I grew up playing a variety of sports and have always thought of myself to be pretty athletic. There isn’t much I haven’t tried to play throughout youth, high school and college.
However, there are two definite things that I have to draw a hard line against doing. I think cross-country skiing is nuts. I fully understand the beauty of being in nature, and am obviously a big snowboarder and hiker. I am also a cross-country runner, currently training for the Steel Rail Half Marathon. However, there is nothing that appears more painful than having to propel yourself along flat and uphill terrain in cold weather with heavy boards strapped to your feet.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The one thing that appears more painful than that in sports in being a lacrosse goalie.
Pittsfield High senior Nikolai Pixley happens to cover both those bases during his athletic career as a General.
In the winter, Pixley straps on his skis and competes in Nordic Skiing. In the spring, he throws on a mask and gloves, grabs a large-netted stick and tries to stop guys from firing rock-hard lacrosse balls into Pittsfield High’s net.
I’ve had numerous discussions with other athletes, and the consensus is lacrosse goalie is not something we’d like to play. However, you can’t deny the growth the sport is experiencing over recent years.
Lacrosse at Marlborough High, where I went to school in Central Mass, wasn’t an option until my junior year. Then, in 2007, during my senior spring, it became a varsity-level program. By then I was pretty deep into outdoor track & field, so I opted not to pick it up.
Despite the Lee and St. Joseph Boys teams folding into other co-ops this spring, the sport does appear to be growing in the youth ranks.
So, after a recent Pittsfield-McCann Tech Boys Lacrosse game, I caught up with Pixley to get some advice for youngsters looking to pursue not only lacrosse, but the seemingly painful position of goalie.
“Have the confidence in there. If you get some help from another goalie, take it to heart,” said Pixley. “Be yourself, that is the biggest thing. If you feel in your gut that you want to stop a shot, but you’re mind is too scared, go with the gut and don’t let anything hold you back.”
Pixley, who has committed to Norwich University in Vermont, said he has never been seriously hurt or broken any bones or anything from taking shots in net. The worst he can remember is bruises that, while they may be tender for a while, never hinder you for more than a day or two.
“It is 20 percent physicality and 80 percent mental,” said Pixley. “Mentality is so big, because if you think that you aren’t going to do well, you won’t, no matter what you do. If you’re not in the mindset, it’s not going to happen.”
Playing goalie requires a certain degree of fearlessness, especially taking some high-powered shots from guys like Ryan Jacoby, Kevyn Harris and former County stars Quinn Caesar and Michael McCormack. Those guys Pixley lists as some of the hardest shooters he’s faced.
“I started when I was in fifth grade as an attackman, but I wasn’t great at it. My coach told me to go into goal, and I thought, ‘I don’t know what I’m doing, but let’s try this’,” said Pixley. “I got a couple of saves and from then on it was my passion. I work every day at home and on the field as hard as I can.”
Along with the fearlessness, physicality and communication are the most important aspects. Wahconah GK Vinnie Orlandi creates plays with his legs often, and you’ll see guys leaping, diving and stretching to make save attempts often.
“I love it. I run a lot and try to be as physically fit as possible,” said Pixley. “We do sprints, agility, all that stuff.”
Pixley’s personality and mentality mesh almost perfectly with what you’d want in a lacrosse goaltender. Another aspect of being fearless is being in charge on the field. You’re the catcher or quarterback out there, and the defenders look to guys like Pixley, Orlandi, Cal Filson, Troy Schweitzer, Nico Romano and Jonah Swotes for direction.
As Pixley says, his hype gets the team hype.
And in my opinion, you need to be filled with a significant amount of hype to let guys fire those stones at you without much padding.