Navy assistant lacrosse coach Mark Goers is in charge of the scout team extra-man offense. Sophomore starting goalkeeper Matt Russell helps out where he can, fine-tuning the scout team's replication of an upcoming opponent.
"We'll be going over the other team's extra-man offense," junior defenseman Mike Felber said. "Someone will be ready to take a shot on the cage, and Matt will say, 'That guy likes to shoot right-handed low to high.' . . . A lot of people say he's guessing right out there, but I think it's because he watches so much film."
Russell recognizes a lot about his opponents, mostly because he studies videotape of their tendencies for about 10 hours a week leading up to the game. The work has helped him record a 6.28 goals against average, second in the nation, for the No. 2 Midshipmen (14-2) entering an NCAA semifinal against No. 6 Princeton (11-3) at 11:30 this morning at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
Navy has given up 10 goals combined in playoff victories over Cornell and Pennsylvania.
"During the game, I am not sitting there thinking about their tendencies when they're about to shoot," Russell said. "But I am already familiar with them, and if it helps me take a goal or two away, that can be the difference."
It must be working. Navy is 13-1 since Russell became the starter in early March. He began the year as the second-string goalie, behind junior Seth DiNola. Russell even played a little as a defensive midfielder in a 12-9 loss to Ohio State on Feb. 28.
A few days after that game, Navy Coach Richie Meade decided to put Russell into the starting lineup. The Midshipmen won their next nine games, their longest winning streak since the 1960s.
"When I told him he wasn't going to start [in February], he wasn't happy," Meade said. "He told me he thought he was the best goalie. He was very disappointed, but I appreciated the fact that he was very honest and very upfront about it. He was going to show me I was wrong, and he pretty much has."
It was not the first time Russell showed confidence to Navy's coaches. He was recruited by Syracuse and Georgetown out of Fairfield Prep in Connecticut, but chose the Naval Academy because of his interest in becoming a Navy SEAL.
He did so even though Navy already had signed DiNola, then considered one of the top high school goalies in the country.
His tenacity and last name earned him the nickname "the Russell terrier" and, in a game against Colgate in the Patriot League tournament, his teammates began barking at him as he ran downfield with the ball during a clear.
"When Matt became the starter, it wasn't like the team was divided," Felber said. "It was more like, coach made a bold move. Let's see how it works out."
It has worked out well for everyone. DiNola is a longstick defensive midfielder and is part of the man-down defense that has given up one goal in the playoffs.
"Coach said everyone was going to be watching Russ and I to see how we handled" the goalie switch, DiNola said. "When I was starting, Russ kept working. He has stepped up so big for us."