Goalie play is often the bottom line in an NCAA lacrosse tournament. A keeper gets hot or goes cold. His team plays on or pays for his shortcomings.
Rob Scherr of Johns Hopkins understands that his ability to stand up under that pressure could determine how long the top-seeded Blue Jays hang around M&T Bank Stadium this weekend, but he has endured tougher crucibles. Fifteen months ago, Scherr lost more than a game. The senior lost his job.
FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Sports section, the name of the U.S. president who earned a doctorate from the Johns Hopkins University was reported incorrectly. The president was Woodrow Wilson. The Sun regrets the error.
In 1999, Scherr repeated as the All-Metro goalie for McDonogh School, then started for the U.S. team that won a gold medal in the world under-19 championships. Two years ago, he beat out Nick Murtha for the position at Hopkins, but Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala reopened the competition and the roles were reversed. Last season, Murtha became a first-team All-American and Scherr paced a sideline for the first time in his life.
"I was disappointed," Scherr said. "It hurt. I've learned that I'm not here for myself; I'm here for the team. My parents wanted to help and people asked if I was all right, but there was nothing they could do. I don't like talking about it."
Scherr is the Blue Jays' most loquacious interview, albeit on a low-key team, and he did not withdraw into a shell. Just as Murtha had become his biggest booster in 2001, Scherr became the first player to intercept him on his way from the goal to a huddle.
He stayed in Pietramala's good graces, and since he's six credits shy of a degree and eligible to appeal to the NCAA for a redshirt season, Scherr will most likely return for a fifth year at Hopkins.
"You can't begin to measure the growth Rob has made - academically, athletically and socially," Pietramala said. "Rob has a learning disability. As a freshman, he had more potential in school than he was using, so it's gratifying to see the work he's doing now. What he went through last year, some guys would have quit or become a cancer, but I never heard him say anything negative."
An anthropology major, Scherr earned a 3.67 grade point average this semester despite a learning disability that he describes as both language- and math-based.
He admits to being a Type A personality in one facet of his life, his play in a goal.
Scherr grew up playing baseball, but turned to lacrosse and found himself inside a cage as a seventh-grader. Jake Reed, the McDonogh coach, told him his future was as a defenseman, but Scherr changed that assessment. By the time he was a sophomore, he was starting on the Eagles' varsity. One season, Scherr's tutor was Brian Dougherty, who was coming off of an All-America season at Maryland.
Dougherty was the first person to tell Scherr he didn't talk enough.
"My mom was late to one of my games once," Scherr said. "Before she could get out of her car, she could hear me on the field. Dock tried to get me to talk trash. He said it would help my game. But I'm superstitious about that. The second a goalie opens his mouth to do that, the ball gets rammed down his throat."
Scherr's superstitions range from driving habits to handshakes.
On nights before games in Baltimore, the Blue Jays take their team meal in Little Italy. Scherr drives defenseman Tom Garvey and a few other teammates back to campus, then heads to his parents' home in Reisterstown.
He likes to enter the locker room four hours before game time. He takes his glove off to shake his counterpart's hand before a game, then checks the net he's guarding to ensure that it holds no stray balls.
Not many have gotten past him this spring. When Scherr was a sophomore, he allowed 8.52 goals a game. That figure is below 7.0 for this season, and over the last eight games only one team has gotten more than six goals against the Blue Jays. Only one has scored more than 10 on Hopkins this season, and that was Syracuse, its opponent in Saturday's semifinals.
"I've never played in a final four, so I'm anxious and excited," Scherr said.
Johns Hopkins at a glance
Coach:Dave Pietramala, third season, 33-7; sixth season overall, 56-24
Road to M&T Bank Stadium:The Blue Jays repeated as the NCAA's top seed as they earned an at-large bid with victories over five teams that made the tournament. They pounded Army, 14-2, in the first round at Homewood Field, then went to Towson and posted a 14-6 rout in the quarterfinals.
Scoring leader:Bobby Benson, senior, 36.
Assists leader:Conor Ford, senior, 25.
Goalie:Rob Scherr, senior, 6.96 ga, .596 save percentage.
NCAA resume:Hopkins has won seven titles, but none since 1987. Since reaching the 1989 final, it is 0-7 in semifinals.
Famous Blue Jays:Author Russell Baker; Calvin Coolidge, the only U.S. President to earn a Ph.D., got his from Hopkins in 1886; movie director Wes Craven; New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; Hall of Fame coach Bob Scott.
Did you know?With 819 victories since 1883, Hopkins is the winningest college lacrosse program.
At M&T Bank Stadium Saturday's Division I semifinals
Syracuse vs. Johns Hopkins, 11:30 a.m.
Maryland vs. Virginia, approximately 2:30 p.m.
Monday's Division I final
Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.
Sunday's Division II final
N.Y. Tech vs. Limestone, 3 p.m. Sunday's Division III final Middlebury vs. Salisbury, noon