(Photo: Jodi Vosika/ASU Lacrosse)
For the ASU Men’s Lacrosse team, a lot of their goals for the season are clearly defined. Win more games. Cause more turnovers. Contest more shots.
For a while, there was one thing that remained unclear when it came to their goals: who would be defending them.
The team currently boasts four goalies on their roster that are still competing for the starting role.
Of those four, three are new to the team, with two freshmen and one transfer.
The only returner, junior Chris Roufanis, spent most of last season as the lone goalie on the team. He played in all 17 games in his sophomore campaign, almost always with no backup.
However, junior transfer Russell Bartle has usurped the starting role so far this season. After deliberating throughout the preseason, head coach Todd MacRobbie named Bartle the starter less than an hour before their season opener.
“Everyone else does certain things better than others,” MacRobbie said, “But the one that we need that’s a complete package for what we need for our defense is Russell.”
If one goalie proves to be more complete during practice, MacRobbie acknowledges that role could change.
“We’re gonna go game by game,” he said. “But I’d like one of them to elevate themselves and be the guy that goes through [the season].”
Early indications do point to Bartle. He has started and stayed in all three games so far, though the initial start came as a surprise.
“It was about 20 minutes before the game, which I mean everyone’s a little nervous going into it,” Bartle said. “But then once you find out you’re going in, it kind of hits you, and you get that pit in your stomach. But it was fun. It’s something I’ve been waiting for, and it was fun to experience that finally.”
It was the first career start for the Gilbert, Arizona native, and it came in MacRobbie’s first regular season game as head coach. However, their relationship dates further back.
“I knew Coach MacRobbie before I was in junior high, actually,” Bartle said. “He was coaching my brother’s rival high school and he tried to get me to transfer to his school when I was still a little kid, so it was pretty funny.”
MacRobbie’s scheme didn’t work on a young Bartle, but serendipitously, the goalie ended up transferring to play for the coach years later. After spending two seasons at the Division I level, Bartle transferred from High Point University, back home last August. Right away, he joined the ASU Lacrosse team, just 20 minutes from his alma mater, Highland High School.
Though Roufanis had grown comfortable last year with his assumed starting position, he has welcomed the competition in Tempe for the role.
“Last year, I was going through day to day and I didn’t have anybody pushing me. Now I have [three] people pushing me to my limit,” Roufanis said. “It’s honestly really a good thing. It’s making me a better teammate; it’s making me a better player.”
Those other players pushing Roufanis include freshmen Johnny Perlite and Billy Kelly. Both were able to snag some playing time in preseason scrimmages.
“[Perlite] and Kelly, they’re both young, but they’re both very knowledge and very athletic,” MacRobbie. “For those guys, I think it’s just their age.”
The two will have time to learn from the older goalies, while also switching off for reps during practice. The goalies see the time on the sideline beneficial in a few ways.
“Some of the sideline conversations we have when we’re not in are pretty ridiculous,” Bartle said. “We’re all really good friends.”
More importantly though, switching out at practice alleviates concerns about injuries, which plagued the team last year when Roufanis was their only option between the pipes. Other players recalled seeing the goalie covered in bruises as he took the brunt of shots in all practices, as well as games.
Along with those bruises, Roufanis left his mark with a .536 save percentage during last season. He averaged 9.17 saves a game, while only allowing 7.94 goals per contest.
The team is only three games into the season, but so far, Bartle has surpassed that. He is making 13 saves per game, and allowing only 5.33 goals per game. Of MCLA goalies who have made 20 or more saves, Bartle’s .709 save percentage is fifteenth best in the nation. Even in the team’s one loss, Bartle allowed only five goals, making a number of dazzling saves on shots fired right on his doorstep.
Bartle has another number working in his favor: his height. Listed at 6-foot-4, he looms at least five inches over the rest of the goalkeeper corps. While Roufanis describes his style as playing a flatter crease and focusing on sliding horizontally, Bartle notes that he simply takes up more room in the goal.
And with Bartle taking up more room, the four players may not share as much time between the pipes, but they still share a common goal.
“It’s bigger than one person starting. It’s about buying into a team,” Roufanis said. “And if I don’t start, I’m gonna do my best at what I have to do, to make sure our team can come away with the win every single week. You’ve just got to buy into your own role.”
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