Login |  Register |  help

True Keepers: Goalies Madalon and Ashra play starring roles for FCIAC's two undefeated lacrosse teams

Posted Friday, May 12, 2006 by Dave Stewart, Stamford Advocate
When Nikhil Ashra was in the seventh grade, he put his lacrosse attack stick to the side for a defensive long pole his mother had given him. Not that the money was wasted, but it wasn't until Ashra made his next switch that the drama really began to unfold.

"My friends had an extra goalie stick that we just messed around with," Ashra said. "I just hopped in there with no equipment on and tried it out after school. One day in a house league game, they put me in there and somehow, it just went from there.

"My mom finally bought me a goalie stick," he added.

Now that was money well spent.

A senior at Greenwich High School, Ashra is a four-year starting goalkeeper for what may be the best boys' lacrosse team in Cardinal history. He'll be taking his talents to a storied college program when he joins the Princeton University Tigers and Head Coach Bill Tierney next spring.

"We've discussed the challenges he's going to face playing in a program at that level," said Greenwich's third-year Head Coach Paul Burke, a former All-American goalie at New Canaan High School. "Even if he didn't play lacrosse, just to be able to go to Princeton is great. Every year, they're going out there getting the best players, so he's not going to be able to take any time off. The work ethic and the habits he has right now are going to help him."

Ashra, called by his teammates "Nanu," which means "little child" in Indian, isn't the typical goalie, but manages to make save after save with great instinct and a bit of risk-taking.

By contrast, the player called "Horse" by his teammates, senior Chris Madalon of the Darien Blue Wave, is as sound as they come. "Textbook" is what comes to mind.

"People have said that to me," Madalon said. "They tell me ?you are the textbook goalie, you make your saves the way it's supposed to be done.' I never thought of myself that way but I know I have good technique and good form. That comes from my brother (Matt) telling me what to do.

"Nanu uses more of his body all the time," Madalon said. "He's always jumping out in front of the ball. I make those kinds of saves, too, but I definitely make more stick saves than some other goalies."

"He's an awesome goalie," Ashra said of Madalon. "He has a different style ? he's more textbook than I am. I'm a little more jumpy in the goal, I get a little more excited. He always has a look of confidence like he's never going to break."

Madalon is a three-year starter for the Wave ? a rarity, as Darien has become the measuring stick for the FCIAC and the State during the past decade. Madalon, an All-American as a junior, follows a long line of strong goalies, including his brother, Matt, and Scott Russell among others.

"I can't remember the last time we've had a three-year starter, if at all," said Darien Head Coach Jeff Brameier, now in its 23rd year with the program. "Certainly, he's the elite goalie in our program and we've had some phenomenal goalies come through here. He's the cream of the crop that we've ever had."

Like Ashra, Madalon will head to another strong collegiate program next year as he joins the North Carolina Tar Heels.

Madalon and Ashra are friends, first meeting when they played CONNY Selects in the seventh grade. The pair played on the Super Junior Select team last summer and during the high school season, they often share scouting reports on the opposition's shooters.

Saturday afternoon, however, they'll be on opposite ends of the field, as the undefeated Greenwich Cardinals face off against the powerhouse Darien Blue Wave at 1 p.m. at Darien High School.

"There is so much depth there," Ashra said of the Wave. "We thought their midfield was going to be nothing after they lost three starters, but they come out and have kids like (Sam) Spillane, who hasn't started before and he's playing great. Our four captains and their four captains played Super Juniors together and we know each other really well. It should be fun."

"They're a team to be reckoned with," Brameier said of the Cardinals. "They took us to overtime last year, a lot of that group is back and their goalie is right there with Chris. They're the two elite goalies in the state. No questions."

Greenwich began this week with a 10-0 record which included victories over New Canaan, 10-7, and Wilton, 14-5. Darien started the week at 10-1 and was undefeated in the state, the only loss coming in its second game against John Jay, 10-8. The Wave, which was 11-1 and undefeated in Connecticut, has also beaten Wilton, 17-4, and New Canaan, 13-7.

Saturday's game will be a clash of titans, albeit teams which are coming from different directions. Both will contend for State championships this season, the Cards in Class L and the Wave in Class M, but Greenwich is a team on the rise, while Darien is one of the elite boys' lacrosse program in Connecticut.

