Stopping at Syracuse pays off

Goalie: Jay Pfeifer, a redshirt freshman out of Gilman, is coming on strong as the No. 2 Orangemen make their 20th straight final four appearance.

Ncaa Lacrosse Final Four

College Lacrosse

May 21, 2002|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Maybe it is the thick mop of hair, the slight, 6-foot, 165-pound frame or the mischievous grin. Jay Pfeifer could be taken for a beach bum, class clown or accountant.

But big-time Division I athlete? No way.

Try lacrosse player. Goalie, to be more specific.

Pfeifer, pronounced "Pie-fer," is the first freshman to start in the cage for Syracuse since 1987. The Gilman alumnus, the son of Jerry Pfeifer, a former football coach and lacrosse assistant at Johns Hopkins, is the wild card on a Syracuse team that is loaded with All-Americans on both ends.

"Everyone knows our offense can score and our defense is good," Pfeifer said. "I think a lot of it depends on me. If I don't have a good game, like against Cornell [a 15-11 loss], it could turn into a losing effort."

Syracuse (12-2), ranked No. 2, will play Virginia on Saturday in the second NCAA semifinal game at Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway, N.J. The opener will pit Johns Hopkins against Princeton.

It is the 20th straight final four berth for the Orangemen, who started the season with a major question mark in goal. The graduated Rob Mulligan had led the Orange to a national title and three final-game appearances.

Pfeifer, who redshirted last year, won the starting job in the preseason, beating out senior Alex Mummolo and sophomore Nick Donatelli.

What has followed has been the typical roller-coaster ride that many freshmen endure.

The highs include a 15-save effort to keep the sluggish Orangemen close, before they eventually fell to Johns Hopkins in mid-March.

Then there have been times when he has struggled. His .532 save percentage attests to that.

Against the Big Red, he let in 15 goals on just 31 shots. He surrendered 14 goals in the regular-season finale against Georgetown.

But as he has done all season, Pfeifer has bounced back, displaying a short-term memory that is essential for a goalie.

He credits his father, a former player and goalie coach for the Blue Jays, for keeping him focused on the fundamentals.

"I see a lot of goalies get scored on and throw their sticks or yell at their defenders or just start spazzing out, but you can't do that," Pfeifer said. "The ball is going to go in the back of the net; you just have to get the next one."

In Syracuse's first scrimmage, against Navy, which came just days after Pfeifer was anointed the starter, he made one save and allowed five goals before being replaced in the second half.

Seven days later, his 16 saves in a scrimmage against Maryland impressed Syracuse coach John Desko.

His teammates sung his praises this past Saturday, when Pfeifer limited Duke with nine saves, but more importantly, stepped into a leadership role on a defense that includes veteran captains John Glatzel, Sol Bliss and Billy St. George.

Such a step hasn't been easy for Pfeifer, who acknowledges that at the beginning of the season, he doubted any of the three veterans -- two of whom are All-Americans -- were listening at all.

St. George's comments after the quarterfinal game implied that has changed.

He said: "I think that was the best he's played. He played with so much confidence and took control of the defense."

Pfeifer's effort, which included a highlight-reel, diving stop against Duke's Matt Rewkowski early in the fourth quarter, wasn't confined to his goal crease.

Directing a clear in the second quarter, Pfeifer took the ball into the Duke zone and fired a shot that rang off the post.

He later joked that he should be included in the shooting lines during this week's practices.

Pfeifer, known for a deep arsenal of one-liners and impressions, has kept his sense of humor throughout the season. After much prodding, he once surprised his teammates by donning a pair of bright-orange Syracuse football pants, embroidered with his number, 2.

But his fashion sense and the pants' limited padding have kept them in his locker, even though he played extremely well when he wore them.

"I was going to keep wearing them until I saw pictures and realized how skinny my legs look," he said, adding he needs to do squats this summer.

"I felt a little weird in them -- like everyone was staring at me."

He will be in the spotlight again this weekend. At Syracuse, players are defined by what they do in May.

"It would have been great to have won and played great in every game," Pfeifer said. "I've been through the good and the bad, but we've made it here. We're in the final four."

At a glance

When: Saturday and Monday

Where: Rutgers Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

Saturday's semifinals: Princeton (9-4) vs. Johns Hopkins (12-1), 11:30 a.m; Virginia (11-3) vs. Syracuse (13-2), 2:30 p.m. approx.

Monday's title game: 11:30 a.m.

TV: All games on ESPN2

Syracuse at a glance

Record: 13-2.

Coach: John Desko, fourth season at Syracuse, 53-11.

How it got to

Rutgers: Second-seeded Syracuse beat Duke, 10-9, in the quarterfinals. The Orangemen built a 5-2 lead and then held on, thanks to a clutch defensive play by John Glatzel and solid goal play from Jay Pfeifer.

NCAA history:Syracuse has posted a 43-15 record in its 22 tournament appearances. The Orangemen have gone to 21 final fours, including 20 straight. They have won seven national titles.

Goal leader: Josh Coffman, senior, 38 goals.

Assist leader: Michael Powell, sophomore, 38 assists.

Faceoff specialist: Chris Bickel, junior, won .551 percent.

Goalie: Jay Pfeifer, redshirt freshman, 9.19 goals allowed, saved 53.2 percent.

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