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"I was really disappointed in myself early last year," Rullman says now. "I was getting bombed. If you let it get to you, you might as well get out of the net. You have two choices. You can walk in the locker room and say, 'Bad day.' Or you can mull it over. Last year I did a lot of mulling."
Thiel understands the problem. "A goalie needs special treatment," he says. "He's the last line of defense. Last year Roddy relied too heavily on his reflexes. Positioning is still the weakest part of his game, but he moves so quickly that he can compensate. And last year he didn't run the clears the way he does now. He's really directing the defense for us."
Roddy's father, who never played the game but has watched it a lot, spotted his son's potential for the position early. "Roddy had real quick hands as a little boy," Charles Rullman said after the Towson State game." He was a catcher in baseball and right from the start he never blinked. He was as much at home behind the plate as he was in the living room. That's when I began to think he might make a good goalie."
Most lacrosse players show understandable reluctance to play in the goal. The fact that a lacrosse ball is made of rubber is no solace to anyone who has ever been hit by one. As Mangels puts it, "If I played there, I'd have bruises all over my back. Goalies are sick." Rullman broke an eardrum blocking a shot with the side of his head in high school and in the Hero's tournament saved a 100-mph bad-bounce scoring attempt by getting his face in front of it. (An official had to call time and pry the ball out of his mask with his stick.)
In lacrosse the goalie operates in a theater-in-the-round. The playing field extends 15 yards beyond the goal, and the least defensible scoring shot in the game comes from an opponent cutting right in front of the goal mouth and taking a feed from the area behind the goal. Since defenses are usually man-for-man, the goalie must keep constant watch on the ball while shouting its location to teammates who anticipate their men setting picks and breaking for the goal. "Roddy has a lousy Long Island accent that we kid him about," says Mangels, "but I love to hear it during a game."
Once a save is made, the goalie becomes an offensive player, since the clear that he initiates is supposed to move the ball to the far end of the field. Against Maryland in the finals of the Hero's tournament, Roddy made 22 saves, 10 of them in the fourth quarter, and Virginia successfully cleared the ball 20 of 29 times. On one clearing attempt, however, Roddy dashed all the way to mid-field where he got himself trapped and suffered a blow to the back that was still bothering him the following week at Towson State. One of these days, Roddy says, he is going to go all the way downfield and score a goal.
Roddy admits that he did not actively lobby for the job as goaltender. "I got sorta suckered into it. My brother [Charles, a second-team All-America midfielder at Virginia in 1970] used to practice shooting at me when I was a kid. Then he told the junior high school coach that's the position I wanted to play. I never said that."
But he played goalie anyhow—well enough to make All-America at Garden City High School on Long Island. "Goals scored on him were like a personal affront," remembers his high school coach, Julio Silvestri. "In one losing game in his senior year he got so uptight that he came out of the cage with his stick flailing." Here he might have done well to pay heed for a change to Thomas Jefferson, who said, "When angry, count ten...; if very angry, an hundred." But alas, as anyone within hearing range of a Virginia game can attest, he lives instead by the words of Mark Twain: "When angry, count four; when very angry, swear."
"He's a real competitor," says Duquette. "Like at paddle ball. He suggested we play once and all the week before he was trying to psych me up. He wanted to give me points or play a test game to see if I really wanted to take him on, you know, so I wouldn't have to hurt my pride if he was too good. Anyhow I took him easily. But as far as he's concerned, I never beat him, not at anything. He just let himself be beaten, that's all. So I still have to put up with his grief. He says I'm lucky and it won't happen again. I guess goalies have to be that way."
Rullman is going to have to stop almost everything if Virginia wants to repeat as national champion. Graduation cost the Cavalier offense 122 goals-and 87 assists from last season's totals of 213 and 145, and this season several other clubs boast excellent goalies, including No. 1-ranked Johns Hopkins, whose Les Matthews was last year's All-America. Bill O'Donnell of Maryland, Mike Emmerich of Cornell, Peter Graham of Cortland State, Skeet Chadwick of W&L, Robert Bryan of Rutgers and Joe Zaffuto of Hofstra are all superior performers.