Illana Goldmeier | Staff PhotographerMen's Lacrosse
After strong 2012, Wardwell holds lead in goaltender competition
John Desko spent the first half of the season searching for consistency in the net.
Then-sophomores Matthew Lerman and Dominic Lamolinara flip-flopped back and forth during the first half of Syracuse’s schedule. The duo was reliable at times, but struggled at others.
After Lamolinara surrendered 12 goals in a loss against an explosive Duke squad April 1, Desko decided to make yet another switch. He started then-freshman Bobby Wardwell, a highly coveted recruit out of Shenendehowa High School (N.Y.). Wardwell closed the season with a 5-4 record and was named to the Big East All-Tournament team. Desko calls the goalie battle “great competition,” though he said Wardwell is the No. 1 option heading into the 2013 season.
“It’s good to be a little more settled in that position,” Desko said. “Last year we were trying to figure that whole thing out.”
Wardwell wasn’t a solution for a team that failed to live up to its usual standards, though. He finished with a .525 save percentage, a mark higher than both Lerman’s and Lamolinara’s.
Coming out of high school, Wardwell was ranked the Class of 2011’s No. 2 goalie by Inside Lacrosse, serving as a stone wall for Shenendehowa for five years. For a kid who idolized Syracuse lacrosse players in the 2000s, Wardwell’s decision on where to play college lacrosse was a no-brainer.
“It’s what I’ve always dreamed about since I was a little kid,” Wardwell said. “I always wanted to play lacrosse at Syracuse.”
While the excitement mounted and Wardwell eagerly awaited his opportunity, he ended up waiting longer than anticipated. January, February and March passed, and the team sat at .500, nestled in the middle of the conference it was accustomed to dominating.
Then, on April 7, Desko decided to give the freshman a chance. Wardwell remembers the pregame jitters and natural anxiety, yet he was also eager to seize the moment.
“It was pretty nerve-wracking, but at the same time I tried to focus on the opportunity and prove myself,” Wardwell said. “I was really nervous before the game, and the guys on the team did a great job of helping to calm me down and stuff and help me stay relaxed.”
Wardwell brushed the nerves away in no time, igniting the Orange to a 10-9 win over then-No. 11 Princeton. The goalie made nine saves and responded with poise after surrendering four goals in the first period.
Though Wardwell admits he was a bit nervous heading into the game, junior attack Derek Maltz didn’t get the same vibe. He saw a confident, resilient goalie – one he knew would step up and make the most of his opportunity.
“Bobby doesn’t get nervous. Whether it’s practice, games … he doesn’t get nervous,” Maltz said. “He lets a goal in, he kind of brushes it off his shoulder and knows he’s going to make the next save.”
As Wardwell grew more comfortable in goal, he continued to shine for Syracuse, coming up with clutch saves in a closely contested win over Hobart.
“He’s what I like to call a gamer,” Maltz said. “He goes out there and you know he’s making key saves for you in key moments. It was tough for him having to step in halfway through the season as a freshman and really getting acclimated to game traditions and being under the lights, having to deal with the pressure. He’s a great player.”
Wardwell’s performance reached a new pinnacle in the first-ever Big East tournament in which he carried SU to a conference championship. He tallied 19 saves and only let in nine goals combined in wins over Villanova and St. John’s, teams that each scored at least eight goals on the Orange earlier in the season.
Despite bumps in the road against Cornell and Georgetown, the test run was an overall success. Desko said it’s “very comforting” to know that both Wardwell and Lamolinara now have game experience, and noted that competition is still back-and-forth, nothing is set in stone.
But after showing his potential in the latter half of the 2012 season, and so far in practice, Wardwell is the No. 1 option for a team that experimented tirelessly last year to find an answer.
And with a year under his belt, Wardwell feels prepared to answer the call and continue improving.
“After being a freshman last year and coming in and having to learn the ropes and getting comfortable with everything,” Wardwell said, “… and juggling academics and lacrosse and all that stuff, it’s been a lot easier the second time around.”
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