Considering he's the Ivy League player of the year and one of the country's stingiest goalies, one might suspect that Cornell's Matt McMonagle gives much thought to his craft, which is stopping rubber balls thrown at him at high speeds and from various angles.
Not according to the 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior from Episcopal Academy.
"If I'm thinking too much, it just handcuffs me," said McMonagle, who was raised in Bryn Mawr.
McMonagle's 44 career wins are a school record and the most among active goalies in NCAA Division I lacrosse. But victory No. 45 today against Albany at Princeton Stadium would be the biggest because it would send Cornell (14-0), the only undefeated team in Division I, to next weekend's Final Four in Baltimore against the winner of tomorrow's match between top-seeded Duke and No. 8 seed North Carolina.
The Big Red have three national championships but haven't won a quarterfinal since 1988.
Cornell is ranked No. 1 but seeded No. 4. The Ivy League champions advanced to today's quarterfinals by routing Towson, 14-6, as McMonagle equaled his career high with 19 saves. It was the 10th game this season in which McMonagle held an opponent to six or fewer goals.
Albany (15-2), the No. 5 seed, is second in the country in scoring, behind the Big Red, and has two of the top six goal scorers in Frank Resetarits and Merrick Thomson. Together, they average 6.47 goals a game, a fraction more than the 6.42 a game allowed by McMonagle, third fewest in the country.
For McMonagle, who was also a standout goalie in water polo at Episcopal, all the thinking comes during meticulous preparation before the opening face-off. He watches film to gauge the opposing shooters' tendencies, such as the distance and angles from where they're most likely to pump shots and their release points.
He tucks all that away in his memory bank, but in the end, he relies on his quick hands and feet, qualities that help him overcome his slender build.
"There are a lot of goalies who are probably bigger than me and take up more of the cage, so I think I just have to make up for that with staying active, as opposed to sitting back and letting the shot hit me," McMonagle said. "I can't really do that because I don't take up as much of the cage as bigger guys."
The career of McMonagle, who also ranks No. 3 in the nation in save percentage, has bordered on spectacular. His career record is 44-9, and he's 25-3 as a starter the last two seasons. The last two seasons, the three-time all-Ivy goalie has been in the nets for 1,650 of 1,680 possible minutes and has a 6.07 goals-against average. He is team cocaptain along with Mitch Belisle, and both are among the 10 finalists for the Lowe's Senior Class Award, presented to a senior who distinguishes himself on and off the field.
An off-field endeavor close to McMonagle's heart is an annual 5-kilometer run in which the team takes part to raise money in honor of George Boiardi, a Cornell lacrosse player who died on March 17, 2004, after he was struck in the chest with a ball in a game against Binghamton.
McMonagle was a freshman when the tragedy occurred. In three years, he said the run has raised more than $25,000 for Family Reading Partnership.
"We were freshmen when George was a senior, so we're the last class that had the privilege of playing with him," McMonagle said. "He was committed to fighting against illiteracy. He was going to be a teacher on a Native American reservation in South Dakota, so we have a run to benefit the Family Reading Partnership to help literacy in the area around Cornell. He's still an inspiration to us. We talk about him a lot. He was the model for an unselfish teammate."
On a team dominated by 11 seniors, including starting attackman Henry Bartlett of Penn Charter, McMonagle anticipated a promising season. Now, it's become so promising, he may miss the commencement ceremony on May 27, which is fine by him because it would mean Cornell has advanced to the championship game on May 28.
"If all goes well, we'll be missing it," he said.