There’s a saying that, for a goalkeeper, his biggest enemy is himself.
Senior Joe Marra probably wouldn’t agree with that. Not when Notre Dame, laden with senior talent and tinged with dazzling offensive weapons, began the second half facing a six-goal deficit and slowly began to find rhythm and mount a daunting late-game comeback.
But for Marra, the journey to this singular moment – holding off the Irish offense with 10 saves in the fourth quarter, guiding the Stags’ to a 10-8 win against Notre Dame, which entered the game ranked third in the nation in the USILA Men’s Lacrosse Coaches’ Poll – is nothing close to the challenge he faced to get there.
Only a year ago, Marra was mired on the bench behind freshman goalkeeper Charlie Cipriano, who began his collegiate career with a strong showing in the team’s preseason. The freshman’s impressive start to last season – 14 saves in the team’s season – opening victory against Delaware and numerous weekly awards – led to his secure standing as the team’s starter.
Marra, on the other hand, watched from the sidelines and wondered if his opportunity would ever come again.
“It was difficult,” Marra recalled. “It definitely was.”
Only a season earlier, he scratched his way to earning status as the team’s established goalkeeper, starting nine games in his first season of eligibility following his transfer from ECAC rival Loyola (Md.). Marra had ten or more saves in six games, and former head coach Ted Spencer viewed the transfer as the goalkeeper of the future.
Then came an eight-game losing streak, capped by a lopsided 13-4 loss to Loyola (Md.), Marra’s former team, which culminated in a coaching decision to move Marra back to the bench in favor of Jeff Cilente ’09.
A year later, the situation moved from problematic to dire.
Marra found himself behind Cipriano’s hot hand and played a cumulative nine minutes, all of which came in the team’s uncompetitive season-finale against St. John’s in late April.
“Last year, on the bench, and then this year coming in, I was very motivated to work hard and work to get the spot back,” Marra said. “This year, coming in, I just forgot and kind of cleared my head and let that roll over. I knew it was a new year.”
“But I always think about that,” he added.
Only a few moths later, the circumstances couldn’t be any more different for the Smithtown, N.Y. native compared to the his sparse action in the final moments of last spring’s final game.
Marra, who recorded seventeen saves and a game-high four ground balls in the victory over Notre Dame, now finds himself more than just the established player in net; he has become the face of the Stags’ much improved defensive front and the benefactor of a team slowly maturing in the early goings of the season.
“Usually 10 saves in a game is good, Joe had 17,” said junior defenseman Sean Bannon. “If he keeps making saves like that, we’ll keep winning. Joe just made some saves where he was standing on his head.”
Marra, despite his unassuming nature, has also grown into a silent leader on and off the field, and despite strong results on the field – Marra boasts two consecutive weeks as the ECAC Defensive Player of the Week and was also named as the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) Player of the Week for his effort against Notre Dame – saves and clearing percentage are far from the only thing that has led to his renaissance season.
“I think mature is 100 percent the right word when you’re talking about Joe Marra,” head coach Andy Copelan said. “You can see that he kind of senses that this is his last opportunity. He doesn’t say a whole lot, but people follow him and people are really responsive to him.”
“Joe, I guess, to a lot of people would probably fall under the category of being kind of a surprise, but I think to those in our locker room and in our coaching staff, this is kind of what we expected of him,” he added.
Appropriately, the Stags also feel that the win against Notre Dame was far from a surprise, and that the greatest challenge lies ahead in the coming days.
Specifically, prior to the outset of conference play, which begins next Tuesday night against Ohio State, the Stags travel to Hamilton, N.Y. to play Colgate, a team that upset the Stags a season ago.
“I think this game is huge,” Marra said. “I think it is the biggest game of the year right now because it is kind of a crossroads. We could go either way right now.”