Niko Amato

Maryland goalie Niko Amato looks to make a pass against Loyola in the fourth quarter of the Terps' 12-10 win at Ridley Athletic Complex. (Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun / February 23, 2013)

Each week, The Baltimore Sun will publish a Q&A with a college lacrosse player or coach to get you more acquainted with the player and his/her team. Today's guest is Maryland junior goalkeeper Niko Amato, who has anchored a defense that is surrendering the fifth-fewest goals per game (6.8) in Division I this season. Amato, who is listed at 5 feet 8 and 185 pounds, made a season-best 12 saves in the Terps' 12-10 upset of reigning national champion and then-No. 1 Loyola on Feb. 23.

How does it feel to be ranked in the top five nationally in both goals-against average (fourth, 6.50) and save percentage (fifth, .617)?

Right now, we're only four games into it, and I don't believe that stats tell the whole tale about goalies. I don't know how it ranks up, but I know that right now, we're 4-0, and if I'm in the top five in those stats, I think that's a tribute to our defense and offense. Lacrosse is a full team game, and I just look at my teammates and see how hard they work. It's pretty cool that we're 4-0 and that we have another chance to play on Sunday [against Stony Brook].

Do you feel like you are having one of your best seasons?

To be honest, I haven't really been thinking about that too much. I've just been working hard to stay after [practice] and do extra stuff on my own every day. I just try to push myself as hard as I can because I came into college with all of these seniors [Amato redshirted his freshman year in 2010], and this being their last year makes me want to work as hard as I possibly can to send them out the right way and do everything possible for them and the team. This is our last chance to be together as a team, and after two disappointing finishes, we haven't reached our ultimate goal yet. I really have just been trying to work hard and push others to work hard with me, and I think that's paying off so far. If we keep doing that, I think we'll be successful.

You look slimmer than last season. Did you lose weight?

I feel a little bit quicker. I don't really step on the scale too much, so I don't really know my exact figures. I've heard a couple people mention it [his weight loss]. I feel good now, and I feel pretty healthy. I think last year, I was in a little bit of pain, but this year, I feel good. Like I said, I've been staying after and working on my game, trying to get better. I think that's paid dividends so far.

You and senior midfielder John Haus are the only starters left from both NCAA tournament finalist squads. Do the memories of the losses to Virginia in 2011 and Loyola in 2012 still sit with you?

Of course. As a player, you know you've been there and that you didn't quite get the job done. But this year, we talked about not focusing on the past. No matter what games we win this year or whatever happens this year, it's not going to change the past two years that we've been here. We don't really worry about that too much. It kind of — as a player — gives you an idea of what it takes to get there. It gives you a general outline of how you need to get there and the steps you need to take. So I think it's a little helpful.

How does it feel to be part of the undisputed No. 1 team in Division I?

Honestly, I don't think I've really looked at polls. I know that we are No. 1, but I don't really think about it. Our team doesn't really pride itself on being No. 1 in January, February, March, April. What really counts is May, when you can be an ACC or national champion. The bar we set here at Maryland is to be a championship team. That's really our goal. Being No. 1 right now is not a priority for us. We'd like to be the best team throughout, but whatever happens, happens, and we're just focused on playing our best lacrosse.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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