Keeping humor serious business

Lacrosse: Laughter was goalie John Horrigan's best medicine as Towson, which plays Duke in the NCAA tourney, struggled through lean years and lopsided defeats.

May 11, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

A sharp sense of humor was Towson goalie John Horrigan's best defense through much of his lacrosse career.

The Tigers totaled 13 wins in Horrigan's first three seasons, and they can notch their 13th of this season in tomorrow's first-round NCAA tournament game against Duke at UMBC. It's been a remarkable turnaround for Towson and Horrigan, the team's top senior student-athlete who was suspect on both counts when he came out of St. Mary's High.

When he's mugged on a clear, Horrigan mimics an official flipping a flag. He's been known to avoid the swinging stick of an attackman, then answer "Missed me!"

"I've always had a sense of humor, and being around sports always puts me in a good mood," said Horrigan, who has toned down his act. "When I was a freshman, I did more talking. Now that I'm a senior, I'm more interested in getting the job done. To be honest, I used to talk because of our inability to win games. I'd talk just to try to get something going."

Horrigan epitomizes sixth-seeded Towson: a loose, dangerous bunch. Other than trading trash with UMBC's Josh Hahn three weeks ago, when the Tigers blew past the Retrievers, Horrigan insists he has kept quiet this season. Fortunately for those around him, he still offers a running commentary away from the field. Horrigan's best barbs are reserved for himself, ranging from technique to motivation to his experience at the 1998 World Games.

Before he took over at Towson, coach Tony Seaman's last win at Johns Hopkins came at Horrigan's expense, as the Blue Jays battered the freshman for 18 goals in 1998. A year later, Yale, UMBC and Hopkins combined for 57 goals in a three-game span that got Horrigan benched. Hofstra twice reached 18 against Towson in 2000, but no one has gotten more than 14 goals against the run-and-gun Tigers this year.

How did Horrigan lead the America East with an 8.91 goals-allowed average?

"It took me a while to understand coach Ross' strategy," Horrigan said of defensive coordinator Stan Ross. "I never claimed to be an intelligent lacrosse player, and I used to just concentrate on stopping shots. This is the first system I've understood, and maybe that's because I'm older. It took a while for me to understand the system and be able to tell the defense what's going on."

Horrigan entered this season with a dismal career save percentage of .510. How did he improve to this season's .587?

"I was too immature to respond to Coach Weston when he got here," he said of Jon Weston, the volunteer assistant who came on board with Seaman after Horrigan's freshman year. "He wrote a book on goalie play, but I used to question why he wanted me to turn my feet in or hold the stick a certain way. We never argued, but I finally started to trust him at the start of my junior year."

Seaman and Weston assumed the education of Horrigan after the 1998 World Games.

"My Mom was born in Wales," Horrigan said. "She saw Woody Moore, who went to Virginia, wearing a Wales T-shirt in the Ocean City tournament one year. She met him, and I was in the Worlds. My brother Rob and I went to England to practice. Our captain was 35, and seemed happy that he had his own teeth. Half of the players were smoking cigarettes and drinking beer before practice. It would last an hour, because guys wanted to get to the pub.

"St. Mary's would have beaten us [Wales] 25-2. When Scotland beat us, I knew we were in trouble. Their goalie was 69 years old, and always played with his stick down."

Between St. Mary's and Towson, Horrigan prepped a year at Bridgeton (Conn.) Academy. He has grown to 5 feet 10 and 170 pounds, but stood only 5-1 as a high school sophomore.

"I was on the junior varsity bench my first two years in high school, and began my junior year as the third goalie," Horrigan said. "I didn't think I was ever going to grow. I had problems with being small, and I dug myself a rut. I didn't have a good sense of direction, and I frustrated my parents. Thank God for prep school."

He shot up academically, too.

Horrigan, who never envisioned himself as dean's list material when he was floundering his way through St Mary's, said he was hindered by a learning disability: "Pure laziness." Now he's worked his way to a degree in finance, and backed the Tigers to a 12-3 record.

"I want to win as much as possible to erase the feeling of losing records from my first three years here," Horrigan said. "Every game we win gets me closer to .500 for my career."

Towson is 25-28 during Horrigan's career. He can break even with four more wins - and the Tigers' first NCAA title.

No joke.

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