Even in a year which saw the departure of four All-American players, the Blue Wave hasn't skipped a beat, with players such as Madalon, Cooper MacDonnell and Ashton Hotchkiss still in the fold.

"It's definitely a great time being part of one of the top lacrosse teams in the country," Madalon said. "It feels good to be on top in Connecticut most of the time. We've had the tendency to reload every year, so no one ever thinks we're going to have a down year. We lost four All-Americans and a bunch of starters last year and people still don't doubt us. They knew we'd somehow find a way to win."

Madalon got his shot at starting for the Blue Wave in 2004, after the graduation of Russell. He took the ball and ran with it.

"Sometimes, you don't get the opportunity that often and when you do, you don't take advantage of it," Brameier said. "But he got the opportunity early for us as a sophomore, beat out a couple of seniors and never looked back.

"He has all the tools," the coach said. "He's a tremendous athlete, has tremendous skills. He has good awareness in the cage, he has a great sense of the out-of-the-cage stuff, clearing passes, the whole nine yards. He's worked hard to get to where he is. He's been an elite goalie and an elite lacrosse player since probably fifth or sixth grade. He did the right thing, he played goalie and attack growing up, so his stick skills are very good." At North Carolina, Madalon is joining a team which has struggled with losing records the past two years. But the Tar Heels have a history of success and reached the NCAA D-I quarterfinals as recently as 2004.

"That's the right level for him," Brameier said. "It's a good school. It's just a matter of being in the right situation and getting an opportunity. I think he will vie very quickly for playing time at Carolina."

"I'm nervous to work with the college coach because I've had such a good relationship with (Brameier) since I was in the seventh grade," Madalon said. "I'm pretty close with him and I can talk to him about stuff. He's had undefeated teams here and he always has really good teams."

For Ashra, Princeton was an off-again, on-again process. He received a couple of letters of interest from the school when he was a junior, but their attention seemed to wane in the summer and fall. Duke was a possibility in January and Ashra came close to committing to Dartmouth this year.

Then Tierney called and asked Ashra to come visit the Princeton campus. "I took an official (visit) at Dartmouth and Princeton, and after I finished at Princeton, I really wanted to go there," Ashra said. "Dartmouth was telling me I could start right away, but Princeton had a starting goalie but said they'd always start the best one. Basically, I'd have to sit two years to Al Hewit and then I'll have a chance to start for two years.

"I'd rather be in a program with a lot of tradition and history and have a shot at a National championship for two years," he added.

Princeton cetrainly has a lot of history on the lacrosse field, with six National titles and 12 Ivy League championships.

Being with the Tigers will be a switch for Ashra, who said he's never had to sit and watch another goalie play for any extended period of time.

Since his freshman season, Ashra has seen big changes in the Greenwich program.

"I've never seen a team here as talented as this one," Ashra said. "As a freshman, we had talent and we had expectations, but there wasn't a coach that would give us that win or give us that confidence that we would win every game. Now, we scout all these games, we have game films on every team. We never did that when I was a freshman and teams like Darien, New Canaan and Wilton are all about that. There always trying to get that extra edge." In the season's second game, the Cardinals picked off the New Canaan Rams and followed that with a win over the Wilton Warriors, the state's two most storied lacrosse programs.

"I had never beaten New Canaan or Wilton," Ashra said. "New Canaan was our second game and we didn't know how things were going to go for us. Everything is coming into shape now, but when we got that win, it was big for us. Not many players in this program can go out there and say ?I've beaten New Canaan and Wilton'."

Burke credits Ashra as being one of the players who have helped turn things around for the Cards.

"He's one of the guys who finally got kids around here to understand you have to be involved in something for 12 months," Burke said. "Everybody got involved in something and that was really responsible for our progress and it was Nikhil and a number of other seniors who achieved that. The example he's set is probably the most important contribution he's made to us, besides the fact he's a very talented player.

"He's not the most mechanically-sound goalie, but he makes some incredible saves," Burke said. "He's willing to do whatever he has to do to prevent the ball from going in the goal. In that sense, he makes what look like flashy saves because he's kick-saving the ball or throwing his arms all over the place. He's definitely an entertaining goalie."

And the showdown between the two clubs this weekend should be entertaining as well. With it's overall depth, Darien is the favorite, but this season, Greenwich can't be counted out of any game against any opponent.

"It's kind of like me versus him," Madalon said. "A goalie showdown for the tops in Connecticut."

This page was created in 0.1094 seconds on server 132