Goalie Lessons from the 2016 NCAA Championship Game | Lax Goalie Rat

Goalie Lessons from the 2016 NCAA Championship Game

What a game! I hope everyone had the pleasure of catching last Monday’s national championship game.

Both goalies made some ridiculous saves in overtime! But in the end, it was UNC’s Brian Balkam who came up bigger, making more saves than Maryland’s Kyle Bernlohr.

In watching the championship game here a few lessons from a goalie’s standpoint.

Goalies Cannot Get Lazy on Clears

Awhile back I wrote an article about the bad habits of lacrosse goalies. High on that list – lazy outlet passes!

Bad Outlet Pass

This play was such a pivotal moment in the game!

UNC jumped out to a 4-0 lead and was poised to put this game away early. Brian Balkam – who played an absolutely brilliant game – gets lazy on this outlet pass and boom, just like that Maryland is given a lifeline.

ESPN’s Quint Kessenich a former All-American goalie himself for the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays gave some great color commentary and goalie wisdom on this play.

This is goaltending 101. When you’re making outlet passes, you must move your feet and step around the sticks [in your throwing lane]. Balkam threw that flat footed. Great hustle by Maltz and company. Like a quarterback in the pocket, you cannot throw the ball through sticks like that. You must move your feet and step around the pressure. Or at least pump, a pump fake, those guys will jump up into the air, the goalie can locate the sticks and find a seam.

So as goalies – remember to never throw outlet passes off your back foot. Make sure you’ve got a clear passing lane and don’t try to throw through attackers sticks.

Of course we should give some credit to Maryland’s #25 Dylan Maltz who just picks this pass off clean and then cooly and calmly throws a fake and dumps the ball into the goal.

Goalies – Go through your clearing progressions and if no passing lane is available move to the next progression. Worst case scenario, you exit out the back of the crease on foot.

Also another trick that I like to use during clears. If a goalie’s stick is contacted in the act of passing, it’s a free clear.

Doesn’t matter if the riding attackman is just standing straight up, if a goalie’s follow through contacts the attackman or his stick, free clear. So after I let my outlet pass fly I’d always give a full follow through.

Be careful because referees are not idiots. If they see that you use excessive force or an over-exaggerated force to throw the pass or follow through and strike the opposing player anywhere but the stick, you’ll get called for a slash or if extreme, perhaps even an unsportsmanlike conduct foul.

Main lesson here – never get lazy on clears. You’ve just made a save so value that ball.

Some Saves Are All About Positioning

With the national championship on the line and the game in next goal wins overtime, UNC’s Brian Balkam makes this save.

When you study the GIF, once you get past the incredible superman dive closeout of the UNC defender, you realize this save is about good positioning more than anything as Balkam doesn’t really move before the ball hits him.

Reminds me of my 1st save in goal, didn’t move but it was all about being in the right place. Although the stakes are 1 million times higher in Balkam’s case.

Brian Balkam uses great footwork to move along his arc and not only be in a perfect goalie ready position but also be in a spot on his arc where Maryland #40 Conor Kelly sees very little of the open net. Kelly tries to go 5 hole but doesn’t shoot it low enough and it catches the keeper in the lower chest pad or perhaps even square in the jock (I hope he was wearing this one).

The championship game featured this awesome shot from a camera inside of the goal. From this angle you can better appreciate Balkam’s footwork and preparation for the shot as he moves along the arc and gets into ready position.

It’s too bad ESPN really only showed this camera view for goals with the exception of the above save. I’d love to see this angle on more saves.

Balkam plays in the style of Trevor Tierney with a very shallow arc, a wide base, and lateral steps to make saves.  Now this might not be every goalie’s style but every goalie should have exceptional footwork and move along their arc with ease.

That exceptional footwork and positioning and a great ready position led to undoubtedly the biggest save of Brian Balkam’s career!

Great Goalies Know The Save Basics – Drive that Top Hand to the Ball

When I coach lacrosse goalies I never get tired of repeating the save basics to them. Great goalies are really just experts at the basic fundamentals taught to every new goalie. Combined with great reaction time and leadership of course.

One of those fundamental basics of lacrosse saves is driving your top hand to the ball to make saves.

When executed to perfection – whether by the top goalies in the NCAA or a youth goalie on a club team – it’s a thing of beauty. Observe:


As I said above Brian Balkam played an outstanding game and was very deserving of a national championship.

Here he makes a textbook save using the save fundamentals that all lacrosse goalies should study and practice until it becomes 2nd nature.

