#TBT: MLL Goalie Ronnie Fernando Introduction (from 2017, new article dropping THIS WEEK!)
A Road Less Traveled: The Story of One Lacrosse Goalie
In the sport of lacrosse, goalies are often the forgotten ones. No one wants to play goalie, but every team needs ’em. It is a rarity that teams even have coaches for them, and they are often left cast aside at practice like your outdated running sneakers- just waiting for our opportunity to get a workout. Always fending for themselves.
The 65% of practice that goalies are not in the cage, they are working on outlet passes, hanging out by the water, or talking to each other about an episode of favorite tv shows.
The active 35% of practice is either working on team drills, 6’s, or getting shelled on as human meat bags for the offense, in senseless acts of cruelty. Because your coach was an offensive prodigy back in the day or a defensive surgeon- not knowing what it is like- will never have remorse for you, the one just trying to save a ball and not get hit by every kid in the shooting gallery.
The irony about that is the goalie is the most important individual on the field at any given time. Like any sport, it does not matter how many goals your offense scores, you can not win a game if the opposing team doesn’t score at least 1 less than you. The University of Maryland does not win its first NCAA Lacrosse championship in 40 years without 11 huge saves seen by the eyes of keeper Dan Morris, just as the New England Patriots do not win Superbowl 51 without Tom Brady’s magical arm. #Sports
Ten out of ten first time lacrosse players picking up their first stick are just itching for their chance to score their first goal. Conversely, most first time lacrosse players never expect to touch a D-pole, let alone a goalie stick.
But guess what? 1 of 10 of those players MUST be a goalie no matter who it is. Why? Well because that is just how lacrosse works. And if you are like me, you drew the short stick (no pun intended).
I’m eager to tell you, however- I took that road less traveled, and I wouldn’t change a thing!
As a goalie in lacrosse, there are many ups and downs, things you aspire to do, the player you aspire to be, and the places it can take you. From a kid dreaming of scoring his first goal to an eager professional looking for his first career Save. My name is Ronnie Fernando, and this is my story.
July will make 17 years for me, being battered, bruised, and domed by small rubber balls… only instead of white, they are now orange. The orange of the MLL. I remember my mom taking me to buy my first stick. It was used of course from Play-it-Again Sports in Mission Viejo, CA. All my friends played for the local middle school, and fresh out of 7th grade, I wanted a piece of the action. My friends and I would toss around and shoot on a goal we all pitched in for at Peachwood Park. Unfortunately for me at the time I was a little chubster with horrible shooting mechanics.
Rumors around the guys were that Pat, my future coach at the time of my first season, needed a goalie. The guys, to my own imagination, told him I sucked at everything- so who better to be the team goalie?
I stressed to the guys it was not happening. It did.
The first day of practice comes along and Pat yells at me to come over, hands me a chest protector. I put it on along with the helmet… “Stand right there. Does this hurt?” as he throws one ball to my chest and another at my head.
“No,” I said. He then told me I would be the new starting goalie. So I cut a bargain with him... I told him I would play the first half, and if we are up by “a lot” I get to play attack second half. We agreed.
We CRUSHED every other team, but this lasted up until about half way through the season, competition became stiffer, and playoffs were coming up fast. I was good, so I was told. From there I made maybe my first big decision in life as a 14-year-old. It was to stick with it and just put other positions behind. We ended up losing in the league championship by 1 goal that season, and I had my first real taste of defeat and feeling of let down as an athlete.
But I was THE GOALIE, and I found my spot.
From here on I was all goalie 24/7–365.
As a freshman in high school, and only into my second full season as a lacrosse player, I had the opportunity to become something bigger. Play for more marbles. I led my Junior varsity team at El Toro HS to a County title in a tilt vs our rivals Foothill (OC) to eventually lose by one goal in the state club championship. Our school was not a CIF sanctioned varsity program at the time, but a club.
After that season I decided I wanted to take my skills and see how they compared with others. That summer I tried out for the California U-15 (Under 15) all star team. My parents were very hesitant about letting me do so, not because it was expensive, but because I think they thought I was going to be very disappointed if I was let down by not making the team. Almost that they knew I would get rejected. I DIDN’T. I made the team and had my first big lacrosse experience at the US lacrosse festival tournament at the UMASS-Amherst. We, of course, got our butts kicked up and down the field by all East Coast teams. However, it was an amazing experience to be apart of.
