Saves, not spotlight, make his day

Syracuse: Jay Pfeifer has long been big in goal for the Orange but low on the recognition scale.

College Lacrosse

April 09, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

SYRACUSE, N.Y. - Bring up the subject to his teammates and they get a little steamed about it. But when you raise the topic with Syracuse fifth-year senior Jay Pfeifer, who has methodically piled up more saves than most Orange goalkeepers and come up large in so many big games without ever being named to an All-America team, you get a shrug and a yawn.

Pfeifer, the Towson native and Gilman School graduate who goes about his business up north with a blend of smarts, calm and deadpan humor, is too laid-back to let a lack of recognition get to him.

Besides, he's got more pressing issues on his mind, such as getting through another brutal winter with his sanity intact and helping a young, sixth-ranked Syracuse team steady itself enough to make a run at another NCAA title.

This finally could be the year the voters on the outside realize what people on the inside of the sport have known for some time. Pfeifer, who no longer is playing in the shadow of megastar Mike Powell and other luminaries in the lacrosse island in upstate New York, is some kind of goalie.

"I try not to think about that stuff. I don't play to please five or six [media] guys who decide who the best goalie is and who isn't," Pfeifer said. "[All-America status] would be nice, but it's not like I'm waiting for it. I just want to be playing on Monday at the end of the season again."

Pfeifer is a study in cool consistency with the occasional flair for the spectacular, such as his career-high, 21-save performance in a 13-12 victory at Hobart two weeks ago. That pushed the Orangemen (4-3) toward a three-game winning streak they will bring to No. 17 Loyola today.

After producing 12 saves last week in a 9-8 victory over Brown, Pfeifer has 664 career saves. He ranks third on the school's all-time list, behind Tom Nims (692) and Jamie Molloy (766).

Pfeifer has started every game since his redshirt year in 2001. He has been on board for the last three of Syracuse's 22 straight trips to the NCAA tournament's final four, and has been a major part of two national championship teams.

And while Powell wound up his four-time, first-team All-America career last spring with an excellent tournament, the Orange probably don't win it all without Pfeifer in the cage.

In the tournament quarterfinals, Georgetown outplayed Syracuse, but couldn't out-fox Pfeifer, who had 19 saves in an 8-7 victory.

And after the Orange crushed Johns Hopkins in the national semifinals by six goals, Pfeifer matched up with first-team All-America goalie Matt Russell of Navy at M&T Bank Stadium. Pfeifer was the last goalie standing in a 14-13 thriller.

Pfeifer's carefree nature and smooth, economical style are staples he has carried since the day he first stepped into the net as a seventh-grader for a recreation team at St. James Church in Monkton.

He had played attack and midfield since age 5. His father, Jerry, an insurance salesman who was an All-America attackman at Hopkins in the mid-1960s, coached him back then, and went on to coach goalies at Hopkins in the 1980s.

"We needed a goalie, and the coach's son had to make the sacrifice. It just came so natural to Jay," Jerry said. "When he first went to Gilman, he wasn't sure what position he wanted to play. [Then-coach] John Tucker shot against him for about 10 minutes and told him he was going to be the goalie."

Pfeifer is a technician who wears a poker face. He studies shooters' tendencies constantly, and has the ability to make in-game adjustments.

And you won't see him screaming at his defense or banging his stick on the pipe after allowing a goal. He doesn't lunge or leap or look for the acrobatic save. And he will laugh at himself during a bad stretch.

"One game I remember he wasn't seeing the ball well at all," sophomore defenseman Steve Panarelli said. "After giving up a goal, he says, `Man, I couldn't save a beach ball today.' Nothing rattles him."

Added Syracuse coach John Desko: "When he makes a big save, he acts like he should. If one slips in, it's not the end of the world. That attitude helps our whole [defensive] unit."

Pfeifer and the defense must carry an Orange unit that has played as many as five freshmen on offense in 2005. Pfeifer is just glad his last winter in Syracuse is nearly over.

"It's like a black hole almost up here. The snow doesn't leave. You don't see the sun for three months. I hear the summers are nice, but I'm never here," said Pfeifer, who does not pick up a stick until fall practice.

As for his favorite pastime, stopping hard rubber balls at high speeds with his stick and various parts of his body, he said, "When you think about it, it's almost barbaric. Your job is to get hit. You're like the bottom of the ice-cream cone. You're either the hero or the zero. But it's all worked out."

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