To say that Matt Hoy was disappointed after Towson men's lacrosse coach Shawn Nadelen told the senior goalkeeper he had lost the preseason competition to junior Josh Miller would be an understatement. And at a time when he needed some encouragement the most, Hoy got some from his older brother, Andrew.
"After Coach Nadelen let me know that Josh was going to be the starting goalie, I called my brother," Hoy recalled. "He was a first person I talked to, and he just said, 'Hey, hang in there. You'd rather be the goalie who starts the last 10 games of the season than the first 10.' And that kind of stuck in my head. It led me to re-energize myself and keep my head down and start working hard again and find my groove in the net. It's crazy that what he said is kind of working out now."
Is it ever. The unseeded Tigers (12-4) have benefited from multiple individual performances to meet No. 3 seed Ohio State (15-4) on Saturday in their first NCAA Division I tournament semifinal since 2001. But Hoy has probably been the most important cog.
Towson is 7-1 in games in which Hoy has been the starter, and no opponent has scored 10 or more goals against him. Hoy, who replaced Miller as the starter when the team opened its Colonial Athletic Association schedule against Drexel on April 1, has a 6.99 goals-against average and a .536 save percentage and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the CAA tournament.
ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said Hoy, who made a career-high 12 saves in Sunday's 10-7 upset of No. 2 seed Syracuse in an NCAA quarterfinal, has seized his chance.
"Preparation plus opportunity equals success. He's been prepared, he's gotten the opportunity, and now he's being successful," Dixon said. "He was the MVP of the CAA tournament and now he's leading his team to the national semifinals for the first time since 2001. So he took the opportunity, was prepared for it, and has done a great job."
After wrapping up a four-year career at Thomas S. Wootton High in Rockville, Hoy, a Gaithersburg resident, spent three years backing up Tyler White, playing 78 minutes. That is why ceding the position to Miller in the preseason hurt deeply.
But with the gift of hindsight, Hoy said the delay proved to be a blessing.
"I think my experiences earlier in the season of backing up Josh really kind of put this run in perspective for me," he said. "It helps me value every game. Not only that, but those first seven games of sitting on the bench, they made me go back to why I play lacrosse in the first place — just trying to have fun with the position.
"Early in the season, I was putting so much pressure on myself to make saves. Now I feel a little looser in the net, trying to be more athletic, and trying to put my own individual stamp not only on the game but the position."
Nadelen said the key for Hoy was his determination to become the starter.
"Even when Josh was starting in front of him, he continued to compete in practice, and he continued to support Josh knowing that his number would be called if Josh was having a tough day, which started in that Denver game," Nadelen said, referring to a 12-11 loss to the Pioneers on March 25. "He got his opportunity, and we bounced back and forth a couple games after that, but I think that just gave him that much more emphasis of staying engaged and really wanting to be a player for us in his senior year."
When the Tigers lost 6-3 to Ohio State on March 15, Miller was in the net, and Hoy was on the bench. Buckeyes coach Nick Myers said it doesn't appear as if Towson's defense has changed its schemes since Hoy's emergence.
"I think they've gotten a save or two more per game, and therefore their goals-against has gone even lower," he said. "They're stingy. They play very condensed, they're very packed in. They play a style that kind of forces you to try to take some outside shots.
"They believe in their goalie more now than ever, and when you have a hot goalie and a defense like that, the results obviously speak for themselves."
The saying in lacrosse is that a team is only as strong as its play in the middle of the field on faceoffs and goaltending. But if Hoy is feeling the weight of Saturday's game, he refused to acknowledge it.
"I don't like to think about it that way," he said. "Like I said earlier, the goalie is the product of the defense, and I have the utmost confidence in our defense, that they're going to do everything possible to stay in shooters' hands and give me the best looks possible. The defense knows where I like to see shots from, and they do a great job getting players to those spots, and that makes my job a lot easier."