SCHENECTADY – There was plenty to cheer for in Union College’s 14-7 win over John Carroll last Saturday in the NCAA Division III Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, but the loudest hoots and hollers came when athletic communications director and public address announcer Steve Sheridan noted that Reed Karaska was now in goal.
Backup goalies don’t usually get huge ovations. They tend to play when games are either in hand to the positive or out of reach to the negative. But Karaska, a senior from Nuangola, Pennsylvania, has put in his time both on and off the field. On the team, he is regarded as the emotional leader.
He’s the kind of guy you cheer for.
Karaska and the Dutchmen will try to take one more step in the tournament Saturday, when they play Gettysburg in a quarterfinal at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. If they win, they will play in a national semifinal there on Sunday.
In four seasons, Karaska has played in 14 games, with only one start this year against SUNY Plattsburgh, for a total of 140 minutes, 34 seconds. But he is as invested in the program as anyone head coach Derek Witheford has seen.
“He’s had as tough a road as anyone, and him embracing his role – I’ve told him this before: He is what makes this culture at [the] Union College lacrosse program special,” Witheford said. “When people see him and what he’s doing, it makes them better. It makes them better people, makes them better lacrosse players.”
Lots of kids watch college lacrosse games and dream of doing things they see during the game. For a seventh-grade Karaska, his moment came during the warmups.
“I was going to my older cousin’s game for UMass Amherst,” Karaska recalled. “They were playing at Lehigh, which was the closest game to where we lived, and I arrived early enough to watch them warm up. And guys were screaming and yelling and pumping their teammates up, and I realized my dream was to play lacrosse and that my goal was to use my lacrosse to get to a school that my academics couldn’t by themselves.”
Karaska was certainly a good high school student, but playing lacrosse rounded him out. Being a good teammate, though, that put stars in his eyes.
“I’m a guy who wants to make everybody laugh and feel good; I want to get everybody going. I got to witness that with my cousin’s game, and thought that’s how I can contribute.”
According to teammates, Karaska has always been that guy.
“Right as I set foot on this campus, Reed’s been a leader, a friend,” sophomore starting goalie Dan Donahue said. “Talk to him on or off the field, he’s just one of the greatest people at this school I’ve ever met. When you’re down, he’ll pick you right back up.”
Karaska had been a reserve for two seasons, and it would have been easy to feel slighted when Donahue got the starting job last season, but that’s not Karaska’s style. He’s had some physical disruptions to his chance at playing more, too. He got mononucleosis shortly after his freshman season started. Then junior year, he actually contracted COVID-19 and missed the first two games of the season. This year he missed fall ball because of an injury.
“He’s an older player on the team and me coming in as a freshman last year and him not being able to play, he stepped up and found a new role on the team, and he’s been great. I can’t say enough good things about him,” Donahue said.
Karaska embodies the saying that the physical aspect of sports is just part of the package.
“You know, it’s tough to get out of bed some mornings when you don’t want to, tough to run when you don’t feel like it, tough to get hit with the ball when you don’t want to, but one of the most beautiful things is not letting anybody know that [and] just being a good teammate,” Karaska said.
Karaska’s reach also extends beyond the campus. He wanted to be involved in community service, so he organized a food drive on behalf of the team at City Mission of Schenectady. He also organized a small Earth Day cleanup for the team this spring.
“Just get out around where you live and try to clean it up; a little thing to help,” Karaska said.
Saturday’s cheers weren’t the only ones for Karaska during the weekend. In Sunday’s third-round 21-11 win over Western New England, Karaska made two huge saves with the team down multiple players due to penalties.
“When I made that first save, the place went nuts, and it was a scintillating feeling,” Karaska said.
“Putting him in an NCAA game and hearing the crowd erupt like that gave me chills as a coach, if I’m being honest,” Witheford said. “He’s probably the most vocal leader on the team. We’d be lost without him. The backup goalie is one of the most important positions on the team, and I’m glad we have Reed on our team.”