St. Mary's goalie Chris Brown positioned himself in front of the cage before last Tuesday's lacrosse game with Severn and with a clenchedfist made one final check of the netting on his stick.
Without turning, he tapped his stick on all four posts of the 6-feet-by-6-feet goal behind him, getting a feel for where he was and focusing on whathe had to do for the next 40 minutes.
To the casual observer, Brown's job duties seem quite simple -- keep the ball out of the net. However, those associated with the sportknow differently.
Severn controlled the opening faceoff and Brownimmediately was thrust into the unenviable spotlight. The Admirals began moving the ball around the perimeter of the goal, in hopes of finding a hole in the Saints' vigilant defense.
Brown maneuvered hisbody with every movement by Severn's attack, his head on a constant swivel. After circling the goal with a series of crisp passes, an Admiral attackman decided it was time to test Brown's skills.
A hard grounder to the right corner of the net didn't fool Brown, as he slidlaterally to his left and scooped up the ball for the save. A roar from the St. Mary's crowd ensued but quickly faded when the Saints lost possession at midfield.
For Brown, there was no time to celebrate.
The Admirals moved the ball behind the net, forcing Brown to turn his back on the now-exposed cage. Severn's Jason Wade fed Dudley Dixon with a pass and before Brown could recover, Dixon's shot found the corner of the net.
Brown dug the ball out of the back of the net in disgust and glared at the scoreboard, which now read: Severn 1, Visitors 0.
Such is the topsy-turvy life of a goalie.
Goalies are the final safeguard in a long line of defense, facing a hard rubber ball traveling at speeds as high as 90 mph, and donning no more protection than a helmet, gloves and an athletic cup.
They find refuge inside a circle 18 feet in diameter -- called the crease -- but once they step outside the protective sphere, they are fair game and a potential offensive threat.
A breakdown on their part results in a goal for their opponent. Even if they block every shot that's hurled their way, they are assured only of an unfulfilling tie.
What, then, attracts an individual to this line of work?
"You have to be a little crazy," said Brown, who will attend the University of North Carolina next year on scholarship. "I like being in the position of being the hero or the goat. When you make a save, it's great, but if youmake a mistake, it's so obvious."
Brown's coach, Jim Moorhead, doesn't believe insanity is a characteristic of a successful goalie, but rather defines the consummate keeper as one with a mind-set strong enough to handle the emotional highs and lows.
"At goalie, you need a young man that can deal with some down-time," said Moorhead. "They're going to get scored on, and they can't blame themselves for that. They have to be quick, have good reactions and certainly can't be fearful. Every goalie gets scored on, so they have to have some degreeof mental toughness."
North County standout goalie Tim McGeeney takes his position seriously.
"A lot of people say I'm crazy to be out there with people firing shots at me, but I don't think I'm crazy," said McGeeney, who has accepted a scholarship from Loyola College.
"I love it. It's a pressure-packed position. Once the offense penetrates the defense, it's up to me to come up with the big save. If agoalie can't come up with the big save, he shouldn't be playing the position."
McGeeney took up the position seven years ago in the Andover Apache youth organization and has been in the crease ever since. In eight games this season, he's recorded 56 saves on 72 attempts for a .778 save percentage.
North County coach Paul Shea labels McGeeney "a student of the game" and attributes his success to his knowledge of the sport.
"What helps Tim a lot is that he anticipates things well and sees things developing before they occur," said Shea. "He has a great field sense, and he's fundamentally sound.
"A lot of goalies can make the little saves, but it is the big impact saves that provide an emotional lift for a team. Tim constantly comes up with the big impact saves."
At the opposite end of the field Tuesday was Severn first-year keeper Court Durling. In 12 games, the junior has yielded 50 goals against 97 saves.
It was Durling's strong desire to be where the action is that led him to the cage seven years agoin the Cape St. Claire junior league.
"I was on a team that wasn't very good, and the ball was always on the defensive side, so I wanted to be where the ball was," said Durling. "I know a lot of guys whowouldn't want to stand in there and have balls fired at them, but I don't mind it at all. I'm not afraid of the ball, so it doesn't bother me."
Brown shared Durling's fearless posture, adding, "I just try to position myself so that I can stop the ball. A save is a save, and I'll take them anyway I can. Sometimes, I save with the stick and sometimes with the shin."