May 5, 2009

Goalie Platoon Pays Off for NCAA-Bound Colgate

by Andy Krauss | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Freshman Christina Roa is the newest addition to Colgate's goalie rotation -- the Raiders' self-proclaimed "Goalieland." Roa has earned minutes in the stretch and could see time Sunday in Colgate's NCAA tournament first-round game at Maryland. Raiders head coach Heather Bliss would not reveal if Roa or senior Sara Drexler will start.

© Colgate Athletics

Don't bother asking Colgate head coach Heather Bliss who she's going to start in goal Sunday for the Raiders' NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament first-round game at powerhouse Maryland. Bliss said she won't know until Saturday. Even if she does, she's won't tip her hand.

Why would Bliss let on who she's starting?  Giving the sharp-shooting Terps such an early advantage would just be plain silly. Bliss has had an advantage most of this season, being able to choose between two spectacular goalkeepers.  

One is the sage veteran senior that had started the previous two seasons, earning a spot on the 2008 All-Patriot League Tournament team en route to a conference championship and spot in the NCAA tournament.

The other is the ambitious freshman, who was a high school All-American from the talent-rich suburbs of Maryland.

You would expect a rivalry between the two ripe enough for a bad after-school special.  For Bliss and the Raiders, it has instead become the storyline for a 2009 Patriot League championship and a second straight NCAA tournament appearance.

Sara Drexler came into 2009 as the incumbent goalkeeper, aware that challenger Christina Roa had high accolades and even higher promise.  But she welcomed Roa with open arms.

"I was a little intimidated by Sara at first," said Roa.  "She had already made her mark on Colgate lacrosse. We became very fast friends, though. Off the field, she's now the first person I go to for advice, whether it be about lacrosse, school, boys, whatever."

Drexler was anointed the starter before the season and started the first 10 games, as the Raiders bolted to a 7-3 start. Through the beginning of the season Roa was allotted more playing time. She  made her mark on a West Coast, spring break swing that included wins over UC Davis and St. Mary's. In a trip-ending, 14-11 loss at Oregon, Roa made eight saves in 40 minutes.

Bliss decided that it was time to give Roa a shot.

Roa started four days later at home against Binghamton and made 10 saves in the first 52 minutes of the Raiders' 13-6 victory.

"We decided to put Roa in because she was having a better week of practice," said Bliss.  "We wanted to put our best team on the field, and she was playing better."

The staff was impressed by the maturity of both players, particularly Drexler, who came into Bliss' office at that time and asked what she had to do earn back more minutes. "It was a reality check for both of them," said Bliss.

In the regular season's final six games, the goalies split time in three. Roa went the distance against Navy and Lehigh. The Raiders won the first five if those six games.  Although Colgate lost to Lehigh in its regular season finale, 15-11, Roa sizzled, making a career-high 19 saves.

Even with the loss, Colgate entered the Patriot League tournament as the top seed and with home field advantage.

Roa struggled in the semifinals, allowing eight goals in 40 minutes to Bucknell.

"When she came out, I talked to her right away," said Bliss. "She knew that she wasn't playing great." Drexler gave up just three goals the rest of the way in a 15-11 win.

Both goalies shined in the championship game. Drexler started and gave up just four goals to Navy in 53 minutes. Roa shut out the Mids in the final seven minutes, sealing a 17-4 win and jubilation at Tyler's Field.

Drexler and Roa's relationship has gone from healthy rivalry to friendship. Along with sophomore Maggie Carey, the goalies have maintained the Colgate tradition of creating their own little world, affectionately known as "Goalieland."

Goalieland is a special place within Colgate practices, where the goalies push each other to be better on a daily basis, while maintaining a light atmosphere that may turn to singing and dancing on occasion.

"They really rely on each other, and are each other's biggest fans," said Bliss.  "Their play on the field has been instrumental in our success this season."

So now you may see Bliss' dilemma, pleasant but painful. Who gets the nod Sunday in College Park?

Be it Drexler or Roa, she stands to do Goalieland proud.


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