Turning Up the Intensity

After a successful debut season last year, goalie Grant Steelman of Havre de Grace has become a confident, aggressive leader.

April 05, 2006|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Havre de Grace goalie Grant Steelman gambled on a play in the closing minutes of last week's game with Joppatowne.

Steelman stopped a close shot, and the ball skidded and bounced toward the left corner. Two Joppatowne players took off after it, but so did Steelman. The 6-foot-1, 270-pound, left-handed goalie caught up, split the pair of Mariners, reached out with his stick and nearly beat them to the ball before it rolled out of bounds.

He wasn't afraid to take a chance, and that shows how Steelman has changed since last year.

As a starting freshman last season, Steelman dazzled many teams and helped Havre de Grace shake up the area lacrosse community by winning 10 games and making the regional final for the first time in school history. This season, Steelman has grown into a more aggressive goalie and leader.

"I felt more confident [this spring]," Steelman said. "I felt stronger as a player. I felt stronger as a leader for my defense. I felt stronger in everything."

The Warriors had never won a postseason game before last season much less gotten to the regional final, but Steelman, a second-team All-County pick, wasn't content.

He wants more this season and has spent several months working to get it. Steelman, who also plays right tackle on the school's football team, still dropped 30 pounds, and played in summer tournaments and two winter leagues to get ready for lacrosse season.

So far, so good.

Steelman gave up only five goals, as the Warriors split their first two games. He made 17 saves in a 4-3 loss to Joppatowne, frustrating the Mariners with several saves on point-blank shots to keep the Warriors close throughout.

That performance came after Steelman made 13 saves in a season-opening 12-1 victory over Newark (Del.) several days earlier.

The more aggressive nature of his play is not lost on his teammates and coaches.

Steelman has grown into more of a quarterback on the field. He was quiet last year, but now constantly barks out instructions to his defense, and does it in a voice that easily can be heard over the loud trains that run past the scoreboard end of the Havre de Grace field.

"We've thrown a lot at him this year, but we've done it because we know he can handle it," Havre de Grace coach Jason Alford said. "We've pushed him hard this year, especially with directing the defense, calling the slides, communicating. Last year was overwhelming enough for him as a freshman."

Steelman had to make a big jump from 13-14 recreation lacrosse to the varsity level. He said it took him a little while to adjust to a much faster-paced game, despite having his brother, Zach, on the team and knowing several players.

"The whole speed of the game was drastically different," Steelman said. "You've got to learn to focus more and stay into it and kind of keep your eyes [on] it."

Steelman played a key role in Havre de Grace's eight-game winning streak that landed the Warriors in the Class 2A-1A North regional final, where they lost to Glenelg and finished 10-7, a big turnaround from a 1-14 year the season before.

Alford said Steelman's performance in a 16-15 victory over Howard in the regional semifinal might have been his best. Steelman made 26 saves, including five in the final two minutes, as the Lions tried to rally from a 12-3 deficit.

"He came up huge that day," Alford said. "Our defense really believes in him. Grant usually comes up with all the saves he's supposed to make - and then he's got some spectacular one-on-one saves that you don't expect a goalie to make."

The defense combines with Steelman to form a solid package. Seniors Andrew Jobes, Tyler Hopkins, Dan Worrell and Woody Croft have played together since they were freshmen, and they clicked with Steelman.

They've helped him gain confidence, let him lean on them a bit and pushed the goalie to keep improving and reach his potential. He has played with them during the summer and winter, and they've grown together.

"He's improved so much from last year to this year," Jobes said. "This year, he's talking so well. He such a big guy, but he's also improved in quickness so much."

Said Hopkins: "He's really improved on everything."

The big question is how far Steelman can go. His football-type body doesn't slow him, as his quick hands let him easily stop shots both high and low. He's also improved on clearing passes, making a perfect 40-yard toss during the final minutes against Joppatowne and following that with a 20-yard throw through traffic.

Havre de Grace assistant coach Chris Petrush has been working with Steelman this season, trying to sharpen his game. A former college goalie, Petrush sees a bright future for Steelman.

"A kid with his size, and to have his speed, is just great," Petrush said. "I'm a goalie, but I can shoot the ball around 90 mph, and he just doesn't flinch. I rarely ever score on him in warm-ups, and I really try. He's a great goalie."

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