Playing goalie on the Division I men's lacrosse level is not for the faint of heart.
There's a certain amount of bravery — some might call it insanity — to volunteer to stand in front of a net and block shots that can reach 100 mph with a body part that may or may not be protected.
The goalkeepers for No. 1 seed Maryland, No. 5 seed Brown, No. 7 seed Loyola Maryland and unseeded North Carolina, getting set for the NCAA tournament semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, are a diverse group ranging from a fifth-year senior from Akron, Ohio, to a true freshman from Baltimore. And each player is willing to fend off metaphorical blows as much as they block physical ones.
"It's like no other position in sports," ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said of playing goalie. "If you're off, you get exposed and you get scrutinized. … All it takes is one bad game for people to lower your stock and not give you credit for the entire picture of the season. That's just the nature of that position."
Here is a look at the four goalkeepers who will play significant roles in how the NCAA tournament plays out until Monday afternoon, when a champion is crowned.
Named the nation's most outstanding goalkeeper in 2015 and a first-team All-American, Maryland's Kyle Bernlohr has the most experience among the foursome, having reached this stage of the tournament a year ago.
"I think it is an advantage," the 5-foot-10, 160-pound redshirt senior said. "I think it kind of calms me down. Being there last year as a first-year starter and being with the team in years prior, I try to stay poised in the cage at all times and try not to get rattled by any goals or the ups and downs of the game."
Bernlohr's reliability (sixth in Division I with a 7.63 goals-against average and 15th with a .552 save percentage) has helped the Terps (16-2) rank fourth in the country in defense at 7.7 goals per game.
"It is a very comforting feeling to know that you have a guy who has proven that he can do it for the last two years," coach John Tillman said. "He's done it in practice, he's done it in games, but he's also done it in the big moments. It's almost like the bigger the game, the better Kyle plays."
As good as Bernlohr has been, Brown's Jack Kelly has been better. The 6-1, 195-pound senior leads the nation in save percentage (.617) and total saves (208), both of which are career bests.
"I've just been able to find more consistency," he said. "… I think my first three years, I always had that one game where I had a big letdown and I was 25 percent or 30 percent [on saves]. This year, I've been able to avoid that just by focusing on the next shot because that shot is always going to be more important than the one I just let in."
Coach Lars Tiffany said the Bears (16-2) lean on Kelly, who also ranks ninth in goals-against average (8.09), not only for his prowess, but also for his leadership.
"There are moments in practice when I let my guard down — and that's rare, that's not the type of coach I am — and then Jack, he'll be all over me," Tiffany said. "He'll start talking up, 'Hey, Coach, let's figure this out! What do we do when they roll off the crease here? What are we going to do here?' He never lets his guard down, and he is a phenomenal leader both through his emotional approach keeping the guys focused and also tactically."
North Carolina's Brian Balkam opened last season as the full-time starter, but was replaced by Kieran Burke after the seventh game. Getting benched was a sharp acclimation to the sport on the collegiate level.
"Coming into college, it was a bit of a humbling experience, but I've let that kind of fuel me here," the 5-10, 185-pound Balkam said. "It sits in the back of my mind. I remember what it was like to sit on the bench and watch the game and not have any effect on the outcome. I always let that drive me to play harder and give everything I have."
Balkam has the least impressive numbers among the four goalies (9.56 goals-against average and .500 save percentage in 15 starts), but coach Joe Breschi said Balkam has found his footing for the Tar Heels (10-6).
"He had some starts a year ago, and he was very successful, but he had to learn along with the rest of the guys playing in big games, how to play big in games against teams that maybe are not ranked as high as some of the programs we play," said Breschi, a Baltimore native and Loyola Blakefield graduate. "I think being consistent is where he's improved the most."
Only 20 years old, Loyola Maryland's Jacob Stover is the youngest of the foursome, but age is just a number to the Hunt Valley resident and McDonogh graduate.
"I take that as kind of a chip on my shoulder because as a freshman, people may not be expecting as much from me, but I keep myself at a high standard, how I can play and what I'm supposed to play at," the 6-foot, 185-pound freshman said. "… I'm loving the opportunity that I have right now, and I'm making the most of it."
Stover, who ranks second in goals-against average (7.14) and save percentage (.591), has made coach Charley Toomey's decision to insert him as the starter after a 4-3 start for the Greyhounds (14-3). Toomey compares the younger Stover favorably to his father, former Ravens kicker Matt Stover.
"In my opinion, he's a lot like his father," Toomey said. "It's not about the last one, it's about the next one. If you miss one, you go back and you dig in and you bull your neck and you get the next one. He's been very consistent for us."