"He's very quick. He has good position in the goal,"… (Gretchen McMahon Photography )
As soon as goalie Gunnar Waldt made the last save in the final seconds to preserve Bryant's 10-9 upset against Syracuse on Sunday night, his life changed.
He got rock star status.
"My cell phone and those of my family were blowing up," said Waldt, a sophomore out of St. Paul's. "I kept hearing about how I was on the news and sportscasts back home. And then I started to hear about awards, but all I'm trying to do is stay levelheaded and focused."
That will be easy for Waldt. He has always been cool and calm, going back to his recreation days at Gamber and later at St. Paul's, which he helped win a Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title.
But a lot of eyes will be on Waldt on Saturday when the unseeded Bulldogs (16-4) play No. 7 seed Maryland (12-3) in the NCAA Division I quarterfinals at Hofstra. Waldt has a 7.52 goals-against average and a save percentage of .610, which is amazing for a Division I goalie.
He isn't just hot, but sizzling.
"He looked great," Maryland coach John Tillman said after watching Waldt collect 13 saves, eight in the fourth quarter, against the Orange. "I'm on the Tewaaraton [Award] committee, and he was added to the [nominee] list. And we certainly have heard and a lot of the kids have seen the tweets about how most people are saying he's a first-team All-American. So that's kind the way we're approaching it, that we are playing against what everybody is saying is the best goalie in the country.
"Why is he doing so well? He certainly had great technique," said Tillman. "He's very quick. He has good position in the goal. He seems to have great, natural ability. They've coached him up really well. So he's done a nice job. You hold Syracuse to single digits in the Carrier Dome, you've done something special."
Waldt succeeds partially because his big body (5 feet 11 and 235 pounds) fills up a goal. He is exceptionally tough to beat on low shots and has great reflexes. And Waldt doesn't mind hurling his body in front of a ball.
He flails arms, legs and feet. Nothing is off-limits.
"I'm just a big kid, a big goalie like the one in Albany [Blaze Riorden] and Loyola [Jack Runkel] who is playing the angles," said Waldt. "I think I have quick hands and the combination of those things into one has given me some success. I'll do whatever it takes to stop a shot. If it hits my body, a pipe, a leg, whatever, my main goal is not to let it go in."
Waldt's style isn't unusual, but his demeanor is, at least on the field. Off the field, Waldt is extremely polite and a kid of few words. He is a fun-loving Bubba who has always been protective of his teammates.
If someone took a cheap shot at a teammate, Waldt would get retribution. At St. Paul's, he preferred football over lacrosse and started at fullback for three straight years.
As a freshman at Bryant, he played both sports for a year until knee injuries forced him to play lacrosse full time. But the football mentality is on display, especially inside the crease.
When Waldt makes a big save, he pumps his fist and starts screaming. His chest swells as if he just swallowed a briefcase. Waldt talks to his defense constantly and directs his players as if he were in charge of a symphony.
"I enjoyed playing both sports, always having something to work on," said Waldt. "But after the last knee surgery, I thought my best opportunity was in lacrosse. The lateral movement has slowed down, but I think I still have good quickness.
"You never lose that excitement, that fire of playing football," added Waldt. "You still have the same big-game environment, and I still have that mentality of getting fired up, getting jacked before and during a game."
In Maryland, Waldt will face an offense that becomes stagnant and struggles at times. The Terps, though, have some good shooters in attackmen Matt Rambo (29 goals, 6 assists), Connor Cannizzaro (22, 6), Jay Carlson (22, 5) and midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (30, 18).
Carlson and Waldt were teammates at St. Paul's.
"He takes up a lot of the net," Carlson said of Waldt. "You just need to focus on taking good shots. He'll eat up those low-angled shots. You just need to focus on canning our opportunities and not settling — which we try to do in every game.
"He doesn't have many weaknesses; he works hard," added Carlson. "He's always been a good goalie. I'm sure he's improved each year. So I was not very surprised at all, because he's always been a clutch guy, and in that Syracuse game, he was very clutch. So we'll see what happens on Saturday."
Just as when Bryant faced Syracuse, the Bulldogs will be underdogs against Maryland. The Terps have a proud tradition and are one of lacrosse's storied programs. Meanwhile, Bryant is completing its sixth season in Division I.