April 3, 2008

Strong Goalkeeping Serves as Key to W. Lacrosse Success

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They’re the last line of defense. Nothing else stands between the opposing attacker and the back of the net besides junior Renee “Eli” Hughes and sophomore Kristen Reese, the women’s lacrosse team’s two goalkeepers.
The two are very different players and people, but they have at least one thing in common: a penchant for stopping speeding rubber balls before another tally goes up on the scoreboard for the opponent.
“Renee’s strengths are her work ethic — she does really work hard every day at practice — and her competitiveness,” said assistant coach Laurie Tortorelli DeLuca. “She just really wants to win.”
Hughes has had that desire to win ever since she was a budding lacrosse player following her big sister around the field. On one occasion, the regular goalie didn’t show up, so Hughes accepted her sister’s offer to fill in. She’s been netminding ever since.
Although she backed up Mary Montague ‘07 last year, Hughes has matured into the Red’s starting goalie for the 2008 season.
[img_assist|nid=29457|title=No no na-net-te|desc=Senior attacker Courtney Farrell (11) may lead the Red offense, but goalkeepers Renee Hughes and Kristen Reese are essential to the team’s success as the anchors of the defense.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“When you get the chance to play you have to take advantage of it,” Hughes said. “And you have to go out and play as hard as you can and as well as you can.”
“Her and Mary split time a lot of the games,” Hughes said, “and going into this season, [Hughes] knew that she had a year of experience under her belt and she was definitely going to be competing for that starting role.”
Her competitor for the starting role, Reese, is a more than capable backup.
“Kristen is a very level-headed, mentally-sound goalkeeper,” DeLuca said. “She does a great job of not allowing things to affect her in a bad way, she just keeps that calmness about her when she’s present in the goalcage, which I think helps her defenders out a lot. If the goalie is relaxed, then I feel like that relaxes them a little more… she also has pretty sound fundamentals in terms of technique.”
“Kristen is an excellent athlete,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “She comes to the position of goalkeeper with a lot of natural athleticism.”
That natural athleticism helped Reese in high school in other sports besides lacrosse. She was honored in soccer, basketball and diving, in addition to on the lacrosse field.
Athleticism is just one of many attributes that defines a successful goalkeeper.
“Athleticism, quickness, reaction time, speed, seeing if they come out of the goal cage to pick up ground balls and intercept passes and consistency,” DeLuca said. “That’s a huge thing in terms of recruiting for us. … We feel that if you’re in the goal cage, you should be able to save 50 percent of the shots you’re facing.”
And it’s not just physical qualities that the Red’s coaches are looking for when they recruit potential successors.
“The mental side of it is very important,” Graap said. “Just being a very disciplined individual, someone who is serious about improving and committed to the work ethic. The position is very demanding mentally, it’s hugely important that one goal in the net doesn’t deflate your ego and set you back in your confidence. It’s a high-scoring game so we’re looking for a goalie that’s resilient and mentally tough.”
Resilience and mental toughness are at least partially instilled in all players through competition and training. The team got more competition last fall than it’s used to, and long practices have readied the goalies to react in any situation. The two netminders rehearse game-like, pressure-filled situations during practice that pays off down the line in close games.
“Both goalies are benefiting from increased competition in the fall,” Graap said. “We had more tournament experience. We hosted our first-ever tournament at Cornell in the fall, and that gave us a chance to play the Canadian national team and to play Syracuse. … That was in addition to the fall tournament that we usually travel to.”
“It’s really good practice to have things like that,” Hughes said. “And to learn how to execute under pressure. Times when coming up with the save is critical and can be a momentum-changer.”