This article appears in the January issue of Lacrosse Magazine, which mails to US Lacrosse members next week. Don't get the mag? Join USL and its 300,000-plus members to start your subscription.
Goalie on Top Despite Fading Eyesight
by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff
"My vision is not great, but it is good enough to perform at a level where I can help my team," said Dallas McLellelan, LM's MCLA Division II Preseason Player of the Year.
© Dave Adams
After willing Westminster, the 10th-seeded team in the Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) Division II tournament, to the national semifinals with a win over Dayton, Griffin head coach Mason Goodhand said "the balls were looking like grapefruits" for his goalie, Dallas McLellan. It's a standard figurative cliché for a hot goalie, but it had a special irony.
You see, nothing — whether it is a lacrosse ball or the dashboard of his car — is as it appears to McLellan.
Although the Sandy, Utah, native has two first-team All-America plaques and a national championship to his name, he also suffers from keratoconus. A degenerative disease that misshapes the cornea and distorts the vision, keratoconus has been a part of McLellan's life — and lacrosse career — since his fifth-grade teacher recognized he was squinting in class. It has progressively deteriorated, even through the 2008 championship for Westminster, when McLellan estimated his vision was about 80 percent.
It reached a low point in '09 when the Griffins lost to St. Thomas at night in a downpour.
"From the very first shot that was taken on me until the last, I could not see a single shot that came my way because of the reflection of the lights directly and in the puddles," said McLellan, who still finished with 15 saves. "I definitely thought about not playing or moving to attack because the ball moves a little slower, but I decided to stay with it. My vision is not great, but it is good enough to perform at a level where I can help my team. I just stayed at goalie because that is where they needed me."
With the aid of hard contacts — a double-edged sword because they flatten his corneas while also creating scar tissue with the rubbing — McLellan was masterful last year in the Griffins' Cinderella run with 54 stops in three games, including 18 against No. 2 Dayton.
"There's no way we would have gone as far as we did if he had not found his game and inspired us to a new level," Goodhand said. "Undoubtedly, he was the difference."
Despite the All-America year last spring, McLellan's eyesight is slowly fading, sometimes to the point where he has trouble seeing items right in front of him. The most radical remedy is a full corneal transplant, where the cornea is sliced away and replaced by someone else's, but McLellan said he "made the mistake of checking that out." Thus, he's opting for a pair of less-invasive procedures to stem the disease and allow him to return to his familiar spot in the Griffins' goal.
But even without perfect sight, McLellan brings a decade of goalie experience — enough that he had hoped to play lacrosse at the Air Force Academy until his vision ended those dreams — and a clinical approach to playing his position.
"He's very disciplined; very measured and calculated," Goodhand said. "He's been doing this long enough now that when he misses the ball, he figures out what he did wrong. He is a student of the game and there is just not much weakness in his game right now. One of the truly amazing things about Dallas is he can knock an apple off your head at 50 paces like William Tell. He can just rifle the ball on the ear."
It's difficult to grasp that a goalie could be that accurate on his outlet passes, especially one suffering from poor vision. It might be equally hard to believe that a sight-challenged netminder could be Lacrosse Magazine's Preseason Player of the Year for MCLA Division II.
But, as it always is for Dallas McLellan, seeing is believing.