Freshman goalie stands tall despite 2-5 start

By Adam Knorr | 3/26/14 7:25pm

The lacrosse goalie is subject to a pressure foreign to other positions in the sport. Her circle, which measures 9 feet in diameter, often feels less like the last line of defense and more like a remote island.

When all else fails, the goalie is the final stopper; the only hope after a defensive lapse. Combine those burdens with minimal pads, a rock-hard ball and the sheer shooting speed of college attackers — and it can make for an unnerving job.

That’s why the members of the Grand Valley State University lacrosse team are thankful for freshman Sarah Zwilsky.

Zwilsky, a club lacrosse standout from Knoxville, Md., drew looks from NCAA Division I schools around the country while at Brunswick High School.

Then, GVSU head coach Alicia Groveston, a fellow Maryland native, came calling, and the choice was obvious.

“I wanted to go somewhere I could play right away,” Zwilsky said. “I wanted to start all four years — and GVSU’s legacy with athletics is really impressive.”

A self-described “high-risk, high-reward” netminder, she has established her own brand with a mix of athleticism, competitiveness and intensity that have been central to her success for years.

The rookie is no stranger to the circle, either. She has been making saves since picking up the sport in sixth grade, and when it comes to her on-field success, her teammates and coaches cite her lacrosse IQ.

“I want to see leadership, reliability and trust in a goalie — and Sarah has all those things,” first-year defender Kali Spencer said. “She acts as if she were an upperclassman.

“I’ve never seen a goalie play like her before.”

After racking up four varsity letters and All-State first-team honors in high school, Zwilsky has gone through a stretch of rocky play to begin her collegiate career.

She has started, and finished, all seven games for GVSU (2-5) this season. Through that span, she is allowing an average of 10.86 goals per game while accumulating a .387 save percentage.

In the two GVSU wins, however, she has shined. She allowed just four goals in a victory at McKendree University on Feb. 16 and three in a win at Merrimack University on March 6.

Most freshmen have growing pains, though, and Groveston said the early hardships will bring a new level of talent and maturity to her talented young player going forward.

“She’s going to make mistakes just like everyone else,” Groveston said. “She just has to find her confidence on the field in terms of what she’s comfortable doing. She’s going to have to adapt and figure out what works best.”

Zwilsky was often called upon in high school to take risks and make highlight-reel saves, but with the reigning GLIAC champions in front of her, she is learning to adapt.

Part of the adjustment is learning how to become acclimated with a new team. It seems she is a quick learner, though, based on her ability to describe the team with an accurate cross-sport parallel.

“It’s like going from Lob City to playing for the Spurs,” she said. “There’s a lot more speed and talent, and we’re working on how we can use and implement it.”

Without any pure options for a backup goalie, the Lakers will call on Zwilsky time and time again throughout the season. She is the only keeper listed on the roster.

She certainly appears to have a bright future ahead of her in Laker blue. After all, it takes more than talent to be a successful goalie — it takes the courage to stand tall while stranded on an island.

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