April 12, 2001

Sweeter Than Cola

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The mind is a funny thing.

It needs control to direct physical action and freedom to allow for instincts, yet can’t be let loose so much that emotion overtakes them all. It’s a battle of milliseconds that’s constantly played out in the heads of athletes.

Junior Carrie Giancola, otherwise known as ‘G’, perfectly displays the balance between instinct and emotion, while having developed into one of the best women’s lacrosse goalies this nation has to offer.

Goalkeeping coach Adrian Walters lauded both aspects in Giancola: “She has lightning-quick reflexes as well as the natural ability to make a save. She has outstanding quickness and athleticism while maintaining mental focus.”

“She’s a well-rounded person,” head coach Jenny Graap ’86 agreed.

A sign of her maturity, Giancola herself recognizes the difference between the physical and mental parts of the game.

“Obviously you have to have the right technique and agility to be a good goalie,” she began. “But what makes the best goalies stand out is their mental game. The ones that can stay focused, not get rattled after a few goals go in, and keep making saves, make the best goalies.

“Everyone has to have the physical ability, but what distinguishes good goalies from average goalies is their mental game and their focus, and their ability to communicate with the team.”

It took time for this frame of mind to develop in Giancola. As a high-school star, she sometimes let her intense emotion get the better of her.

“She was a very passionate athlete, which is a good trait, but sometimes her passion was a detriment to her game,” Kathy Taylor, her Fayetteville-Manlius High School coach, remembered. “But in her junior year, she really showed signs of taking to the cage. She had done a lot of growing, in that she already had the physical tools, but now was mentally ready.”

“In high school, I got extremely upset — to the point of tears after every game, win, lose or draw,” Giancola reminisced. “We could win by 10 goals, and I’d be like, ‘I let five goals in though, what’s wrong with me?’, which is stupid. Lacrosse is a high scoring game and you’re going to get scored on. That was the hardest thing for me to get over, just to toughen up.”

Coming into Cornell as a wide-eyed freshman, having been one of the best high school goalies just one year before, Giancola was a shocked at the level of collegiate play.

“When I first stepped into the cage, I was thinking I was the shit, coming from a solid high school program and having won some awards,” she said. “And once the senior captain starts shooting at me, I come to find out that I was a sieve. I was scared . . . I really feel it’s easier for a field player to come in from high school and perform well at the college level, whereas for a goalie, it’s two completely different worlds. You get shell-shocked.”

But last year’s game against a top-five Princeton team changed everything. It was Giancola’s first year as a full-time starter and Cornell was not yet ranked in the top-20. The Red came out firing, and immediately took a 3–0 lead. The Tigers came roaring back to eventually win, 12–7. But through that game, Giancola proved that she was a top-notch goalie. She had the confidence to take on the best Tiger shooters head-on.

“That was the game I felt like I got to the point where I was so comfortable in the net that I wanted them to shoot at me, because I felt like I was going to save it. I was on my game. Even though I let in a ton of goals, I felt like I had a strong game. I wasn’t like, ‘Defense please keep them away because I don’t think I’m on my game today.’ I felt comfortable and secure.”

The cage had officially become her home.

“The biggest change for me was my mental game,” she admitted. “I’m not scared in the goal anymore. As the last line of defense, if I let a goal in, I can’t let my head down, because it just ripples through the whole field. They can see it all the way up the field. That has been the biggest thing — being more optimistic.

“I’m quite a bit of a yeller,” she laughed. “My role is to be a communicator — everybody’s running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and I’m standing there, seeing the plays develop in front of me. I still think I have more to go. I still get upset after games, like after Dartmouth.”

Against Dartmouth last Saturday, the team was beaten 6–5 in a double-overtime thriller. But Giancola gave up just a handful of goals to one of the best shooting teams in the country.

“This year I’m still waiting for my best game,” she said. “All together as a defense we’ve been playing well. I really haven’t had to have a huge game because we all have had huge games. But that’s nice — that’s a sign of our maturity and where we’re progressing to.”

As a goalie, Carrie’s maturity is also evident, both from a skills and mentality standpoint. Against Stanford earlier this season, she recorded nine saves and was only one goal away from her first shutout.

“That was a fun game. I just couldn’t believe it,” she laughed.

Meanwhile Walters also praised her improvements made in mentality.

“The biggest thing she’s changed is her mental focus,” he said. “She looks forward to making big saves — a reflection of her being a full-season starter.”

Taylor agreed: “Carrie continues to get better,” she noted. “She’s learned how to handle the pressure of being scored on and emit confidence even in defeat. And of course, her goalkeeping skills continue to improve.”

“I don’t think I’ve peaked yet,” Giancola smiled.

As the saying goes, “Ideas pull the trigger, but instinct loads the gun.” Carrie Giancola certainly packs a dangerous weapon. No doubt about that.

Archived article by Sumeet Sarin