My SOPH. and JR seasons in HS, finally playing varsity we would lose our section championships to our again long time school rivals Foothill HS (OC). Those two years, however, for me, were less about my high school career but how to deal more with adversity in the realm of club ball scene and tryouts. Adrenaline Lacrosse started its Starz programs on the west coast, the premier club ball league. Unfortunately for me, I was unaware of the tryouts because of the lack of shared information at the time. I was jealous of all my teammates that tried out and made the squad, I had to wait till the next season to get my chance. When I was finally able to try out, I had my first real taste of not getting to something I wanted to be a part of, I made the Blue team of the program… the dreaded B team! I had the distaste in my mouth the whole season but played my butt off anyways. I remember there was one tournament the A team played in and the goalie got hurt before the championship game, They called me and asked if I could play the championship game, I did, And we won! It was a great feeling to be a part of it all. I knew then what it was like to have to start working for something I really wanted.
I would continue to play club for OC Starz and the West Coast Starz organization. My Senior year in HS I truly thought would be my last stand at lacrosse. I never had a plan for after HS, no College plans or applications, figured lacrosse would do it for me. I was wrong. I went to many Showcases, tournaments, played in many all-star games, but never once got a decent look by colleges. Was just going to go to community college and see what happened. No one in my family had gone to college on my mom’s side or dad’s side. Just HS grads with good jobs to provide for their families. I figured I would follow suit.
That all changed AFTER my last season of HS lacrosse. I reached the high school pinnacle, lead my Varsity team to an undefeated 22–0 record and a state championship. Claiming the game MVP and an all-county nod. I was even invited to the USA Senior All-American Showcase of 2016. My high school graduation was the same day, so I decided not to attend and join my class in graduating. This decision came 4 weeks before graduation. But one week before graduation, I received a phone call from first-year program Newman University in Wichita, KS, who offered me a partial scholarship. They planned on playing two seasons of MCLA II before making the jump to NCAA d2. They wanted me to be their only and starting goalie, I accepted. I was excited to go to college! I never thought it would happen.
In a series of unfortunate events, after Fall Ball of the first year, the program had to cut funding and us were to lose our scholarships at years end and not even compete in a lacrosse season. I made the decision to leave before the withdraw date of my first semester. I ended up quitting the pursuit of college. I put down the stick and got hired at an entry level job at my aunt’s mortgage company. I would work for the next three and a half years in stuffy offices with no life plan and dabble in lacrosse here and there. I would also go on to gain weight with a sedentary lifestyle reaching a massive 315 pounds!
At the age of 21, I decided I needed something more. I quit my job and went back to school full-time at the community college where I would get back into athletics and play football, turn my life around and get healthy. I would then after my first semester of college get down to a weight of 280 and was invited to play for the USA Starz team internationally. I got back into lacrosse and was turning it around.
It was registration day for spring at Saddleback Community College when I received a phone call from Coach Jason Lamb at Adams State College in Colorado. One of my old coaches told him about me and they wanted me to play for their first-year program, this time it was a fully funded NCAA2 program, and I immediately obliged. Three days later I packed up my mom’s car and made it to Colorado ready to play again. I was back to school, and nothing was going stop me.
I got to my new school ready to hit the field running. So I thought. Turns out I was academically ineligible because of transfer rules and my semester at Newman and Community College. This took a big demoralizing blow to my growth as a player, but I took on adversity and I stuck with it, working every day as a lacrosse player to be ready for the next season. Coach Lamb told me to stick with it and work, that we needed me as a leader for the next season, telling me he knew I would do great things on and off the field. I would go to play the next season at Adams under a new coach, Lamb took a big gig a Notre Dame as director of lacrosse. I started every game till the last 3 when another player became eligible and struck me hard. I was top 5 in the D2 stat board, one win away from winning our conference but for some reason the new coach wanted this other kid to play, a freshman who was going to leave the next year anyway.
Through my second season/ JR year of college, I would drop over in a total of 100 Lbs to a weight of 205 Lbs. However, I decided to call it quits again and focus on academics and get involved with student life. I would also coach the Men’s and Women’s team goalies through my Senior year. Also playing another European tour with USA Starz.
A week before graduation I received a call from a former teammate and good friend who was the head coach at Concordia University Irvine. He was in need of a second goalie and knew I still had 2 seasons of eligibility left. He offered me scholarship money for my grad program if I came and played. So I said yes again, jumping at another opportunity to play at a high level and compete.
Staying on my training and workout schedule as I had the 4 years through undergrad, I split time with another great goalie/ friend of mine. with the MCLA II team, I was now a part of, we made it to the National Championship game. Through the season I managed to keep an unheard of save percentage of 91%. Unfortunately, we lost the National Championship game by 1 goal in the last minutes of the game. It was heartbreaking, but I knew the next season I would have the cage all to myself.
