Cougars lacrosse senior Nick Petrucelli mans the net despite the shots rocketed at him.
The bruises on Nick Petrucelli’s legs looks like a galaxy: seemingly endless stretches of black and purple.
“I have nasty welts all over,” he said. “But I always come back.”
Such is the life of a high school lacrosse goaltender. Petrucelli, a senior on the Cardinal Mooney High boys team, gets to wear a mask and upper-body pads in net, but has no protection for his lower extremities. When guys are hurling five and a half ounces of solid rubber at you, that can be an issue. Petrucelli said players at his level can fire shots anywhere from 60 to 85 mph.
He makes no attempt to pump his toughness: Yes, getting hit hurts. A lot. His eyes widen thinking about it. But he has never considered trying a different position. He has been a goaltender since his first day of lacrosse practice eight years ago, when his coach asked for a volunteer to man the goal and none of his youth teammates raised their hands — so he did.
Petrucelli has helped the Cougars to a 19-1 record as of April 16, including a 16-4 win against Lakewood Ranch High in the district semifinals. Petrucelli made 14 saves against the Mustangs, giving him 125 on the season. The Cougars’ shot-suppressing defense has helped keep opponents’ shots low, but Petrucelli has held his own.
Last season, Petrucelli split playing time with then-senior Griffin Worsham before Worsham missed games down the stretch with injuries. Petrucelli took control of the position in Worsham’s absence as the Cougars became the first Sarasota County program to reach the regional finals (“Elite Eight”). This season, there was no question about who would start in goal — and while goal suppression is one reason why, there were other reasons, too.
“Senior goaltending is highly important,” Cougars coach Derek Wagner said. “There are situations that come up during games where you need a veteran back there, talking to the defense and calling out 'slides' (when one defender leaves his man to cover another), etc.
“Nick’s general confidence has improved (this season). He has command of the defense. It helps out the whole team. They can listen to him and know what is happening on the field.”
Leading Lakewood Ranch 16-2 with six minutes remaining, the Cougars conceded a goal Petrucelli was not happy about allowing.
“Hold the wall!” he said to his defense. The game was not in doubt, but Petrucelli was playing like it was. It is one of the reasons he has found success. Petrucelli is committed to Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory, N.C, an NCAA Division II school he said will give him a chance to play competitive lacrosse while getting a quality education.
Pending the results of Mooney’s April 18 district final game against The Out-of-Door Academy, the Cougars will prepare for another postseason run. While the team’s prolific offense gets most of the attention, Petrucelli and the defense in front of him are key to the team controlling possession and keeping the game in its own hands. Any deep run will require him playing well, and he is up for the challenge.
“We are an energetic team to play,” Petrucelli said. “There is action, start to finish.”
Hopefully that action includes less shots at his legs.
But he will block them either way.