Girls’ lacrosse goalies face the toughest shot in sports

Bethlehem lacrosse goalkeeper Katherine Chiarella scrunched her nose like she smelled something bad.
"You can't be fixated when it goes wrong. You've got to let it go, and go on." - Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior goalkeeper Lexie Ball on facing dangerous free-position attempts in girls' lacrosse.
"You can't be fixated when it goes wrong. You've got to let it go, and go on." - Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior goalkeeper Lexie Ball on facing dangerous free-position attempts in girls' lacrosse.

Bethlehem lacrosse goalkeeper Katherine Chiarella scrunched her nose like she smelled something bad. The sophomore’s voice grew quiet.

We were talking about free-position attempts, and more specifically, trying to stop them.

“They’re rough,” Chiarella said. “You know when the whistle blows what’s ahead . . . It’s a blessing when your teammate knows a player and says high or low.”

That player with the ball could opt to go the other way, though. They could shoot toward any corner. Bounce a shot or fire directly toward an opening. Oh, yeah: They’re eight meters away when beginning their attempt to score, and there’s a clear path ahead, at least when the whistle first sounds.

Eight meters, really, it isn’t much, just a little more than 26 feet.

“There’s so many things they can do,” Scotia-Glenville sophomore goalkeeper Abbie McHerron said. “Each one is going to be different. You don’t know how each one is going to be.”

Goalies defend them in various ways, too, after one of their defensive mates commits a major foul (3-seconds, shooting space, etc.) inside the 8-meter arc, which brings on the close-range athletic confrontation. They’re called 8-meter as well as free-position attempts. While defending a penalty kick in soccer and a penalty stroke in field hockey are of the same family, they’re distant cousins.

The lacrosse goalie, more often than not, is going to lose.

“You can’t be scared of the ball, for one,” Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake senior goalkeeper Lexie Ball said. “Next, you can’t be fixated when it goes wrong. You’ve got to let it go, and go on.”

Another is certain to come.

“Repetition is good,” McHerron said. “They come up so often in a game. Practice is key.”

A US Lacrosse blog that discussed shooting tips referred to the free-position attempt as being similar to a foul shot in basketball.

“It’s a big part of the game,” Ball said. “The other team wants to get that chance, and a save, that can give you momentum. Settle it and clear it, and you’re in charge of the field. That’s when things change.”

As a six-year varsity player and three-time Section II Class B lacrosse champion, the Louisville-bound Ball has faced a lot of 8-meter attempts. Offensive players can set up on one of seven hash marks (the one closest to where the infraction has occurred) that span the 8-meter arc, or the semi-circle that is in front of the cage.

“All goalies play it a little different,” Ball said. “I step out and spread out. Wait until you see the shot. Wait as long as possible. When you see the ball release, that’s when you make your move. If you guess, it’s over.”

Chiarella, a first-year varsity starter, is learning fast.

“The first thing I think is step up and track the ball, not the eyes,” she said. “On varsity, girls will try to trick you by looking the other way.

“Watch the ball and step up and if I get it, I’m extremely happy.”

McHerron focuses on several things before an attempt.

“I like to watch their stick and their eyes to make sure I’m more prepared,” she said. “Watch the stick. If it’s low, they’re keeping it low. The eyes sometimes tell where they’re going to shoot.”

McHerron, like Ball and Chiarella, is a stick-watcher when the whistle sounds.

“When I think free position, I think watch the ball, make sure I’m positioned right, and calm down,” said McHerron, who helped Scotia-Glenville capture the Section II Class C title last year. “I know my defense should crash, but if they don’t, you’ve got to be ready.”

McHerron has gotten plenty of tips from her dad, Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake head coach Jake McHerron, an all-star goalkeeper in his high school and college days.

“Every goalie is different,” he said. “Some play [their stick] high, some play low, some play in the middle. Some will play to the far left and bait you to shoot right, which is what they want. Some will play it the other way. There are some aspects of trickery that can be used.”

The offensive player’s options include passing to a teammate. Both teams will usually have some players flanking the shooter on the 8-meter circle when the attempt begins. Those are the girls who were inside the arc when the foul happened; the player who committed the foul is four meters behind the shooter.

“It’s a free shot,” Jake McHerron said. “You have to use your knowledge of the best play for you. Is it to pass the ball? Is it to run right to give yourself more shooting space? Is it to run left? There’s strategies.”

Most of the time, they’ll run straight ahead and unleash a shot.

“Imaging is so big,” Ball said. “The mind is a powerful thing. You’ve got to see yourself accomplishing things and stay with your ritual.”


Haley Schultz never scored more than four goals in a varsity lacrosse game until the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake sen­ior midfielder piled up eight in an 18-6 Suburban Council win over Colonie last week.

“Julia [LeVan] and I were clicking that day,” the Notre Dame-bound Schultz said. “We were missing a couple of our players, and we needed to be on the same page. We were.”

Schultz scored five first-half goals to surpass the four she notched twice earlier this season before adding three more in the second stanza. Schultz tied the BH-BL one-game

record, with Nicole Beardsley scoring eight goals in a 2014 game against Shenendehowa.

“I had a few good feeds from Julia in open space and had some dunk goals,” Schultz said. “One or two came off draws.”

Schultz is the Spartans’ draw specialist, and her success rate there, plus her scoring ability, were among the things that brought the 2015 honorable mention All-American and Notre Dame together. She scored 14 goals in three games last week, giving her 97 in her career.

“She’s a tough player to stop when she gets moving. She’s very strong and very powerful,” BH-BL coach Jake McHerron said. “That tends to make a goalie a little nervous.”


Albany Academy junior attackman Niko Szelest accumulated 26 points in back-to-back wins over Voorheesville (23-0) and South Glens Falls (21-6) last week. He had three goals and 11 assists against South Glens Falls, setting what is believed to be a Section II one-game record for assists.

Daily Gazette files show 10 assists for Jeff Bryan of Niskayuna (vs. Columbia 1999 in 13-3 win), Craig Mossman of Bethlehem (vs. South Glens Falls 1996 in 25-3 win); Bobby Pollicino of Shaker (vs. Columbia 1995 in 16-7 win) and Don Vivian of CBA (vs. North Rockland 2015 in 18-10 win).

Szelest had five goals and seven assists against Voorheesville.


A couple of girls’ relay teams from Shenendehowa and Saratoga Springs excelled in Championship of America races last week at the Penn Relays at Franklin Field.

Shenendehowa’s Emily Crounse, Danielle Jordan, Julia Zachgo and Hannah Reale clocked a 9:00.79 to win the 3,200-meter relay, with Reale closing in 2:10.17. Saratoga’s Amelia Mahoney, Valentine Starnes, Keellyn Cummings and Kelsey Chmiel went 11:46.84 to place second in the distance medley relay.

Saratoga also got a fourth from Aidan Tooker in the 3,000 and a fifth from Tom Conboy in the pole vault. Tooker ran an 8:24.24, and Conboy cleared 13-11 1⁄4. Alana Carroll of Averill Park placed second in the girls’ pole vault at 11-11 3⁄4.


Ichabod Crane sophomore softball standout Calista Phippen pitched no-hitters in consecutive days last week, striking out 15 in a 16-0 win against Watervliet, and fanning 14 in a 15-0 win against Fonda-Fultonville.

Cohoes senior Isabelle DeChiaro spun a no-hitter against Albany Academy and a one-hitter against Cobleskill-Richmondville.

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