Women’s Lacrosse Goalies Around Maryland Earning Their Keep One Save At A Time

Maryland women’s lacrosse standout Emily Sterling was about 9 years old when she volunteered to play goalkeeper for a Bel Air recreation lacrosse all-star team. All the best local, young players were there, but she remembered there weren’t many takers to don all the goalkeeper equipment and go between the pipes.

Most college goalkeepers have a similar story about that time they switched from trying to score goals to making it their mission to stop others from doing just that. Johns Hopkins’ Kathleen Garvey was a soccer goalie and when her youth lacrosse coach found out, well, the move into goal seemed a natural fit. Spoiler alert (and future potential scorer alert), it was.

Navy’s Jo Torres started playing goalie because everyone on her recreation team in Prince Frederick took a turn during practices. Only difference was she never left the position and now ranks among the top goalkeepers in the country as a sophomore.

Like the others, Torres is a skilled athlete, but there’s something more to these goalies: they’re all thoughtful about their position on the lacrosse field, fiercely protective of that 6-foot wide by 6-foot high space behind them, extremely articulate and very anxious to get things off their chest other than rocket-fast lacrosse balls.

“Your job is to prevent the purpose of the game, which is to score goals,” Garvey said. “I think that’s one thing all goalies have in common is they like being a little different from everyone. We play a completely different position than everyone else on the team. You’re on your own island.”

Garvey, Torres and Sterling are among several netminders in Maryland who have established an elite island in the world of Division I lacrosse and don’t mind the rigors of their position. Maryland’s Sterling is tops in GAA (7.44) and save percentage (.554), as of April 19. She was recently named National Defensive Player of the Week by the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (ICWLA).

Torres is third in GAA at 7.90 and fourth in save percentage (.519). Mount St. Mary’s Madison Bradley ranks fifth in GAA (8.37) nationally, and Loyola’s Kaitlyn Larsson (8.73) is sixth. Garvey plugs in at 22nd with a 10.56 average for Hopkins.

Growing Up In The Game

The goalies in question aren’t surprised at the success of their neighbors.

“If you grew up in Maryland you’re going to play lacrosse at some point in your life,” Torres explained. “They teach you from a young age in Maryland to compete — to go from parks and rec to travel teams and keep building and building. That’s why Maryland is such a hot spot and produces really good lacrosse players.”

Garvey grew up near Orlando, Fla., and started playing soccer when she was all of 5. She was a seasoned vet when she moved into lacrosse by the third grade. Obviously, rec sports were no Mickey Mouse operation there either. Garvey had her choice of colleges and here’s something you’ve never heard before from a Florida native — Johns Hopkins was the southernmost school she considered.

The lacrosse drew here to Hopkins, but so did the academics. Once she’s done stopping nervy attackers and middies after this year, she’s heading into a career stopping infectious diseases, befitting a Big Ten Distinguished Scholar. That’s an honor Maryland’s Sterling has also garnered.

Beyond all those smarts among the keepers, including Torres, an honor student at St. Mary’s High now thriving at the Naval Academy, it’s just hard to identify up-and-coming, young goalies and how they might project on the field in Division I competition.

“Recruiting goalies is really hard,” said Maryland coach Cathy Reese, who nonetheless has had much success at the process, including 2019 Tewaaraton Award winner and four-time Big Ten Goaltender of the Year Megan Taylor. “When you go on the road to recruit you might only see a team play half a game and you may only get to see a little of the goalie. You might not see them make many saves. You can see a glimpse of someone who is communicating well with their defense, who has really good athleticism, who makes some really strong saves.”

Reese said the best way to find goalkeepers is to get them in camp when a coach can work with them and get to know them. It takes a deeper dive to find out just what’s under all that padding that can make a great goalkeeper.

Whatever the reason, though, the state of Maryland is loaded in lacrosse goalies. Maybe Navy’s Cindy Timchal, a 40-year head coach and the all-time leader in Division I lacrosse wins, can shed some more light on why there are so many quality keepers holding the line in the Old Line State. She goes back to the depth and quality of coaching throughout the state, a reflection of local love for lacrosse.

