ORANGE, Calif. – The situation was a coach's nightmare. The reaction from the squad was everything a coach could dream of. When circumstances left the Chapman women's lacrosse team without a goalie, sophomore Haley Reinhard willingly stepped between the pipes.
OK, maybe not quite so willingly. "I will do anything for this team," Reinhard said multiple times in a five-minute conversation between the end of practice and class. When the topic of her time in goal was first approached, let's just say she wasn't thrilled to relive it.
With essentially no experience in goal, Reinhard had to learn a whole new position almost overnight.
"Goalie is just so unique in lacrosse. I would equate it to moving a centerfielder to catcher," head coach Dan Kirkpatrick explained. "It's just a drastically different position that takes time to develop skills at."
The idea of putting Reinhard in the goal first came in the fall. Kirkpatrick was impressed with the sophomore defender's skills that he thought could translate into being a good goalkeeper. He approached her with the idea of being the third goalie and being available in the hypothetical situation that neither of the Panthers' two goalies could get between the pipes that game.
Reinhard responded, "That's never going to happen so why not?' Of course I said yes. I'll do anything for the team."
Heading into the year, there were already big pads to fill with the graduation of three-year starter and All-SCIAC selection Tara Sonnemaker. Kirkpatrick brought in two new goalies to fill the void. When the season rolled around, the void re-emerged as freshman Preetha Raj was sidelined with an injury and fellow freshman Taylor Hextrum was off with the Panthers' SCIAC champion women's basketball team.
As Kirkpatrick put it, he had to invoke his "nuclear option" and put Reinhard in goal.
"She actually took to it very well," said Kirkpatrick. "Goalie is a position built on hand-eye coordination and hand speed. She had that already. The nuances she picked up on pretty quickly – positioning in goal and all the little things that go into being a goalie, which is so drastically different than anything you do on the field."
While Kirkpatrick was impressed, Reinhard was a little less than positive when speaking to her first practices in her new position. Her usually bubbly, outspoken personality retreated beneath the gigantic chest pad and helmet.
"I was definitely very quiet in the goal, and I am not a quiet person at all, because I was just scared the whole time," Reinhard recalled. She later admitted that the initial fear didn't stick around long, "It definitely faded. In the beginning I was like, 'Just put yourself in front of the ball. Just do it. Do it for the team.' Finally, I realized that I could catch it in my net and not get smacked. I finally got to that point where I was actually skillful enough to catch the ball coming at me at 90 miles per hour. The fear went away as time went on.
The realization didn't come without a cost. She admitted that she may have shed a few tears when she took shot after shot off the unpadded parts of her body in practice but the adrenaline of a game situation kept her going strong. She made 19 saves during her 113 minutes in goal that included two starts and a part of a third game. At one point, she referenced a still visible bruise just above her knee that she didn't feel until after the game.
"Everyone on the team understood the sacrifice that Haley was making," Kirkpatrick added. "They understood the sacrifice physically – getting hit with a lacrosse ball is not fun. They understood the sacrifice of taking her out of her position and that ability to compete for playing time. They respected everything she did. They were ridiculously supportive of her and cheered her on with every save."
"Honestly, it was a rough couple of weeks," Reinhard admitted. "I was miserable. I wanted to be on the field. I wanted to be running. To have (my teammates) there for me and just screaming with enjoyment, thanking me every day for doing this, that's definitely what kept me going."
The appreciation that the Panthers had for their teammate was obvious. The bench roared with every save. It erupted with cheers on every right move and every stop. All while the Panthers started the season on a four-game losing streak.
The results haven't turned in the Panthers favor while they have dealt with injuries all over the field. Two of those four losses to open the season were by a single goal. Still, the cheers echoed off the still-under-construction Keck Center for Science and Technology on the far side of the field.
Everyone picked up a little bit of the slack. In particular, Reinhard recalled the extra work put in by junior Shelby Thompson because Reinhard hadn't quite mastered clearing the ball.
"I think we grew so much closer. I wasn't even clearing the ball. Someone had to come pick up the ball from me, literally, because I could not clear it. Shelby had to come, pick up the ball and book it. I'm making her run 10 times more then she needed to but she did that for me, no questions asked. I think we all worked with the situation we were in and just came together so much more than we were and that's going to help us in our next game."
The Panthers hit about as much on-field adversity as a team can in the first few weeks of the season but banded together and faced it head-on.
"I was just proud of the way that we reacted as a team in stepping into a hard situation," Kirkpatrick beamed. "Those unexpected detours are hard sometimes to manage and I thought we did it very well."
"We just dealt with the worst situation possible," Reinhard added. "So many people were injured and we were just switching positions all over the place. This is definitely going to show when we get back on the field with our original goalie, our original players and original starters."
Reinhard is out of the goal and glad to pass the goalie stick she borrowed back to Hextrum and with a whole new appreciation for the things goalies go through.
"I still flinch sometimes, like 'Ooo, that one hurt. I know where that one hit.' I have so much more appreciation and that makes me work 10 times harder as a defender."
"I definitely wouldn't want to be a goalie again…but if I have to, I'm there for the team."
By Steven Olveda
Sports Information Director