Bobby Wardwell was in goal.
Then he was out of it.
Way out of it.
Then, just in time, he was back in.
As the Syracuse lacrosse team was trying to clear its defensive end early in the fourth quarter against UAlbany on Feb. 16, Wardwell was behind and to the right of his net when a turnover occurred near midfield.
The Great Danes fired a long shot over the defense toward the open net, but Wardwell sprinted back and fully extended his stick hand to snare the ball at the last second and prevent a goal.
In a way, the play paralleled the Shenendehowa graduate’s career with the Orange.
A junior who was Inside Lacrosse magazine’s second-ranked goalie and 18th-ranked prospect overall in 2011, Wardwell started the last nine games of his freshman year with the Orange.
He was the starter to begin last season, but a shaky first half against Johns Hopkins prompted head coach John Desko to try Dominic Lamolinara in the second half, and the Maryland transfer played spectacularly, limiting the Blue Jays to two goals in a 13-8 win. Desko stuck with Lamolinara for the remaining 15 games and the Orange fell one win short of a national championship.
Instead of pouting or getting down, Wardwell recommitted himself last fall and has regained equal footing with Lamolinara in the lineup, forcing Desko to use both in equal measure.
Lamolinara is the starter, but Wardwell has been rewarded for his stellar play by moving into the role of second-half goalie, which meant he was also in there for overtime when the top-ranked Orange pulled out a 17-16 win over the Great Danes.
“I love it,” Wardwell said of the two-headed monster approach. “Dom’s a phenomenal goalie, and we both started playing well at the beginning of the season. As long as this keeps working, we’re going to go with it.”
“It’s really what we’ve been seeing in practice,” Desko said. “They both deserve to play. It’s a different situation from year to year. Last year, we were trying to figure out who the starter would be. Now, they’re both playing well, they support one another and we’re confident putting both in in any situation.”
On Saturday, Desko pulled Lamolinara for Wardwell in the second quarter against Maryland, which handed the Orange their worst loss since 2007, 16-8.
It appears to have been a temporary cosmetic change, though, since the Terrapins’ domination was linked directly to a lopsided edge in faceoffs.
Syracuse’s goalie situation is unusual, but not unprecedented.
And it can have advantages, too.
If two goalies have different styles, switching from one to the other at halftime can throw a team off a bit, not unlike batting lineups seeing a hard-throwing fastball pitcher, then seeing a curveball pitcher later in the game.
“That’s exactly right,” Desko said. “Sometimes it can be a lefty-righty thing, too. You switch somebody in in the second half, and now they have to adjust to shooting at different spots.
“Dom plays a little more out of the goal and talks a little more. I might give Bobby the edge in the save department when he’s back in the net, and he’s working on the vocal side of it. Sometimes, a guy has a low tone of voice and it doesn’t carry as well. Dom has a higher pitch that guys can hear better through all the noise.”
Besides Syracuse, Wardwell, an All-America selection at Shenendehowa, had considered UAlbany, Cornell and UMass.
His dream was to play at the Dome, though.
“I love it. I’m an upstate guy, and my dad went to Syracuse,” he said. “It was a great thing when I decided to come here, and I was very happy about it.”
It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, though.
After the Hopkins game last year, Wardwell saw just some spot duty in three of Syracuse’s last 15 games.
Lamolinara, a senior this year and a native Marylander, had run into a similar dearth of playing time with the Terrapins, and decided to transfer somewhere that offered the potential for action.
“Dom was on the other side of the fence a year ago,” Desko said. “He transferred from Maryland because they went with a freshman as the starter, so maybe Dom’s future wasn’t too bright.
“Last year, Bobby started in the scrimmages, and then at halftime of the Hopkins game, we put Dom in and he made five one-on-one saves and we won handily, so we stayed with it. We felt like Bobby was getting a little tight and needed a break to work on some things.”
“I was discouraged a little bit,” Wardwell said. “But at the same time, it’s one of the best lacrosse schools in the country. It’s not very often that freshmen and sophomores get to play a lot, so I figured I had to keep on working until I got my chance.”
Wardwell did so, and showed he was worthy of the same consideration that Lamolinara was getting by performing well in practice and scrimmage.
They were impossible to separate, so Desko didn’t even try.
He designated Lamolinara as the first-half goalie because he was the starter for most of last year.
“It happens, sometimes,” Desko said. “You see it more when you’re not sure who the starter should be. Denver did it last year, Maryland did it a few years back. We’re a little different because they both deserve to play.
“I thought Bobby looked good in the fall. He was playing well in practices and scrimmages, and against Siena, we were OK with it and obviously got tested by Albany.”
Did they ever.
The top-ranked offense in the country last year, UAlbany scored five goals on Wardwell in the final seven minutes to send it to overtime.
Wardwell saved the day in regulation when he got his leg in the way of a shot by Miles Thompson with 42 seconds left.
“The defense did a great job of keeping Miles really low there,” Wardwell said. “He’s dangerous from there, but we were all over his hands and it was a simple pencil save that basically hit me and bounced out and we got the rebound. It was just great defense overall.
“Dom and I worked on a lot of inside stuff this week and feeds from the X [behind the goal] and turning around expecting the shot right away. That was the biggest thing for us. They have a lot of crafty inside guys.”
There’s no guarantee that Desko will keep this goalie alignment for the rest of the season.
The balance could shift in either direction, but for now, the Orange are in a good place, having two reliable goalies.
Wardwell said he accepts the fact that there will be an ongoing evaluation of the position, but he’s content to make that decision for Desko as easy or difficult as it needs to be.
“I just need to keep playing with confidence and practice hard every day,” Wardwell said. “It’s nice. I like splitting time with Dom. He’s a great goalie, also, and it’s nice to be back.”