April 20, 2012

Union's Aaron Keeping Coach, Dutchmen Happy

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Union coach Paul Wehrum has always put a primacy on having outstanding goaltending dating to his days at Herkimer. Union senior Sean Aaron (above) has continued that tradition.
© Union Athletics

In the very first practice that Paul Wehrum held as the head coach at Union back in 2007, he looked on as his goalies were getting peppered during a full-field scrimmage. The anger started to well up in Wehrum as the shots caromed off shoulders, legs and arms with nary a sound coming from the rest of the players.

"I stopped practice and said, 'Every time our goalies make a save, the whole sideline better erupt with cheers, or you're going in the goal next,'" he said.

Wehrum is a goalie guy. Even though he made his playing reputation as a crease attackman, Wehrum's been that way since he first started coaching at Herkimer Community College, turning the program into a JuCo national power. Wehrum sent Herkimer goalies off to win national championships at Syracuse and former General Steve Kavovit still holds the NCAA tournament single-game record for saves when he made 30 for Maryland in 1991.

"We felt that you build around a goalie and nothing else matters," Wehrum said. "You can have the greatest defense, the greatest midfield, attackmen who can score, but if you don't have a great goalie, you're not going to be a successful program."

It was no surprise that when Wehrum saw film of a burly netminder named Sean Aaron, who was taking a post-graduate year at the Kent (Conn.) School and looking for a college home, the coach knew he had to have this kid as part of his first recruiting class.

"I saw his hands and his passing ability and his leadership and I was convinced that he was the kid we could build our program around," Wehrum said.

"Within a week I was up visiting campus and almost fell in love with Coach Wehrum," said Aaron, with a laugh. "He's one hell of a person and it's hard not to like him. Once I came up and visited the campus, I realized this is the place for me."

Aaron's first year on the Schenectady, N.Y., campus didn't go quite as planned. Wehrum had him slated to split time with senior Chris Keinath, but over Thanksgiving break, Aaron was diagnosed with mononucleosis – "That was a blast," he deadpanned – and sat most of the year behind Keinath, who went on to be an All-American that season.

It ended up being a fortuitous change of plans as Aaron was able to adjust to the college game under the tutelage of Keinath, who became a good friend.

"When Sean came to Union, he said, 'Coach, in all honesty, I've never really been coached in the goal before,'" said Wehrum. "I said, 'Sean you have all the tools. You have good feet, excellent size, soft hands and very smart. We just need to work on your positioning.'"

"I'm firmly convinced that everything happens for a reason," said Aaron. "I needed to learn the finer points of the game and get used to the speed of the college game. I was also going to learn behind a tremendous goalie in Chris Keinath. I was just trying to be the best teammate I could be and learn the college game in a low-pressure situation, which helped more than I realized."

When Keinath graduated, Aaron wasted little time in demonstrating his abilities.

"After his freshman year, Sean came up to me and said, 'I want to be the best I possibly can be,'" said Wehrum.

It didn't take long to prove it.

Starting every game his sophomore year, Aaron posted a staggering 71.7 save percentage and a 5.34 goals against average, earning third team All-American accolades as the Dutchmen went 11-4. Last year, he finished with similarly gaudy numbers (62.7%, 6.90 GAA) as he guided Union to its first NCAA appearance in school history as well as moving up to second team All-American.

This spring, Aaron is the best goalie in the country (65.4%, 6.70 GAA) for the 8-3 Dutchmen, who have been as high as No. 5 in the national polls. Even though all of the numbers point to his performance as being the key to Union's success, Aaron brushes off the notion.

"I call myself the luckiest goalie in the country because I have an amazing defense in front of me," he said. "They are unbelievable players and they limit the number of quality opportunities an opposing offense can have on us."

The sentiment is nice, but Wehrum brought in Aaron for one reason.

"I hate having goalie problems," Wehrum said. "I never have and never will have goalie problems. Goalie problems mean you have a kid who the team isn't sure about. I want a goalie that we can rally around and is the heart and soul of the team. That's what Sean is."

Wehrum talks in reverential tones about Aaron. He gushes about how he is a Russian and Eastern European studies major who has spent a semester abroad in Russia and was recently requested to translate his senior thesis into Russian. "Needless to say, we didn't get much of that at Herkimer," the coach said.

But he did have plenty of top-tier goalies. By Wehrum's count, in 15 seasons out of a 17-year span, he had a first- or second-team NJCAA All-American goalie at Herkimer, where he won eight national championships. When Aaron earns All-American this spring, it will be fourth in six years for Wehrum at Union.

That's why Wehrum's job this year is pretty easy as the Dutchmen get ready for another postseason run.

"If there's one thing I want to do, it's keep Sean happy," he said.

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