Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Legends Don't Die They Only Become Immortal: The Rise of Carcaterra

Growing up in Yorktown, Brian Carcaterra never hit the local sports memorabilia shop or devoured sports highlight reels.

 Despite his status as a young athlete, Carcaterra had no real preferences for professional teams.

His boyhood sports heroes were not a remote click away.

 Iconic figures, as he acknowledged them, were not found in historic stadiums in the Bronx or sparkling 30,000+ seat arenas in Manhattan or at super-sized ice rinks across the Hudson River.

They were simply a leisurely 5-mile drive from his Yorktown home.

The product of a legendary lacrosse bloodline, Carcaterra spent his childhood years traipsing the sidelines of Charlie Murphy Field.

Possessed by the exploits of original program poster boys such as Rick Beardsley, Roy Colsey, Tim Nelson and myriad others, Carcaterra was hooked rather rapidly.

There was a unique allure of the cross-town rivalries, the annual Murphy Cup battles, the high-powered offenses and the wowing saves. It was during these embryonic stages of Carcaterra's youth development that he discovered his future livelihood.

While Yorktown was a rather safe community, a barrage of bullets were frequently sprayed at the short, bone-thin kid’s dome.

Those bullets were in the form of lacrosse balls.

 Carcaterra was tasked with (he didn't have much of a say in the matter, as he would explain) stymying and stoning hard rips from his older brothers, Paul and Steve Carcaterra.

Entrenched in long, tiring, mentally-draining, and trash talk-sprinkled battles with his older brothers and their lacrosse clique, Carcarterra was never allowed to dip out early.

The older horde launched shots at him all afternoon, testing his grit.

The plan was to expose this cocksure, loudmouth little brother.

 Deeper than that, however, the objective was to ready him for the challenges of the next level.

As his performances gained their respect, the older Carcaretta boys ramped up the task.

Brian was forced to dispatch the helmet and gear, using his bare hands for stops and deflections.

The hobby became more of a job following Brian's fifth grade Christmas.

A lacrosse stick was waiting for him under the tree in Santa-red wrapping. That, as he recalls, was truly the turning point on his lax timeline. He went to work at safeguarding the cage.

Goaltending helped channel the deep and pent up adrenaline and endless supply of teenage energy flowing through Carcaterra, who developed a deep interest in professional wrestling.

His lust for lacrosse grew after he witnessing a chills-inducing, 21-stop performance from Hopkins goalie Quint Kessenich during the 1987 NCAA championship.

An understudy was born.

Absorbing constant guidance from his older brothers, accepting intensified hounding and constructive criticism,  the intangibles for a mental savvy were instilled in "Carc."

Everyone had Carcaterra pigeonholed as too tiny to be effective on the grand stage.

There was no indication that he'd see quality minutes or even earn a scholarship at Hopkins.

 Once the underachieving, no-scholarship freshman buried on the depth chart, Carcaterra materialized as the nation's most electrifying and multi-faceted netminder.

His knack for dazzling open field moves enabled the high-risk, high-reward recruit to beat guys downhill and create.

Carcaterra masked pebble-like size with deceptive athleticism and a blurring fleet of foot.

Gambling and leaving the cage wide open, there was a thrill element to his game.

He captivated crowds with the pizazz, flash and fancy dishes. Carcaterra's loose style of play taxed his coaches’ patience at unprecedented levels.

 Quarterbacking the defense, Carcaterra's rapid-firing motor mouth seemed incapable of shutting.

The road to a stellar senior campaign did not come without ditches and detours.

Having arrived at Yorktown his freshman year 105 pounds soaking wet, Carcaterra was already well-schooled on battling adversity.

The lack of size and strength at such a position forced him to outwork the rest.

At Hopkins, his role increased following a rollercoaster freshman season.

Carcaterra was forced to shed patterns of inconsistency during his sophomore campaign.

Blue Jays goalkeeper coach Brian Holman demanded four quarters’ focus.

And though Holman cited a blend of “spectacular saves” and a habit of “letting in some goals he shouldn’t have,” Carcaterra was lasered in when the stakes heightened.

During a string of 11 games with 15,000+ fan attendance, Carcaterra registered a .635 save percentage.

Fending off bigger, dieseled-up trigger men gunning to exploit his leafy, 5-foot-8 frame with high-arching blasts, Carcaterra would prolong his career in the MLL.

Carcaterra is quick to acknowledge that his path was dictated by Yorktown’s knot-tight culture.

His development was pushed and propelled by lifelong friends Rob Doerr, Dom Fin and John Harrington, cornerstone wing men.

Doerr was a stabilizing force alongside Carcaterra at Hopkins, a three-time All-American as a lockup man.

 He wound up authoring a professional career with the Baltimore Bayhawks of the MLL.

Harrington was a three-time national champion and two-time All-American at Princeton.

Fin ascended to near-GOAT status at Syracuse, with a First Team All-American nod during his apex as a middie.

Without this troika, Carcaterra’s rapid ascension from unknown to nationally-blown never happens.

