilburn an artful dodger

Posted: April 10, 2014

RYAN HILBURN is built like a battering ram, but on the lacrosse field he is a speedster. Think Denver Broncos slot receiver Wes Welker, but in a fullback's body.

And with a nickname like "Sparkplug" you know you won't have to wait long for Hilburn to make his presence felt.

Yesterday, the senior attacker from Malvern Prep netted the Friars' first four goals and later added an assist in a 15-6 conquest of host Springside Chestnut Hill.

So, just how tall is he?

"I'll say 5-8," Hilburn said, smiling, "but I'm barely 5-8." Add 195 pounds, Popeye-sized forearms and calves and you have a problem for opposing defenses.

"A lot of my friends who I play against, they always say I'm hard to find because I'm so small," he said.

"I guess I'm a little sneaky. That's what my big thing is. I like to make backdoor-cuts and stuff. I'm not the fastest guy, but I feel like I'm somewhat quick so I can beat guys with dodges. Feel like I'm a good finisher, too."

The West Chester resident consistently slipped through cracks and crevices to notch three goals in the first period. The third came via a seamless pirouette move, which kicked up black rubber bits from the turf field as he pivoted to fire on goal.

However, tussling in the middle with the towers wasn't always the smartest move. And the road to success was anything but seamless.

Hilburn, whose mother Lisa was a lacrosse standout at Nether Providence High before it became Strath Haven, grew up playing the sport. But he struggled as a freshman at Malvern.

"I was just going against some of the top d-poles [defensemen] around," he said. "Almost every d-pole I was going against in practice was going Division I and was 6-foot or bigger so it was hard to stack up against them and I was getting pushed around a little bit."

Sophomore year he suffered a torn ACL while playing fullback and linebacker for the Friars football squad. That was the end of his football career.

"I watched [lacrosse] pretty much that whole year so junior year I felt like I had something to prove," he said.

What his doctor said would be a 6-month recovery period, Hilburn said he pulled off in 4. All he did when he came back was earn first-team All-Inter-Ac honors and help the Friars to a lacrosse league title.

"I think my role this year is to be more of a captain out on the field and help direct more of the offense, deciding when is a good time to [attack] and when to pull it out," he said.

In addition to Hilburn, the other Malvern captains are seniors Conor Glancy, Greg Pelton, Chris Isenberg, and Kevin McGeary. Yesterday, Glancy's first goal gave the Friars (11-0) a 5-0 lead before the half and his second made it and 8-0 in the third. He also added an assist. McGeary scored twice while Billy Coyle also added a pair. Sophomore Adam Goldner contributed a goal and two assists.

Tasso Karras, a senior attacker, scored three late goals for the Blue Devils (5-5).

As for Hilburn - whose older brother Chris (Malvern, 2013) is freshman midfielder at Penn - he will attend Boston University on a partial scholarship.

His mom went on to play basketball and lacrosse at Gettysburg. His dad, Chris, played football at Central Bucks East and then at Gettysburg before hurting his knee.

Ryan leaned toward mom initially, but ultimately played politics when asked where his skills came from.

"My dad would say him, but I'd probably say my mom," he said, laughing. "She's definitely a great athlete. My dad's pretty athletic, too, so maybe it's both."

Academically, Hilburn leans toward business but hasn't settled just yet. He's still having fun in high school, which includes extracurricular activities such as the Friar Faithful, a group that sometimes dresses up, but always cheers on most Malvern athletic teams.

Their funniest outfits?

"We had a team called the Filthy Friars," he said. "We dressed up like country guys, wearing jean shorts, flannels and cowboy hats."

Hilburn also said he participated in Hurricane Sandy relief efforts in New Jersey.

Sure, he' has had some fun and games and overcome a lot, but Hilburn is serious about how he wants to end his Malvern lacrosse career: a championship in the Inter-Ac Invitational, a postseason tournament featuring some of the country's top lacrosse teams. The Friars lost to Haverford School last season.

"Personally, I feel pretty awesome about how far I've come," he said. "I came back from the knee pretty fast so that was a great accomplishment, but the one thing I feel like I'm missing out on is finishing the season off with a 'W' because every year I've been at Malvern, we've lost in the Inter-AC Invitational. So that's the one thing I'm not happy with and I want to change that this year."

On Twitter: @AceCarterDN

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