“I have to give a shout-out to the coaches that have worked with them in youth leagues, middle and junior high and on to the high school level,” she said. “Many of the goalies just have really good coaches or coaches who allowed them to have success and don’t put a lot of pressure on them. If they have fun playing, that’s important, too.”

“You Shoot. I Save. You Cry”

Lacrosse is fun, thus it’s designation as Maryland’s official team sport. But running all over the field, passing, catching, scoring goals is one thing. Why, in the world, subject yourself to being one of two players in the action who have 5-ounce rubber orbs harder than baseballs launched at them at speeds often more than 65 mph?

“In warmups from our last game I got hit in the same spot on my shin three times,” Garvey laughed. “It’s a pretty massive bruise [on left shin] that’s been bothering me, but you get used to it.”

Torres has had two concussions already in her young college career. Sterling’s story is compelling, as well. She suffered a knee injury as a senior at John Carroll School, played in just three games in COVID-shortened 2020 at Maryland and went through the pandemic stops and starts last year as she earned the starting job.

This year, though, Sterling has blossomed into a force. A junior, she truly has experience beyond her years. So why be a goalie?

“You’re playing the hardest position on the field, by far, but if you’re passionate about it, there’s no way that it won’t pay off,” Sterling said. “When you make those big saves, when you throw those perfect dime passes in transition or your team runs up to you after a big win, those feelings are so worth it.”

There is something about the inherent leadership — directing the defense in front of you and turning games with big stops — that appeals to top tenders. When Garvey was coming up in the game, she remembers a shirt an aunt gave her that said, “You shoot. I save. You cry.” She thought that summed it up well and smiled at the recollection.

“I was never scared of the ball,” Torres said, “and I liked putting on the gear. You looked kind of dorky, but it was kind of fun. No one else wanted to do it when we were 5 years old. I tried it and I stuck with it.”

Garvey remembered making a save when she was around 10 years old, and she had no idea where the ball disappeared to after the play. It had stuck in her helmet. After spinning around a few times to locate it, the ball fell out and everyone in the stands cheered her and the moment. That’s when she knew she was truly in the right place.

Sterling was hooked from the first time she played, readying for that all-star competition as a youngster.

“I absolutely loved it, I loved everything about it,” Sterling said. “I was making saves in there and as soon I got off the field, I was like, ‘Mom and Dad, I think I want to play goalie again.’ Of course, my mom hated that. But I still remember it to this day, that feeling that this was where I was supposed to be.”

A Different View

Sterling believes she has been successful because of how much she loves the game and her vantage point in the back.

“Everyone says as a goalie, you get to sit back and see everything unfold in front of you and that gives you a different sense of the game,” she said.

Sterling talked about defensive game plans and anticipating where the holes in the defense might appear, holes for her to step in and close. Likewise, knowing the opposing offense and where it is trying to attack is key as well as knowing how foes will respond to a double-team or a trap.

“You have to anticipate and know what’s coming but still stay in the moment and respond to what’s happening in front of you,” she said. “That’s one of the challenges.”

That’s a part of the game — the synchronized movement of the defense around the goalie — that Timchal calls “the symphony.” Her goalkeeper, Torres, also relishes that aspect of playing the position.

“Playing with the defense, being a part of it, is my favorite part [of goalkeeping],” Torres said. “Here at a military school, we have other obligations with academics, the military side and lacrosse comes last, but we’re all on the same page, always there for one another. On defense we have all the trust in the world for each other. I know that Christine [Fiore], Reagan [Roelofs], Alexis [Bell], Grace [Loughery] they will do anything to stop the ball and they know I will have their back if they get beat.”

But for goalies, getting beat is part of the equation, too, as is how they respond afterward.

“You have to have resilience,” Garvey said. “You have to bounced back and be at your best. Sometimes it takes a while when you’re young to figure that out. You have to remember everyone is counting on you.”

“The first part is not to be scared of anything,” Sterling said. “You’re the back line of the defense, not necessarily the one out there making plays to score, but you are the leader and the one everyone leans on. You have their back, and you support everybody from there. To have that confidence and be that kind of leader is really huge.”

“That’s why at the end of games everyone gathers around [goalkeepers] to celebrate,” Timchal said.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of Johns Hopkins Athetics, Maryland Athletics, Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics

Mike Ashley

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