“Yorktown is a special place, filled with special people,” Carcaterra said.

“Anytime I have ever been in need there is always someone from that community that has helped. Further, my parents have been the best parents we all could have asked for. Super affectionate and supportive, not overbearing and could care less if we won or lost or if I played great or sucked.”

We caught up with Carcaterra this week, canvassing his lacrosse evolution, college days, and his brother Paul’s career as an ESPN lacrosse analyst.

ZS: How did lacrosse shape both yourself and your brothers and how does the game continue to keep the competitive juices flowing within the family?

BC: It’s been everything for us. From a holistic point of view, it has
 rounded us all out in such a balanced way. I would say beyond everything, the game gave me a fiercely independent spirit.

ZS: Most memorable career moments?

BC: A few that stand out for me:

1997- starting as a freshman in the Carrier Dome against Paul, who was the captain (of Syracuse) along with Rob Kavovit.

1998- beating No.1 Maryland at Homewood in front of 15,000 fans and playing to the best of my ability

1999- opening the season by beating No.1 Princeton at Princeton. They had won the previous three championships and only lost two times in three years and never lost at the stadium we beat them in. I made a save with one second left to win the game.

2000- losing to Syracuse in the Final Four. Although I played OK, it was one of the toughest, hard-fought games I have ever been in.

1998- playing in the World Games for England and breaking the FIL record for saves against USA (31)

ZS: How about the experience of watching your HS program celebrate a 2014 state championship? The prestige of the Yorktown program isn’t the same without that shiny NYS championship souvenir…

BC: It is tougher and tougher to win championships in New York State and everywhere else for that matter. Their accomplishment this year matches all the wins we have had in the past.

Being a part of the ride and being close to this team throughout their journey was special. Each player and coach attended my Mom’s wake, I bought the team pizza before the state semi-final game, I support them anyway I can. I am truly a fan. I particularly liked this team and its make up. Tough, athletic, confident, great leadership… I wouldn’t have wanted to have to beat them in the tourney. They wouldn’t be denied. 

Beyond all that, they are just great kids that come from great parents. The fabric of Yorktown lacrosse is as strong as ever. It’s the people, not the wins and losses.

ZS: Can you get a free 30 seconds with Paul during that NCAA championship week?? I’d imagine his time is limited then.

BC: Paul always makes time for me.

ZS: What are some of the changes you’ve witnessed in lacrosse from your time at Yorktown to current day and is the game growing across the country? Is it evolving outside of the traditional hotbeds? Will it get bigger going forward?

BC:I miss the takeaway check and I haven’t seen a goalie make 20 saves in God knows how long. Technology and athleticism has made it a more offensive game.

ZS: As a goalie at Hopkins, you were known as a risk-taker, never afraid to leave the cage. How did that style benefit the team and what about your game between the pipes separated you from the rest?

BC: I grew up dreaming about being a great lacrosse player, not just a great goalie. My idols growing up were guys like Dom Fin, Ric Beardsley, Bill Dwan, Roy Colsey, Tim Nelson etc. I had pictures of those guys playing on my walls, not Joe Montana or Magic Johnson. I didn’t want to be just a goalie. I wanted to do everything my heroes did.

ZS: I imagine Paul and Steve fired a lot of shots at you during those backyard battles. How much did that prepare you for a career and when did the games start? When did the action intensify?

BC: They bought me a goalie stick my 5th grade Christmas. The previous summer, they shot on me all day and all night in a goal made out of PVC pipe by our plumber neighbor. It wasn’t until that Christmas morning that I discovered there is a goalie stick (they made me get in there with a short stick).

I never got to a play another position. They enjoyed shooting on me and having their friends come over and do the same thing. I wouldn’t wear equipment and just beg them to shoot as hard as possible on me.

ZS: Describe the MLL experience.

BC: Best lacrosse on earth. Nowehere to hide…

ZS: Guys have joked that Paul was always inquisitive growing up, noting he’s always had a heavy interest in the game and the behind-the-scenes factors while evaluating players/teams. Did you ever envision he would take it as far as he has, being an ESPN analyst and revolving much of his life around the game?

BC: Paul is highly focused and very determined. He doesn’t allow for a lot of distractions in his life. When he puts his mind to it, he accomplishes a lot. No surprise he is doing so well. I am immensely proud of him.

ZS: Five most lethal scorers you’ve ever had the daunting chore of negating?
1) Josh Simms
2) Jesse Hubbard
3) Mark Millon
4) Tom Marachek
5) AJ Haugen

ZS: You’ve probably heard a lot of Quint Kessenich comparisons. The similarities aren’t too difficult to discover. You guys are both about 5-foot-8, both led Hopkins during prominent periods in program history, both have had to make up for lack of size with athleticism and open-field acumen that bigger, stronger goalies can’t pull off. How much did Kessenich influence you as a player and did you ever develop a relationship with him?

BC: Quint was everything I wanted to be in a goalie. He was athletic and played outside his crease. I enjoyed emulating him. Nice to have him in my life as Paul’s colleague.