Sometimes trying to get into a goalie’s mind is like traveling into a twilight zone. It’s hard to get in and even harder to get out.
The Johns Hopkins men’s lacrosse coaching staff is a group that ventured into the dark side a year ago, and found light in 2018. As the Blue Jays prepare for an NCAA tournament opener against Georgetown Sunday, they have one of the hottest goalies in Division I — senior Brock Turnbaugh, who struggled through difficult times a season ago.
Some thought he might transfer. The Blue Jays are fortunate he didn’t.
“Last year, obviously, was not the best, a tough situation,” said Turnbaugh, who had to split playing time with then-senior Gerald Logan. “Having two good goalies in the same program — we clashed — it was tough to focus with the other guy looking over your shoulder. You kept wondering who is going to start this game and who is going to start that game.
“Well, coach Petro [Dave Pietramala] and I had a talk. He said clearly this year was my year and I took it to heart and ran with it into the summer, the fall and into this season.”
Every team wants to peak heading into the tournament and few players can dominate a postseason like a hot goalie.
Turnbaugh has been solid, if not spectacular at times, this season, but he had a career-high 16 saves in the Blue Jays’ Big Ten semifinal win against Ohio State. He had six of his 14 saves in the final quarter of Hopkins’ 13-10 conference championship win against No. 1 Maryland last week.
In those games he went against two of college lacrosse’s top shooters in Ohio State’s Tre Leclaire and Maryland’s Connor Kelly. Turnbaugh keeps winning.
“Brock deserves a lot of credit,” former Hopkins goalie and ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said. “After last season, he went to work with assistant coach Larry Quinn, and they’ve worked to the point where he’s earned his confidence back. His eyes, his hands, his feet, they’re synchronized, and he’s playing great, especially late in the year.
“So he’s in a great place right now, and it’s an amazing journey from where he was this time last year. He’s put the time in and battled back, and it’s a terrific story about a guy who has persevered and is playing his best ball.”
A lot of goalies are odd. They are like punters and kickers in the NFL. They kind of have their own time zone and hundreds of little quirks. It’s hard to imagine anyone liking someone hurling a small, hard white ball over 100 miles an hour at them and then bragging about the bruises left on their arms and legs.
Unfortunately in this game there can only be one starting goalie as opposed to three starting attackmen, midfielders and defensemen. Most teams will keep two or three goalies on the roster with the perfect situation being an upperclassmen starting and a freshman or sophomore as a backup.
Logan started eight games last season and Turnbaugh started seven. It got ugly.
“The goalie position is like the quarterback position,” Kessenich said. “If you bring in a transfer, you are questioning me. And if you start him, all of a sudden, I’m maybe looking to get out of there myself. That’s a trust, that’s a confidence issue, and a family issue. A goalie has got to feel really well supported from the head coach and the assistants.”
Turnbaugh finished with a save percentage of .408 and a 12.59 goals-against average last season. He has a .524 save percentage and a 9.30 goals-against average this season.
A lot of his success can be attributed to his time working with Quinn, but Turnbaugh also has a toughness about him. He played three sports at Hereford and was a state champion in wrestling in the 220-pound weight class. He finished with a career record of 105-21, including 42 victories in one season.
His dad, Steven, was his recreation lacrosse and high school football coach. There were a lot of long rides home after games.
“Sometimes, I just wanted to ask my mom, ‘How do you put up with him all these years?’ ” Turnbaugh said, laughing. “I love my dad but sometimes we definitely didn’t see eye to eye. At some points it was like I couldn’t get away from him.
“But he has helped me become the man and the player that I am today. In college we have more of a father-son relationship compared to the coach-player relationship we had in high school.”
Longtime Johns Hopkins assistant coach Bobby Benson has seen this type of scenario play out before. He said a lot of Turnbaugh’s discipline and perseverance came from his father’s coaching style.
The work ethic has always been strong.
“It’s never easy to split time as a goalie. I am sure there are a couple of shots and games he wished he had back,” Benson said. “I think the biggest thing he has improved on is his consistency. There are always up and downs as a player but he has continued to be a hard worker every day. Goalie is not the most stress-free position, but he has handled everything well.”
He certainly seems to be handling the success. During this time of year, everybody is looking for the hot goalie. Turnbaugh’s name keeps popping up more than just about any other.
“I try not to play much attention to any of that, just focus one game at a time,” Turnbaugh said. “I don’t want to get too far into the future and not enjoy the moment. As a senior I get up thinking every day that this game could be my last and I think that when I go to sleep. Ideally, I’d like to be around for another three weeks and get my hands on that trophy.”
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