Never Quit on the 1×1 saves AKA The Greatest Save Ever

I couldn’t create an article about goalie saves in the championship game and not include a GIF from Kyle Bernlohr’s overtime save. Given the moment and everything that’s at stake, I think this is the single greatest save I’ve ever seen. Anyone disagree?

Maryland would go on to lose on the ensuing man-up possession but for the moment Kyle Bernlohr absolutely saved Maryland’s championship dreams.

Lesson here – never give up on the 1×1 saves. Watch how Bernlohr sticks with the attackman, matching sticks the entire way until on the 3rd attempt/fake the attackman finally shoots.

Study up about how to make 1×1 saves if you want to stuff opponents like this –

I would have liked to see Bernlohr clamp for an extra fraction of a second while he got to his feet and then attempted the rake with more strength.

In the play he tries to rake from him knees and he ends up losing the ball which results in a loose ball scrum in front of the goal and ultimately an unnecessary roughness penalty on Maryland.

Goalies cannot stall while they have the ball clamped but as long as Bernlohr quickly rose to his feet I don’t think the officials would have called stalling.

As long as goalies have a foot in the crease attackman cannot body check them either. Checking the stick is fair game when there is no possession and clamping is not possession. So Bernlohr could have kept a foot in the crease and I bet UNC #21 would have tried to hit his body resulting in a free clear perhaps even a penalty if it hits him from behind.

Of course I realize this is being ridiculously picky after such an amazing save.

NCAA Championship Game Videos

Here’s a save compilation video I put together with every save of the 2016 championship game:

And here’s the full game highlights in case you didn’t get to see it:


Lacrosse is awesome. What a great championship and a great season. You can always learn a little bit about the goalie position each time you watch a game.

While there are many takeaways from this game that apply specifically for us goalies, my 4 favorite were –

  • Don’t be lazy with your clears
  • Sometimes saves are all about positioning – so work on your arc and stance.
  • Fundamentals of lacrosse saves never get old
  • Never quit on 1×1’s

Good luck with your off-season and remember its never too soon to begin your offseason workout program for next year.

Until next time! Coach Damon

If anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area is interested in 1×1 lax goalie coaching this summer, please hit me up ([email protected]) and we can work out schedules and pricing. I have limited time (since I have a full-time job) so I can probably only take on a few goalies. 

Visited 1 times, 1 visit(s) today

P.S. - Whenever you're ready, here are 3 ways I can help you:

1. Lax Goalie Rat Academy - The Lax Goalie Rat Academy is a premier membership program that gives you the tools and skillset to level up your goalie game. Technique, drills, mental game, lacrosse IQ and direct coaching from Coach Damon to turn your goalie into a leader and a confident save machine. Join 400+ goalies inside.

2. Lacrosse Goalie Super Mom/Dad - Some call lacrosse goalie the hardest position in sports. That's not true. It's the goalie Mom or Dad. I put together this course specially for the parents who know nothing about lacrosse but still want to help their son or daughter be the best they can be. Learn how to train them but more importantly learn how to support them on this emotional rollercoaster.

3. Promote yourself to 11,000+ subscribers by sponsoring my newsletter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • LacrosseMonkey Ad

    Free Ship
  • Nutty Buddy

    NuttyBuddy Protection
  • Universal Lacrosse

    Universal Lacrosse Goalie Gear
  • Sticky

    Lacrosse Goalie Book
  • Want virtual goalie coaching sessions from the best  coaches in the game? Look no further...

    The Lacrosse Goalie Summit replays give you access to best goalie coaching out there. Coaches like Ted Bergman, John Galloway, Matt Deluca, Brian Phipps, Kyle Bernlohr, Liz Hogan, Caylee Waters, Lyndsey Munoz, Chris Buck, Taylor Moreno, Sean Quirk, Goaliesmith, Meg Taylor, Drake Porter, Emily Sterling, Brett Dobson, and so many more. These sessions give your youth the confidence and the tools to be amazing in the crease!

    arrow right

    Click an event to learn more about the goalie coaching sessions included! 

    arrow left
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 1
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 2
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 3
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 4
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 5
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 6
    Lacrosse Goalie Summit 7

    Join The

    Lax Goalie Rat Online Camp

    Full Goalie Education

    The only lacrosse goalie training that covers ALL of the areas necessary to be dominant: technical, physical, and mental.

    Over 80 Videos Yours For Life

    Revisit the drills and mental inspiration every season! Plus new videos added to the camp are yours for free.

    Supportive Community

    Access to private forums to interact with other goalies, coaches, and Coach Damon on a personal basis.