Rodney David Rullman's room in the Zeta Psi house at the University of Virginia seems standard in all respects: unmade bunk beds, a cluttered desk, clothes strewn about and piled high on the floor of the closet. But hiding behind the curtains at the front window is a curious artifact. It is a statue of the head of a lacrosse player set in a heavy marble base and, although it says so nowhere on the award, it was presented to Rullman three weeks ago when the Cavaliers' star goalie unanimously was voted the most valuable player in the Hero's Invitational Lacrosse Tournament in Baltimore.
"I've got it there so no one will see it and steal it," Rullman says with characteristic disregard for the hallowed honor code of Thomas Jefferson's university. Moments later, however, while locking his door, he admits, "I get a lot of grief about that thing."
Notoriety can indeed be a burden to a 19-year-old sophomore, particularly one as outwardly unassuming as Rullman. Brief mention in one national magazine last spring was sufficient fuel for his fraternity brothers. They delight in embarrassing Rullman every time he enters a room by proclaiming in stentorian tones, "I'm Roddy Rullman." Not even offering up his lacrosse stick for the late-night rat kills in the basement of Zeta Psi can redeem him. How distressing then that Virginia's surprising victory in the Hero's tournament, which sent the Cavaliers into second place in the national rankings, has been attributed largely to goaltending. How exasperating that Virginia's chance of repeating as national champion appears to rest largely with its 5'9" left-handed goaltender.
But if self-confidence is not allowed to blossom in the social world of Zeta Psi, it is carefully cultivated on the lacrosse field. "A goalie has to have self-confidence bordering on cockiness," says senior Attackman Tom Duquette. "If you're gonna get in there and let balls be thrown at you, you gotta be confident that you can stop them."
Confidence grows as slowly in lacrosse goalies as it does elsewhere in life, yet no one at Virginia hesitates to pinpoint the moment when Roddy Rullman got CONFIDENCE.
Virginia opened the 1972 season as the favorite for the NCAA title, but the team developed an apparent Achilles' heel in its two freshman goalies, Rullman and Scott Howe, whom Coach Glenn Thiel alternated with little success. The Cavaliers dropped all three of their divisional games—to Johns Hopkins, Navy and Maryland—and reached the final game of the regular season against Washington and Lee needing a victory to win an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. That day Thiel handed the starting job to Rullman.
Early in the second half W&L opened a 7-3 lead and moved in for the kill. Three times in a five-second span the Generals fired point-blank shots at Rullman. The first two he blocked, the third he held onto. "Otherwise we'd have been there all day," he says, smiling now at the memory of his ordeal. He quickly cleared that save to put sudden life into Virginia, and the Cavaliers rallied for a 10-9 victory.
"I've watched a lot of goalies," says senior Defenseman Bruce Mangels, "but that sequence was incredible. He's the quickest person I ever saw."
Underdog Virginia drew Army in the first round of the NCAAs and routed the Cadets 10-3. Rullman shut them out for the final 29 minutes, and in the midst of that stretch Cavalier Defenseman Boo Smith was shocked to hear him taunting an Army midfielder. " 'Shoot, you sucker,' he yelled," says Smith, "and the guy got so irritated he did shoot. Roddy nonchalantly saved it and ran out of the crease laughing."
With Rullman in the goal, the Cavaliers went on to win the NCAA tournament, taking the title game from Hopkins 13-12. This year, despite losing the majority of their offense, they have opened with six straight victories, following the Hero's tournament with easy wins at Towson State and Duke. Since Rullman gained a starting role, the Cavaliers have won 10 straight.