Munoz: What It's Like to Play Goalie
This week I've decided it's about time to give some goalie love. I'm going to talk about what it's really like to be a Division I lacrosse goalie, how it's different than high school, and all of the ups and downs that come with it.
There are many differences between high school and college; the most obvious is the shots. It’s not so much that the shots are harder, but they are released so much quicker and placed so much better. I have found that playing the correct angles is vital. Positioning is key with the quick shots. Although, I will say, you still get hit about the same amount. There’s always one person that always hits you (Kyle Fraser), and it still hurts the same every time. For me, the hardest adjustment in college was not having a goalie coach everyday watching me. It’s fair to say I was pretty spoiled with goalie coaches in high school. At St. Mary’s I had Jack Manley at practices, who worked with both the boys' and girls' teams. He has coached fellow St. Mary’s goalies Natalie Wills (Vanderbilt), Katie Teague (George Mason), and Megan Ward (will attend UNC next year). Also, since sophomore year I have been coached by Mike Molster. He's now a volunteer assistant at Johns Hopkins who has coached fellow Anne Arundel (Md.) County goalies Kim Kolarik (Virginia), Cosette Larash (Hopkins), and Brittany Pastrana (George Mason). I also had many great goalie coaches at CC LAX during the summers. Having such amazing goalie coaches is one of the reasons I have considered possibly coaching goalies in my future.
While I am lucky enough to have coaches that are very knowledgeable about the position, I had to get used to not having someone to watch me ALL of the time. What I have learned to do, and what Mike taught me in high school, is what he calls “self-diagnosing.” I have really developed this self-diagnosing skill of being able to know when a goal goes in on me, why it went in and how to fix it. Also, getting someone to film me during a practice or an individual session with my coaches is extremely valuable as well.
Another big difference between playing in high school and college is the communication. I still don’t think I have mastered this, but I am also a pretty quiet person to begin with. Being able to tell your defenders which way to slide, which way to force, or the ball’s location is crucial. Communication is key when telling the defenders that can’t see, where the ball is and what’s going on. What I have also learned is while communication is really important, there’s a point where you just have to be quiet. In our games over spring break, I discovered that over-communicating was really causing me to lose sight of the ball. Now, as soon at the shooter is about to shoot, I zip my lips and focus on the ball. This has improved my game a great deal since then.
My situation is very unique right now at Stanford, because I’m the only goalie. It’s probably one of the toughest things I have ever dealt with, mentally and physically. It’s also something that has helped me learn a lot. My senior year of high school we had four goalies, and last year at Stanford we had three. But Annie Read graduated, and Maxine Luckett sustained an injury that caused her to medically retire, but she's currently staying a part of our team by being our manager.
I thought being the only goalie would be a piece of cake, but man was I wrong. Physically, it’s tough in that I take every single shot and do every rep in practice. I’m a pretty stubborn person, and it took me a while to realize that no one would think I’m weak or anything by stepping out for a couple reps. I had to learn that it was better for me not do to so much. I also have grown mentally by being the only one.
Anyone who plays goalie knows that the most deflating thing is getting scored on. In the beginning, getting scored on so many times was really affecting my practices, especially after shooting drills. Being the only goalie really helped me to get over that, specifically in games improving my mental toughness by bouncing back from goals. Taking so many reps in practice is giving me many extra shots to see, and I'm improving my game from them. It was also tough simply to get used to not having another goalie buddy there. (If you’re a goalie you know what I mean). Also, being the only goalie comes with a lot of pressure. As I said in one of my previous blogs, getting injured is my worst fear. I have to make sure I’m always taking care of my body. If anything feels sore, I always go straight to our trainer so we can take care of any little thing that comes up.
Playing goalie in itself is a hard thing. It’s why goalies get this strange reputation of being abnormal. I don’t understand though, I’m normal… my teammates might disagree. This is because we make a conscious decision every day to get this hard rubber ball thrown at us at high velocities. I find it amusing at practice when I say how much a shot hurt they say I should be used to it since I do it everyday. Then I respond that they should try it, I always get an immediate “NO WAY!”
Even though it’s a difficult position, I just love it. The best thing about being goalie I think is that it’s the one position where you, by yourself, can control the game. One of the best feelings I get is when I make a huge save, and it turns into a goal on the other end. Knowing you can be that spark for your team is incredible. I also love playing goalie because there aren’t many of them, and I consider being able to play goalie, and be good at it, a special thing to do. Since there are few goalies, it’s kind of a community in itself. When you meet another goalie, you have an instant connection with them. One of my good friends at school is the women’s soccer goalie, Emily Oliver. Even though it’s not even the same sport we still find funny connections. For example, we always joke how when someone introduces us to someone they automatically say we’re goalies. No one says, “Hey this is my friend, she’s a midfielder.” Just small little things like that where only a goalie can appreciate them. Also, the possibilities of things you can do in the position, and the amount of different styles there are is amazing. There are goalies like Team USA's Devon Wills, who are really changing the goalie position by the activity outside of the crease. It’s awesome when you come out of the cage and intercept the ball, because it’s so unexpected to fans. I think now more and more coaches are encouraging this outside activity. Most people do not understand the goalie position in its entirety. I really think the only way to fully understand a goalie is to play the position yourself (ask Elizabeth Adam, who had to step in a game two years ago). While getting scored on stinks, the feeling of saving the ball is just indescribable. Even though sometimes it can be really difficult playing goalie, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Playing goalie has made me who I am today, and I’m going to try to play as long as I can.