UMBC's Jeremy Blevins is the little goalie who comes up big in big games.
He isn't flashy and doesn't make daring dashes down the field. He isn't spectacular in the goal, but solid. But at crunch time, there isn't a better goalie in the country.
"It's not his save percentage that wows you; it's the important saves he makes at the most important times that are the most impressive to me," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said.
Cottle should know. Blevins had 11 saves in UMBC's 9-8 triple-overtime win over Maryland on March 14. The Terps had a fast-break opportunity on Blevins in the first overtime, and Blevins made the save. He did it again in the second overtime. The little man always comes up big.
Blevins, 5 feet 8, 145 pounds, was an honorable mention All-American last season and is off to a strong start in 2009. No. 5 UMBC is 2-0, having beaten Delaware and Rutgers. Blevins, a senior, has faced 73 shots with a save percentage of .610.
A key stretch for the Retrievers is coming up with games against No. 15 Colgate, No. 4 Johns Hopkins and No. 19 Princeton during a seven-day stretch beginning Saturday. Those teams will have a lot of offense, but coach Don Zimmerman isn't too concerned.
He has Blevins.
The only question about Blevins' playing status came before his freshman season, when he had to beat out two juniors. Zimmerman didn't name Blevins the starter until two days before the opener against Brown.
Since then, Blevins has started every game he has played at UMBC. And no one has questioned his size.
"Honestly, my size has never been a problem for me," Blevins said. "Others thought it was a problem for me. I have an older brother [Sid] and a twin [Phillip, a midfielder at Towson University], and I always wanted to prove I was better than them. I think that is the main reason I have a temper now because almost every day we competed, we got in a fight."
The temper was a problem Blevins' first season. It's one thing to get bossed around by a freshman. It's another to get bossed around by a short freshman.
"I was a little surprised of having such a big role as a freshman," Blevins said. "I had to get used to leading a bunch of older kids. My teammates understood, but they also made me understand that I had to tone it down a little bit."
He has. Blevins is still emotional and one of the team's leaders, but he now leads more by example. He is an extremely hard worker, arriving at practice early and staying late.
But two areas in which he has improved most are getting quick outlet passes to start the Retrievers' transition game and coming out of the crease to challenge the opposition on shots and ground balls.
Before this season, Blevins had a career save percentage of .537. He is the nation's active leader in goalkeeper victories with 34 (to 15 losses) and has a .565 save percentage in four NCAA tournament games. Zimmerman says it's no coincidence that UMBC's stature has risen with Blevins in goal.
"I know it's a cliche, but [it's] the size of a player's heart," Zimmerman said. "I still believe that lacrosse is a sport where you don't have to be a monster to be effective. His stats won't jump out at you, but he is a competitor. ... He's my kind of player."
And UMBC is Blevins' kind of team. Despite the high ranking, the Retrievers still have to prove themselves again this season. Blevins likes the underdog role. He has been put in that position many times as a player.
"People don't give us respect. We're still just UMBC. We like that, but I think we can go further than any other UMBC [team] before us. We know what it takes to win. We think we have the right things in place."
Certainly, the right goalie.
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