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Maryland duo OK splitting games as long as team continues winning

The Baltimore Sun

The remarkable thing about the goalie controversy on the Maryland men's lacrosse team is that there's hardly a controversy.

Contrary to popular belief, junior Jason Carter and sophomore Brian Phipps are comfortable about the Terps' plan of playing each keeper for a half. The two share notes on opposing players before and during games and openly root for each other.

"Everyone wants to play," Phipps said. "At the same time, it's fun to cheer on your teammates. When halftime comes, you're like, 'OK, my job's done. Now I can cheer on Jason and let him finish strong and help us get the victory.' "

The lack of hostility extends to off the field. Carter and Phipps room together on road trips, and their fathers sit next to each other during games.

"If we didn't like each other, it would be a totally different story," Carter said. "But we're really good friends. We've known each other for a while, so there are no bad feelings between us."

The rotation will likely continue at 2 p.m. today when No. 8 Maryland (7-3) visits No. 14 Johns Hopkins (3-5) at Homewood Field. Carter is expected to start, with Phipps likely to enter after halftime.

The Terps' strategy is unusual in that coach Dave Cottle has confirmed his comfort level with riding a two-goalie cycle through the postseason, including the NCAA tournament.

ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said dating to the 1980s, he cannot recall an NCAA champion using two keepers.

"Something like this, there's not much historical precedence in the sport of lacrosse for teams to split time in goal," said Kessenich, a two-time first-team All-America goalie at Johns Hopkins. "It seems to be working. These kids, in talking to them, seem to support one another and bring out the best in each other, which is unusual among competitive people."

Even Cottle understands that he is taking a path that few, if any, have navigated.

"I went through 26 different years, and this is the first time I've done this," he said. "But I'm comfortable with what we're doing right now. ... We have to do what's right by our team. And right now, what's best for our team is to play two goalies."

Statistically speaking, there's little difference between Phipps and Carter. Phipps has a slightly better goals-against average (6.39 to 7.56) and winning percentage (.750 to .667); Carter has a higher save percentage (.594 to .588) and has played almost 63 more minutes.

The distinction is in the goalies' styles. Carter - who missed the 2007 season with a broken collarbone - uses his 6-foot-1, 210-pound frame to step up in the crease and cut down shooting angles, while not being shy about taking the ball upfield to start a clear.

The 5-11, 180-pound Phipps, who started 13 games last season en route to being named the Atlantic Coast Conference Freshman of the Year, analyzes opposing shooters' tendencies and has quick hands to snare shots in midair.

Carter appeared to have gained the upper hand when he made a career-high 15 saves to help Maryland upset then-No. 1 Virginia on March 29. But Cottle turned to Phipps to start the Terps' next contest - against Navy - and Carter said he had no objections.

"I really haven't thought about us playing one goalie," he said. "Coach has instilled in our minds that we're both going to play. Because of the way the rotation is going, we're both getting good games."

Phipps said he would have understood if Cottle had started Carter against Navy.

"Both Jason and I agree that whoever is hot, go with him," Phipps said. "Against Virginia, Jason played unbelievably and we won. So whoever's hot, the other is fine with him playing. If we need to do two goalies, that works, too. We just want to do what works and go from there."

History, however, would seem to suggest that Maryland might run into some difficulty with a two-goalie rotation. If the Terps are worried about history, they're not showing it.

"This year, we're exceeding all expectations so far. So who knows?" senior defenseman Joe Cinosky said. "Maybe it'll work for us and we can be the first team to win with two goalies."

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