Dan Tlapek sat under a canopy and rang the sweat out of his shorts. It wasn’t just hot on the artificial turf at Lindenwood University. It was the oven that’s behind the barbecue in the back of hell’s kitchen. Hot would have been pleasant. This was torture.
Tlapek and his St. Louis University High lacrosse teammates were in need of some relief, and it wasn’t coming in the form of a cold shower. MICDS was leading the Junior Billikens in the state title game and time was ticking away. Unbeaten by a local team all season, MICDS was the juggernaut of the playoffs. The Rams might not have been a heavy favorite, but they were the favorite.
Down a goal at the start of the fourth quarter, Tlapek took things into his own hands. A 5-foot-7, 155-pound attacker, he would score the tying goal minutes in. Then he would tally the go-ahead goal with 1 minute, 33 seconds remaining in regulation to lift SLUH (21-2) to a 7-6 victory and the state title. “As a captain, I had to give all that I can give,” Tlapek, who scored 23 goals and handed out 10 assists, says.
Tlapek dipped into a reservoir of energy deep inside himself that was fueled not by the joy of winning but the pain of losing. The year before SLUH lost in overtime to Rockhurst in the state semifinals. Two days later, Rockhurst would win the championship as the SLUH players watched from the stands. “The feeling of losing would be worse than the (joy) of winning,” Tlapek, 18, says. “I hate to lose.”
So Tlapek did everything he possibly could to avoid it. He and his teammates pushed each other through grueling training sessions. They worked tirelessly in every game to leave everything they had on the field.
When it looked like SLUH had nothing left to give, Tlapek delivered. That he came up large in a clutch situation is nothing new. He’s the guy who kicked four field goals more than 40 yards to push SLUH to a thrilling win over De Smet in the Class 6 quarterfinals in the fall. The school paper tabbed his kicks as the top sports moment at SLUH for the past year. Days after the paper printed Tlapek worked his magic on the lacrosse field. “I feel blessed it happened to me,” Tlapek says.
And to think that’s how his athletic career could come to an end. Headed to Mizzou in the fall, Tlapek doesn’t plan on playing lacrosse and he’s only kind of toying with the idea of trying out as a walk on kicker for the football team. But that doesn’t seem likely at this moment.
For all his accomplishments on the field as a kicker and attacker, Tlapek will actually attend Mizzou on a scholarship for, of all things, caddying. A regular at Algonquin Golf Club, Tlapek has schlepped bags for the past five years. He applied for and was named an Evans Scholar. The scholarship is awarded annually to caddies who demonstrate a strong caddie record, excellent academics, financial need and outstanding character. Tlapek will join 11 other caddies at the Evans Scholars House when school starts. The scholarship is valued at $70,000 for four years.
If Tlapek’s athletic career is complete, then he went out the way you dream it up—on top. “To know everything ended the way it did, I have to pinch myself,” Tlapek says.