Hitting the big time

Hopkins: Goalkeeper Brian Carcaterra, who tends to play better before large crowds, relishes his chance to shine on lacrosse's final four stage this weekend.

May 28, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Brian Carcaterra watched his first NCAA men's lacrosse final four in 1987 as a wide-eyed fourth-grader, absorbing the frenzied excitement of the larger-than-life crowd as well as connecting with a small-in-stature goalkeeper in Johns Hopkins' Quint Kessenich.

Carcaterra became mesmerized as Kessenich stopped 21 shots amid the deafening cheers and the Blue Jays captured the national championship. But while Carcaterra's attachment to the sport's big-time performers grew, the Hopkins program has never ascended to that height since, wallowing in the biggest title drought in school history.

So bring on the pressure. Turn on the spotlight.

An annual spectator of this event, Carcaterra will make his debut onto lacrosse's center stage for the first time tomorrow, and the Blue Jays' high-energy, first-team All-America goalkeeper has his sights on continuing his prime-time success.

For Carcaterra, the bigger the crowd means the bigger the game.

In his past 11 games before more than 5,000 fans, he has a .635 save percentage, better than his career .613 average, and has stirred up crowds with his unparalleled ability to run the field to start fast breaks and clear the ball with behind-the-back passes. Increase the audience to more than 10,000 and Carcaterra has posted a .696 save percentage in three games.

With more than 25,000 expected for tomorrow's national semifinal games, Carcaterra relishes the calculations.

"The whole lacrosse world will be watching," he said. "If I want to be that special player, it's going to take an outstanding effort. And I'm looking forward to it. This is the big time, what I've worked for my whole life."

Carcaterra, a redshirt junior, used to ditch school back in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., and sneak back to his home to watch tapes of old final fours. He can recite specific memories from each final four and championship games, including how Princeton's Scott Bacigalupo and Maryland's Brian Dougherty altered games as goalkeepers.

"He's told me about specific plays in games that I played in or coached that I don't even remember," said Hopkins defensive coordinator Brian Voelker. "This is the forum for him. He wants to play well in a big game like this."

Yet Carcaterra hasn't really enjoyed life in the playoffs.

As a freshman in 1997, he watched a shot by Duke's Jared Frood sail past him 1 1/2 minutes into overtime in the NCAA quarterfinals. Last year, he failed to stop a 10-yard bouncer from Maryland's Brian Zeller with 25 seconds left in overtime of another quarterfinal loss.

Carcaterra then passed on the 1998 final four after attending 11 straight championship weekends.

"It was horrible to tell you the truth," Carcaterra said about the overtime defeats. "It leaves such a bad taste in your mouth. I told myself: I'm not going back until I play in it."

But a tougher decision came after fall practice. He stepped away from the sport for three months and didn't see another shot until the first day of spring practice.

In previous years, Carcaterra would practice nonstop throughout winter, start the season off in March sharp and then taper off near playoff time.

"I thought in some instances that Brian made some spectacular saves and then let in some goals that he shouldn't have," said Blue Jays goalkeeper coach Brian Holman. "I thought it was maybe his concentration."

So after being named Goalkeeper of the Year last season, Carcaterra entered this season fresh but not as crisp. Opponents also modified their game plans, becoming more selective on their shots. Only two schools have attempted more than 40 shots against Hopkins and seven have fired 33 times or fewer.

But few strategies have worked since April. Carcaterra has warded off 95 of 156 shots on goal (.608) over the past two months and hasn't allowed double figures in his past eight games to deflect away any early criticism.

In his last outing, he put together the best performance by a goalkeeper in this year's tournament, recording eight of his 19 saves in the final quarter against Hofstra for his first playoff victory. Of course, it occurred before an NCAA quarterfinal record crowd of 12,292.

"What is coming through is that he's improving week in and week out," Hopkins coach John Haus said. "He's just playing well right now when he has to. He's stepping up and playing at a different level. Guys on the team look to him."

Now it's showtime.

Carcaterra, who stands 5 feet 8, has the same size and confidence that reminds many of Kessenich. He also has the ability to shut down opponents that's reminiscent of Dougherty, and the athleticism in the open field that's comparable to no one.

That's why Carcaterra envisions a special encore this weekend.

"Most goalies dream of saving the last shot, but I always dream of scoring the last goal," said Carcaterra, who takes countless shots during lulls in practice. "It's crazy. I'm just waiting for my time.

"I know my job is to save the ball and everything else is gravy. But it's still all right to dream."

NCAA lacrosse

Men's final four

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