Before the opening faceoff of the 108th installment of the Johns Hopkins-Maryland rivalry, 10 players from each side will stand near midfield facing each other, and the goalkeepers for both teams — Blue Jays junior Pierce Bassett and Terps redshirt sophomore Niko Amato — will meet in the middle to shake hands.
It will be a convergence of perhaps two of the more strikingly different goalies in the country.
The most obvious distinction is their physical stature as the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Bassett is seven inches taller and 15 pounds heavier than Amato. Amato hails from the lacrosse-rich portion of southeastern Pennsylvania, while Bassett, an Arizona native, represents the sport's westward expansion.
The contrasts also reach into their personalities. Amato is brash, confident and unafraid to insist that he felt slighted when he wasn't recognized after anchoring Maryland's run to last year's NCAA title game .
Bassett is reserved, just as confident, but just as insistent that his personal statistics and accolades mean little to him.
But each goalie will lay down the defensive foundation for their respective teams and likely will play a significant role in determining who emerges from Homewood Field on Saturday night with an adrenaline-injecting victory — or a deflating loss.
"I think the play of both of these netminders is huge for their respective teams," said Mark Dixon, and ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder .
Amato was the answer to last season's question of who would fill the cage for the Terps, finishing fourth and eighth in Division I in goals-against average (6.78) and save percentage (.583), respectively.
Despite those rankings and Maryland's runner-up status to Virginia, Amato was left off the All-American list produced by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. He was named an honorable mention in the preseason, but Bassett earned a spot on the first team.
That's why Amato didn't shy away from the notion that in his mind, he is competing with Bassett even though they will be on opposite sides of the field.
"I'd say there's a little sense of competitiveness, and I think that comes with all goalies because all your career, you're fighting to be the one guy that plays in the game," Amato said. "He's a good goalie, and I'm excited to play against Hopkins and their offense."
Among Division I goalies, Amato currently ranks seventh in goals-against average (7.16) and eighth in save percentage (.586), respectively, but he's also tied with junior faceoff specialist Curtis Holmes for the team lead in groundballs (35). Amato's ability to turn those groundballs into transition opportunities has aided the Terps' 14th-ranked offense.
"They know that if they break out, Niko will find them," Maryland coach John Tillman said . "Part of it also is that I think he loves making a play and getting that ball up and out to create some offense with it. We trust him with that."
Bassett is just as adept at grabbing groundballs, ranking second on Johns Hopkins with 27. But his priority is assisting a defense that is fourth in the nation by surrendering just 6.6 goals per game.
Bassett ranks fourth in goals-against average (6.70) and 10th in save percentage (.578), but he maintained that he's more worried about Maryland's shooters than he is about Amato outplaying him.
"Every game, you want to play your best and you want the defense to play well, which includes yourself," Bassett said. "For me at least, I'm focused on myself, and I can't really worry about those extraneous things. Going into a game like this, you know they have a very good defense and they're going to be firing on all cylinders. So as a defense, you know you have to play just as well in a game like this."
Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said he appreciates Bassett's understated approach to improving himself and his teammates.
"I think he understands that his daily behavior has a great impact on how he performs," Pietramala said. "So he's got a tremendous work ethic. And the other thing is, he's very much a preparation guy. He watches film, he studies shooters, he keeps a little notebook on different shooters. He's a young man who not only works hard at the practice field, but away from the field, he continues to work hard and is very much a student of the game."
As different as they may be, Amato and Bassett produce similar results when it comes to preventing goals, according to Dixon.
"I don't think they're all that different," he said. "I don't see either of them as huge risk takers. I see both of them being pretty disciplined and staying on their line. This is no disrespect to them, but neither one is going to bowl you over with their athleticism, but they're both just very, very good goalies."
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