GVSU's Zwilsky gives look at life behind the mask

Junior goaltender stays strong on Lakers' back line

By Brady McAtamney | 4/6/16 11:03pm

GVL / Kevin Sielaff – Erika Neumen (3) carries the ball up and into Tiffin's zone. The Lakers take the victory over Tiffin University Friday, April 1, 2016.
by Kevin Sielaff and Kevin Sielaff / The Lanthorn

Imagine standing on a field of synthetic turf for 60 minutes, patiently waiting for half the time, aggressively panning your eyes and examining the strategy of your opponents for the other half. Much of your team's success is in your hands, and you are relied upon to sort your defense and throw yourself in front of a rubber ball flying in like a speeding bullet several times over the course of an hour.

This is the athletic life of Grand Valley State’s Sarah Zwilsky, a junior goalkeeper for the lacrosse team. No. 00 currently leads the GLIAC in goals against average, while sitting second in save percentage and fourth in both saves and goals against.

Zwilsky has played lacrosse since she was 8 years old, and says she played goalie because, “nobody else wanted to.” Making that choice at such a young age brought her into a situation in which she has an opportunity to compete in the national tournament with GVSU this season.

That may not happen, however, if the Knoxville, Maryland native does not continue to perform at such a high level. So far this season, Zwilsky has put up some impressive performances, including allowing only seven goals to No. 5 Florida Southern and allowing a paltry one goal in a half against GLIAC opponent Indianapolis.

For Zwilsky, the key to success is communication and being the one directing traffic while defending.

“Personally, I think No. 1 is communicating with my teammates—where the ball is and where they should be. Also, approaching the ball. Set forward and not back. Also, be explosive during the game,” she said.

Defender Caitlin Wojichowski, a Laker stalwart on the back end, noted Zwilsky's ability as a director as well.

“Sarah is a great communicator to us," Wojichowski said. "She has the best angle of the field when we’re on defense, so she can see things that a lot of people can’t. Her communication is vital."

Another major component in a goalie’s game is having strong hand-eye coordination. Knowing where the ball is in respect to their body and stick is key in stopping the pellet from striking twine, and continuing to give their team the chance to win games.

Not all the responsibility falls on the goalie’s shoulders when it comes to preventing points from going up on the board, though. The main focus of the Laker defense is to protect the goal, which means defenders must get in the way of attackers and cut off passing lanes to make ball movement a pain and force shots from further out.

The responsibilities don’t end on the turf, either. The junior knows that she is largely responsible for keeping morale up on the team.

“I think this year (my job) is to stay positive and keep uplifting my teammates,” Zwilsky said.

When Zwilsky got to GVSU, she was not necessarily the starter, but wasn’t a backup either. According to head coach Alicia Groveston, this is really the first year that Zwilsky has been “challenged.” Zwilsky's experience against the stronger teams the Lakers have faced has served her well, however.

“She has the experience of playing in big games and that’s huge when we’re looking forward to getting big wins,” Groveston said.

The self-proclaimed quarterback of the defense, Zwilsky is able to take and dish constructive criticism, which makes life for Groveston easier.

“I think honestly she’s very good at working with her defensive unit. She’s a very collaborative goaltender and she’s not afraid to take criticism. I think in a lot of ways she’s a good team goaltender and she’ll own it if it’s her fault and she’ll pick up her teammates if they’re down. She’s a great team goalie. As a coach, it’s a nice asset,” Groveston said.

Zwilsky’s tough skin—both figuratively and literally—has served her well as the Lakers chase national recognition.

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