Video: is lacrosse goalie the toughest position in team sports? Locals think so
Chloe Wormsley felt obligated to step up for her Winthrop teammates.
The soft inner parts of her biceps, thighs and legs wished they had been consulted first.
Wormsley, a freshman lacrosse player from Rochester, N.Y., left behind her defensive position and stepped into goal for the Eagles in January after a spate of injuries decimated their goalie ranks. And thus began a litany of purple, blue and yellow/green bruises.
“I was pretty scared, I was nervous,” said Wormsley. “Playing in goal at Division I so obviously it’s gonna be really scary. It’s not like playing a little fall ball scrimmage back in sophomore year (of high school). This is, like, the real deal.”
Credit Wormsley for stepping forward because lacrosse goalie may be the toughest position in team sports. Certainly playing quarterback or catcher, or pitching, are difficult pursuits where the athlete is front and center, and in the quarterback’s case, receiving the undivided attention of 6-foot-4, 290-pound angry people.
But very few positions require the combined mental and physical toughness that a lacrosse goalie needs in great surplus.
“If you look at it logically, why would anyone get in there?” asked Nation Ford boys’ lacrosse coach Brian Holland. “You give the guy with the least amount of equipment and tell them to stop these shots of a hard rubber ball that’s being shot at you 80, 90 miles an hour from 10 to 12 yards away. They’ve got to be slightly off, to put it nicely.”
Holland’s son is a goalie at the middle school level.
“And he’s definitely slightly off,” Holland said, laughing.
Getting hit... somewhere
Have you ever felt a lacrosse ball? If you have, you know the damage the dense and bouncy rubber pill can do to any part of a body that’s not extensively padded. Winthrop standout goalie Alaina Girani compared it to being punched. The punches aren’t always above the belt.
“One time I got hit... somewhere,” said Clover boys’ lacrosse goalie Noah Lalli, grinning. “You've got to be crazy and you've got to love it.”
Winthrop was expecting to lean on defending Big South Conference defensive player of the year Girani this spring, but she broke her foot during a team-building exercise in preseason. She began playing goalie in fourth grade, against the wishes of her parents.
“When you’re a goalie I feel like you’re just kind of meant for it,” she said while watching her team practice Friday.
You just kind of build up a pain tolerance. When I’m in season, all of my legs are covered with bruises. You have to get used to it.
Winthrop lacrosse goalie Alaina Girani
It’s easy to find out if you’re not meant for it. ESPN devoted an episode of its Sports Science show to the lacrosse shot and made some startling findings. Most lacrosse shots on goal come from within 30 feet, giving goalies an average of 0.19 seconds to react. Add in the bounciness of the lacrosse ball and goalies have to make those split-second saves at a number of different angles, often with their body.
Shin guards are required in high school girls’ lacrosse but Fort Mill goalie Callie Ruddy still has a permanent bump on her shin from accumulated scarring.
“There is plenty of space on her that is not covered and you can kind of see it on her face when she gets hit by a shot,” said Fort Mill girls’ lacrosse coach KellieAnne Wunk. “She just kind of grits her teeth and takes it. She’s a champ.”
How does Ruddy release the pain in that instant so that can she move on mentally?
“I get really angry,” she said, laughing.
Wormsley knows the feeling.
“After a while you kind of get used to it but at first it was so hard for me,” said said. “I’d have to tell myself ‘okay, just relax, breathe. This is what you’re gonna have to go through, this is how it’s gonna be. You signed up for this so you have to go through it.’”
Pick your goalie up
The lacrosse goalies with the personalities best developed for the position are even-keeled but also harbor an edge. Save percentages for lacrosse goalies rarely top 60 percent, so the opposition will score and it’s important for the goalie to keep their cool.
But they also need to possess the edge to take on such a daunting task while exposing their body to physical harm from a tightly wound rubber ball flying at their face, shins, arms, throat at extremely high speeds.
“It’s a hard part to teach,” said Holland. “Those kids just kind of have it.”
“It’s definitely one of the toughest positions because it’s a mental game,” Girani said. “When you lose a game it feels like it’s on you even though that might not necessarily be true.”
Wormsley has smiled a few times this season. She made a couple of key saves in Winthrop’s one-goal loss to Michigan, a surreal moment for a stand-in goalie.
You like hearing the crowd roar when you make a save. It's a great feeling.
Clover boys’ lacrosse goalie Noah Lalli, on one of the few rewards of his position.
It’s important to enjoy the good moments, as fleeting as they sometimes are.
“She is the last line of defense,” Wunk said about her netminder, Ruddy. “Every other position on the field you’ve got the team dynamic going on. If you’re having a bad day any of those other three or four girls can pick up your slack, whereas Callie, she’s on her own.”
That’s why lacrosse teams traditionally run toward their goalie at the end of halves or games.
“Because she’s the one girl on the team that you need to pick her up because she’s saving your butt,” said Wunk. “Or she needs to step up and save your butt.”