Goalie Steckroth keeps Navy on defensive

Senior star leads Mids into Patriot tournament

College Soccer

November 16, 2001|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

When Dr. Greg Myers, Navy's men's soccer coach, surveyed his personnel before the season, he realized that "we had only one natural forward, and he gets double-teamed, so we knew we would have trouble scoring."

Remedy? Myers decided that the best approach was to "build a wall around Steck."

Steck is goalkeeper Brian Steckroth, whose job is to be the last line of defense against attackers. He has performed the job so well he has consistently ranked among the top three keepers in the country, was picked on several pre-season All-American teams, and is a candidate for that honor.

After 16 games, the senior has accumulated a 0.46 goals-against average, third best in the nation. Patriot League coaches voted him Defensive Player of the Year for the second time.

"I've always been stuck in the goal," said Steckworth, who is 6 feet 3 and weighs 225 pounds. "I think it's the quickness."

"Stuck" is probably the wrong word. "Wisely placed" is more apropos.

"He's a natural athlete, big and quick with great eye-hand coordination," said Myers, who is in his 26th season at Navy. "He wants to be a pilot, so his vision is excellent. And he has a lot of confidence in himself, and teammates have a lot of confidence in him - sometimes too much."

Myers said Steckroth, a native of Little Silver, N.J., has misplayed only one ball all season.

"I don't think he was highly recruited," the coach said. "The first year, he didn't start. We had a freshman from Florida who did. But he wouldn't have beaten out Steck after that."

Steckroth's figures have improved steadily. As a sophomore, he allowed 1.46 goals per game; last season that dropped to 0.85. He compiled five shutouts both those years and has nine this season.

His career includes a 663-minute stretch without allowing a goal, which is 11th all-time in NCAA men's soccer. He has allowed just eight goals in more than 1,566 minutes this fall.

True, he has received considerable help from his defense, particularly sweeper Bobby Cherneski and backs Matt Wilson and Nick Huber, but Steckroth relishes the time when he's most involved.

"It's easier for me to play if I get a lot of action," said Steckroth, who earned 12 varsity letters at Red Bank (N.J.) Regional High; in addition to soccer, he was on the swimming, baseball and golf teams. "I'd rather have a 10-save game than a two-save one anytime.

"I love to defend the high balls and the breakaways. The toughest are the redirect and cross shots."

Navy, which finished the regular season 11-2-3 overall and 3-2-2 in the Patriot League, almost forces teams to win from long range by "putting a shell up in front of Steck," said Myers. "They're going to have to beat us from 25 yards. If they can, we applaud them. So far, it hasn't been done, although we've made a couple of mistakes that have cost us."

"I think that's why we're doing so well," said Steckroth, who could have gone to several of Navy's Patriot League rivals. "If I'm doing my job, the worst the team can do is tie."

"It was my first choice," said the oceanography major.

And because he's "stuck" in goal, Navy has a chance to make the NCAA Division I tournament for the first time since 1988.

The Midshipmen advanced to the four-team Patriot tournament, earning the No. 4 seed. They must overcome top seed and regular-season champ Holy Cross (9-5-1, 6-0-1) in a semifinal at 11 a.m. today in Worcester, Mass., and their lack of scoring punch.

The teams played to a regular-season, scoreless tie in Annapolis.

"We have one of the best goalkeepers in the country," Myers said. "Our philosophy includes hoping he can bail you out a couple of times."

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