First they stop and then they go.
Long Island, always a fertile recruiting territory for college lacrosse talent-seekers, has produced a particularly bountiful crop of boys goalies for the next couple of graduating classes.
"You've got a lot of good ones and they have different aspects to their game," Sachem North coach Jay Mauro said.
There are risk-takers who leave the crease to challenge shooters and lead the break. There are stay-at-home types with quick hands and exceptional passing skills.
The class of 2012 has goalies signed to play at top schools such as Virginia, North Carolina and Syracuse. The class of 2013 has players with verbal agreements to attend Duke, Johns Hopkins and North Carolina. There are coast-to-coast commitments. From Brown to Air Force, from Siena to Denver, Long Island's stoppers are going places.
"We're seeing better athletes in goal now in the sixth and seventh grade than we did five or six years ago," West Islip coach Scott Craig said. "Those athletes are materializing into great goalies because they were great athletes to begin with."
Craig's Lions, who have won four of the last six state Class A titles and eight straight Suffolk crowns, epitomized the athlete-as-goalie trend last season when former middle-school midfielder Kyle Turri evolved into an all-Long Island goalie. Now he's a freshman backup at Duke.
His replacement this year, senior Jack Kelly, did so well in his five starts last season and the 2012 summer circuit that he signed with Brown before ever becoming a full-time starter.
"I've waited a long time for this," said Kelly, who has excelled in getting West Islip off to an unbeaten start in rugged Suffolk Division I. "I was on varsity for two years and mostly sat on the bench. But I've done the preparation and I'm ready. Kyle is a good friend of mine and I learned a lot playing behind him."
Kelly, who chose Brown rather than a full ride to Navy, uses his athleticism the way Turri did. "I'm like Rick DiPietro in hockey. I like to come out of the cage a lot," he said. "I feel comfortable and relaxed when I'm clearing. I trust my teammates to make plays. I can rocket a pass to someone and know he's going to catch it."
Manhasset senior Evan Molloy has used the same formula as Kelly. He backed All-American goalie Frank Morelli last year but played well last summer and improved so much that he accepted an offer from Syracuse, where his father, Jamie, earned All-American honors while playing from 1977-80. Molloy likes to stray and show off his stick skills, even scoring a goal this season.
Garden City senior Dan Marino, bound for defending national champion Virginia, plays a more traditional style. "I sit back. I like knowing where the shots will go before attacking," Marino said. "But I'm pretty strong in clearing and I like to let the middies start our fast break. That's a real asset to the goalie position."
Kelly said he has kept tabs on his cage cohorts. "I'm friends with some of them from summer ball, but when we're playing them, I don't pay attention to how they're doing," Kelly said. "It's a lonely world down there, so you've got to stay focused."
Marino said he and St. Anthony's senior goalie standout Kieran Burke (out until May with an illness) both were recruited by North Carolina. "I knew Kieran had one up on me because his brother Sean went there. He got the spot," Marino recalled. "But I sent Dom Starsia some film and he was interested."
That didn't surprise Steve Finnell, Marino's coach at Garden City, currently the No. 1- ranked team in the country, who called Marino "the whole package. Incredibly quick hands; a good clearing goalie."
Marino said the glut of talented goalies on Long Island has made the summer and travel-team circuit "very competitive among us. We've all played against each other in games and tryouts for years. There are a lot of great goalies here."
Another one is Chaminade junior Danny Fowler, who replaced three-year starter John Connors (Navy) and has been superb in the Flyers' 6-0 start. He played especially well in early-season one-goal victories over rival St. Anthony's and West Islip. "He's a difference-maker," Chaminade coach Jack Moran said.
"There is a greater talent pool of goalies at a younger age and the kids are pushing each other," Finnell said. "This is an exceptional group. I think it's the competition that brings out the best in the guys. Sometimes you watch a high school game on Long Island and the talent is like watching a small-college game."
Next year, the college game will feature many of those Long Island goalies. In addition to Burke, Kelly and Molloy, Baldwin's Brett Dadiego is to play at Air Force, Smithtown West's Ryan Adler at Towson and Shoreham-Wading River's Tyler Lutjen at Siena. Juniors who already have made verbal commitments include Syosset's Ryan Feit (Johns Hopkins) and MacArthur's Ryan Purcell (Denver).
"It's crazy with all the early recruiting. There's so much competition. Kids are committing as sophomores," Mauro said. "With all the games these goalies are playing in youth leagues, travel teams and summer leagues, they're getting better by playing against great competition for years."
When it comes to the rising tide of goalies in the Long Island talent pool, you can't stop the stoppers.