I kept working hard went into the next season ready to go. In Fall-ball I powered through another setback. I dislocated my left shoulder at practice and tore my Labrum, this kept me out for 2 weeks, opted out of the surgery to play. I figured I would wait for surgery until I was done with my lacrosse career. That season, however, we would go undefeated to the national tournament where we would fall by one goal in the quarter-finals of the tournament. It was another heartbreaking loss on a promising season to a championship run. My assistant coach who played defense for the MLL squad in Denver told me I was an amazing goalie and could play professionally, I appreciated the gesture but again I thought my real competitive career was over. Thinking I would just play in men’s leagues and tournaments with Men’s teams.
I ended up taking a management position with Lacrosse Unlimited and took my talent to the hotbed of lacrosse, Annapolis, MD. I met a bunch of players and made a lot of friends and played with different men’s teams to showcase my talents, to find out I was, in fact, an elite player with professional level talent. Realizing I was in just the right area in the vicinity of 5 different professional MLL teams I decided to sign up for open tryouts with the Chesapeake Bayhawks, Boston Cannons, and Ohio Machine.
Every day I was hitting the gym or the field prepping for my tryouts. I made a great friend and mentor Brian Phipps, team USA goalie and starting goalie for the Bayhawks to prepped me and got me ready. From here I gathered game film and started my own social media following. I even hunted down all the E-mails to every Head Coach and General Manager in the MLL and emailed them video clips and my lacrosse career resume. Hoping I could be drafted in the league supplemental draft that ran before tryouts. That came and went- but nothing. However, I was encouraged by coaches from the Cannons, Bayhawks, and Blaze to come to their tryouts.
My first tryout came with the Bayhawks and I played well, nervous, but well. They ended up sticking with their line of 3 goalies. My second tryout came with the Boston Cannons- I played as any professional would. AMAZING. Coaches told me I would have an invite to their training camp if it was not for the fact they drafted two goalies in the supplemental draft. No Call came from the Cannons. The next week was my last opportunity to show I could do it. It was with the Ohio Machine. They had two rounds of tryouts and I attended the second round. I was lights out- holding my ground and denying everything that came my way, the coaches were impressed. Two days after tryouts passed and I anxiously waited by the phone when at 5:30 pm I got a call from a random Pennsylvania phone number. It was Coach Bear Davis of the Ohio Machine. They invited me to Training camp to fight for a spot with their team and prove I can play with the best.
Two weeks later I was out to camp. It was surreal experience hanging out and playing with the biggest names in the sport- Scott Rodgers, Peter Baum, Tom Schreiber to name a few, they took me in as one of their own. I played great that weekend, however, it was not good enough to solidify and Active roster spot past their 3rd goalie. I knew it was going to be tough but I didn’t give up. Ohio released me on the note that if anything happened I could get a call at any moment and be ready. Coach Nat St.Lauren told me I can ball, that I proved myself and that I belonged in the league. I just had to wait for the opportunity.
The MLL season started and I continued my workouts waiting for the call. Week 6 of the season came- Coach Davis called- “Can you get to Annapolis?”. At this moment things were becoming more real. They activated me to the Practice squad to be ready at any moment. I went down to Annapolis and practiced my butt off. Gameday came and walkthroughs were the same thing, continued a great performance. But unfortunately dressing for the game was not in the cards, but I was still ready for anything to happen in the case of injury. Immediately after the game Coach Davis came to me and told me that I would definitely be brought back up for more upcoming games.
That was last week… Now I know my lacrosse career is more than I ever thought it could be. I am just working and training harder than I ever have for the one shot to step in and make my first Professional save. All we need as goalies is that one opportunity.
Over the past 16 years, I have shed the stereotypical blood, sweat, and tears.. but for something, I never wanted at first… but now I want it more than ever. The 5 am alarms, the countless pounds lost, the constant let downs telling you that you are not good enough, the wins, losses, hours training and coaching. I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. Because of it, touching a short stick or D-pole is the last thing on my mind. The success of being a goalie is the first.
To all the kids forced to give goalie a shot… Never be afraid of the unknown. I encourage you to give it a full hearted go. The next thing you know you will be on your way to the national championship game, headed to college, on a plane to Berlin for a set of games then off to Prague seeing the world, even making your first professional appearance.
Always take advice, and never be afraid to ask questions to anyone!
You never know what is going to happen unless you take the stick into your own hands.
See the ball, Save the ball.