March 19, 2009

Falcons' Gnazzo Returns to Cage...For Now

by Daniel Malloy | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

First-team All-GWLL long pole Dan Gnazzo has returned to his original position, goalie, for Air Force.
© Mike Kaplan/DenMar Services

Dan Gnazzo wasn't going to play the field. No way. Not after being recruited to Air Force as a goalie.

"Too much running," he recalled this week with a laugh.

But in Gnazzo's freshman year, the net was stocked with talent and then-coach Fred Acee told him the way to get on the field would be to play midfield.

"So I just grabbed a long-pole," said Gnazzo, now a senior. "A couple weeks in, I got the hang of it. I just chugged a Red Bull, and I was fine."

But now, the best place for Gnazzo to be an asset with the Falcons might be right where he thought he'd be all along.

Seeing his first action as a goalie since a brief fill-in appearance as a sophomore, Gnazzo notched seven saves and allowed seven goals, playing all but about three minutes in a 14-8 victory at Qunnipiac last Saturday to open conference play in the Great Western Lacrosse League (GWLL).

Against the Bobcats, Gnazzo became the fifth Air Force player to don a goalie helmet in the team's six games, and the fourth different Falcon to start in goal. None of the other four keepers -- Matt Sanders, Woody Johnson, Josh Kimm and Brian Wilson -- had stopped more shots than he let in.

Kimm, a freshman, started the first game of the season against then-No. 3 Maryland and gave up seven goals before he was pulled at the half for Johnson, last year's starter. Johnson earned the win against Presbyterian, but Sanders, another freshman, took over for the team's next two games -- a loss to Towson and a win against Sacred Heart. In a loss to Army, Sanders lasted a half before he was replaced by Wilson, a sophomore.

Into that revolving door stepped Gnazzo, who since ditching the cage had grown into a top-notch middie. Last year he earned first-team, all-GWLL honors and led the team in ground balls (64) and forced turnovers (23). But first-year coach Eric Seremet needed him elsewhere.

Seremet e-mailed Gnazzo the Monday before the game to tell him to bring his goalie gear to practice. As soon as he got in the cage, Seremet said, Gnazzo took charge of the defense better than the previous keepers had.

"It affected other people on the field more than we ever expected," Seremet said.

Gnazzo said he wasn't too rusty in his return to the cage, but he did find it hard to kick some of those midfield instincts. The player who didn't want to run is now accustomed to chasing the ball.

"The first half especially, I was definitely coming out of the cage a little too much," Gnazzo said. "I tried picking off passes."

By the second half, he said, he was being a little more conservative -- though still more willing to charge out of the net than his predecessors.

Seremet said Gnazzo will see more time in net, but he'll also switch over to help out at long stick. And if he had the power to clone, Seremet said he'd put another Gnazzo on attack.

"You could put him in any position and he's going to do well," Seremet said. "He doesn't hesitate. He doesn't give you the deer-in-the-headlights look."

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