February 12, 2014

#LMRanks: Cortland, Tota Renew Relationship

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

No. 3 Cortland Red Dragons

2013 Record: 19-1 (6-0 SUNYAC)

Top Returner: A Zach Hopps (So.)
Senior midfielder Joe Slavik gets the ink, but Hopps (28G, 40A) was the straw that served the Red Dragons drink in 2013. He'll do the same again this spring.

X-Factor: G Scott Tota R-Jr.) 

He hasn't started a game since he was pulled in a 2011 NCAA tournament contest against Tufts, but Cortland's Scott Tota is ready to reassume his spot as the Red Dragons top netminder.
© Darl Zehr

The moment is seared into Scott Tota's memory.

It was the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA tournament and Tota, a freshman goalie who had beat out the incumbent keeper, Mike Kaminski – a guy who led the Red Dragons to the national semifinals the previous season – entered the game against defending champion Tufts on a roll.

He had the school record for goals against average (4.44) already wrapped up – a record that still stands – and was 12-0 on the season.

Events unraveled quickly, however.

Despite being staked to a 2-0 lead after the first quarter, the Jumbos turned up the pressure. Tota surrendered six goals on 10 shots in the second quarter and then another three in the third as Cortland fell behind, 9-4. Tufts pushed the lead to 10-4 after just 24 seconds had expired in the fourth, forcing Red Dragons head coach Steve Beville to make an unwanted decision.

It was time to pull the plug.

"It was the first time I ever got pulled," said Tota, followed by a long pause. "That was a real heartbreaker for me."

It wasn't just the first time Tota got yanked at Cortland. It was the first time, period, dating back to his time on the youth fields of his hometown in Webster, N.Y. The shock of experiencing that embarrassment at the end of a season that was otherwise one of the best in Red Dragon history lingered.

"All offseason it was kind of a mental game," admitted Tota. "It was a very tough situation going back into the next year. I knew it was going to be a battle for the job once again – coach says that every year nobody is guaranteed a spot. I honestly thought Mike was playing better than me at the time and I had to agree with coach's decision."

Kaminski had reassumed the starting job, eventually guiding Cortland to the national championship against Salisbury as Tota watched from the sidelines, playing a grand total of 86 minutes for the entire season. Having an alpha goalie used to playing in the big games stalking the sidelines in an unused capacity harbors the potential to be a chemistry time bomb.

Not with Tota.

"He's a great teammate and a great kid," Beville said. "From a competitive standpoint, it obviously bothered him. There were times when we had some talks about keeping on top of things. He was good friends with Kaminski and there was never a problem with his attitude or his commitment to the team and winning. It's just in his blood to be competitive as well as being a great teammate."

"Me and Mike are very close. He was always supportive my freshman year. I took over his starting spot and I'm sure that was extremely tough for him," Tota said. "He was in my corner, cheering me on, giving me pointers. I did the same for him my sophomore year. As much as I wanted to be on the field, I knew I had to support my team if we wanted to win the national championship. Did it build a fire in me? Absolutely. It made me work in the offseason harder than I ever did before."

As close as the two goalies were, Tota wasn't about to concede the 2013 season, even if it was Kaminski's senior year. Other factors stepped in to stop the competition. After just one game in net – a span of 18 minutes of mop-up time – Tota had to succumb to season-ending hip surgery.

Tota's opportunity to regain the starting position would have to wait yet another year.

Despite a two-year span in which he has amassed less than two games worth of playing time, Tota is ready to take his rightful spot. And, with the medical redshirt granted for last year, he has two full years to make up for his absence.

Not that it has been an easy sabbatical.

"At some points, I almost wanted to give up," Tota said. "I talked to my dad a lot and my brother [Mike Tota, a captain of the '12 Cortland team]. They told me to keep fighting and hopefully the hard work will pay off."

It has.

Tota established himself as the top goalie after fall ball, even if it caused some headaches between Beville and the Cortland training staff.

"We actually had to pull him back a little bit," Beville said. "When he started the fall, the trainer kept on yelling at him to stop sprinting up-field with the ball. But sometimes when he makes a save it looks like he gets shot out of a cannon. He's up to the 50 before we can tell him to get back into the cage. He hit the ground running from the first minute of fall ball. He's 100 percent healed and he looks great. He's been doing all he has needed to do."

Tota's a team guy, so he'll listen to the trainers.

"Listen" being the optimum word.

"When I'm going to play, I'm not going to hold anything back," Tota said. "I missed all summer and I got to play one summer league game and it was basically a week before I went back. My parents said the same thing to me. I was diving and running around. I'm three months off of hip surgery and after the game, my father said, 'Calm down, you're going to hurt yourself out there.' I said, 'You know what, this is how I play. If you don't like it, don't watch.' Yeah, Coach saw me running up and down and he pulled me off to the side and said cut that out.

"I said, 'Coach, I could go a little easier, but I have one speed. I just go."

Beville says that Tota could be the fastest guy on the team – a title that Tota willingly cedes to middie Joe Slavik – and that speed is a huge asset. It's also something that may change the complexion of this season's edition of the Red Dragon.

"You may see us try a few different things this year whereas we've been more conservative in the past," Beville said, cryptically. "But with the athleticism and speed at the defensive positions, we may do some things to take advantage of that."

When Tota is between the pipes for the season opener against Albright on Feb. 22, it will feel a little weird. There will be two full years between starts and a year since he played a minute. Fortunately for a Cortland team that once again has national championship aspirations, the rust will disappear quickly.

"I'm sure there will be a little bit of nerves, especially that first game," Tota said. "But once the game gets going and that first save is made, it'll be all back to normal."

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.

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