Though the Northern boys' lacrosse team won the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference title last season, the 2002 season was somewhat bittersweet for goalkeeper D.J. Reidy.

As a junior, Reidy spent the majority of the season on the Patriots' sideline with incumbent senior starter Mike Jacobs in the cage.

"Last year was tough sitting on the bench," Reidy said. "I always wanted to play. Everybody thought I was just as good as the first stringer, but he was a senior and that takes precedent."

Reidy did not complain and instead worked to improve and learn from Jacobs, an All-Extra selection. After attending several summer goalie camps, Reidy came into this season ready to make an impact.

He has done just that. In a 9-3 victory over Chopticon on Thursday, Reidy held the Braves scoreless in a flawless first half before retiring to the bench. With the victory, the Patriots improved to 3-1 (3-0 in the SMAC).

"He's really stepped up this year and done a great job for us," Northern Coach Craig Hinchcliffe said.

Reidy has taken a unique path to the starting goalkeeper slot for the defending SMAC champions. He did not play organized athletics until his freshman year, and he said he "wasn't into sports that much."

When he came to Northern, however, classmate Scott Boutaugh persuaded him to try lacrosse. After playing midfield as a freshman, Reidy decided he wanted to play goalie. He fell in love with the position and the sport.

"I love when you save the ball, the reaction you get from the crowd," Reidy said. "Everybody thinks I'm crazy for playing goalie, but I love it."

Reidy faced just four shots in the first two quarters Thursday. He stopped three, including two at point-blank range, and watched another sail wide. He contributed in other ways as well, intercepting a pass and helping the Patriots clear the ball -- sometimes racing past midfield to start Northern's offense.

The Patriots have been forced to lean heavily on Reidy and their close defense in the early part of the season because four of their starters are out of the lineup. Starting senior midfielders Mark Riccini and Steve Wight are sidelined with an injured knee and a broken jaw, respectively, and neither will return until late in the season, if at all. Two other starting attackmen are not on the team because of grades and a disciplinary action.

With those players out, Boutaugh, a senior attack, has shouldered much of the scoring burden. An All-Extra selection and the leading scorer in the SMAC last season, he tallied four goals Thursday, including the Patriots' first three. Boutaugh put the Braves in an early hole when he scored off an assist from junior defender James Wahl just 2 minutes 23 seconds into the game. Boutaugh won the ensuing faceoff, sprinted to the goal and scored again 13 seconds later.

Northern junior Lance Percich contributed two goals, while sophomore Willie Haskell, junior Chris Malay and freshman David Taylor had one apiece. Chopticon senior Jay Taylor led the Braves (0-4, 0-3) with two goals and one assist.

"Our team is not as good as last year. We have a lot of people who are new to lacrosse," Reidy said. "We're not very consistent, but when we step it up we play really well. I think we can beat any team in the SMAC if we're on our game."