DiCarlo Making Mercy a Third-Year Contender
Mercy head coach Steve Manitta knew he'd need a goalie who not only could stop the ball, but have the mental fortitude to accept the amount of shots a start-up program in the ECC would receive. He found both in T.J. DiCarlo (above).
Steve Manitta remembers the moment he knew he recruited the right goalie around which to build the new Mercy (N.Y.) College men's lacrosse program.
It was in April 2010. The Mavericks traveled to St. Anselm (N.H.) for a late non-conference game. It looked like a reasonable matchup when it was scheduled, but St. Anselm had lost by just one goal to NYIT earlier in the season and at the time rode a four-game winning streak.
"I just thought to myself, 'Oh, man. There's no rest for the wicked,'" Manitta said.
Despite being outshot and dominated on faceoffs (2-for-23), Mercy and St. Anselm were tied late in the fourth quarter. T.J. DiCarlo was spectacular under siege, making 27 saves. As happened often in that first season, a bungled clear by the Mavericks led to a 3-on-1 break the other way with time winding down.
"T.J. was on one pipe, and there was a quick pass to the far pipe, and it looked like the kid was just going to dunk it," Manitta said. "By the time the kid caught it, the ball was already out of his stick heading toward the goal. T.J. leaped across the goal and made an unbelievable save from his backside. After that, it was over. We knew that we weren't going to lose the game. That was the day."
DiCarlo made two more saves in overtime, as Mercy won 10-9. It was a seminal moment for the goalkeeper and the program, but that first year wasn't always fun for DiCarlo. Playing in the hyper-competitive East Coast Conference, he got peppered, including five games in which he had to make at least 17 saves.
"No goalie likes to see 50 shots a game," DiCarlo said. "I went to bed shell-shocked a lot of nights my freshman year."
Shell-shocked, but he was ready for the next challenge. That's why Manitta targeted DiCarlo as a critical recruit coming out of Farmingdale (N.Y.) High. The coach needed someone who had the confidence to use his first year as a way to get better and not succumb to the inevitable lopsided losses.
"We knew that when we were building this program we were going to need a goalie who was mature enough to handle the pressure and could stand in there every day against some of the best kids in the country in the ECC," Manitta said. "The reps he was seeing turned him into a better player. He never seemed to really get frustrated. That's why he is the player he is: he always has a steady head about himself."
DiCarlo's personality dictates that he won't get frustrated at his defense if it makes a mistake, but the culture of the team prevents him from doing so even if he had the urge.
"They know that stuff and they will say to me, 'I messed up,' so there was no need to get in their face," he said.
That's not to question DiCarlo's competitiveness. He just saves his voice for the intra-squad scrimmages.
"If the offense is doing well in practice, they'll make sure they let him know about it," Manitta said. "More times than most, when we're clicking and we're making an 80 or 90-percent shot, and T.J. is stoning kids, he lets us know about it, too. It goes both ways and it makes us better. Offensively, it's a blessing that we get to shoot on the best goalie in the nation every day, but sometimes it's a curse, because some days we can't get much accomplished."
Said DiCarlo: "I want my numbers higher and their numbers lower. The competition is always there."
DiCarlo, who was named the USILA Goalie of the Year after an outstanding sophomore season (7.58 goals against average, .636 save percentage) in 2011, pushes his teammates to succeed in front of him. "He'd like to see everyone successful, because he knows it will benefit him," Manitta said.
The competition only will get stiffer for Mercy. The Mavericks were 5-10 (3-7 ECC) in their inaugural season in 2010. They improved to 11-3 (7-3 ECC) in 2011, including a win over NYIT and narrow losses to C.W. Post and eventual NCAA champion Mercyhurst. They are no longer considered an easy win but rather legitimate competitors for one of the four NCAA tournament bids in Division II. (The field will expand to eight teams in 2013.)
With that comes the bull's-eye.
"Everyone will want to stick it right back to us," DiCarlo said. "People want to get us back. People were very upset that we came down to their house and beat them."
A third-year program doesn't flirt with playoff expectations unless it has the right man tending net. DiCarlo no longer goes to bed shell-shocked. He's the best goalie in Division II and seems prepared for the next challenge — to lead Mercy to its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance.