By STEVE ROBENAULT, Staff Reporter
No matter the sport, some athletes learn one position and stick to it their entire career. Though to some, like University of Michigan-Dearborn junior David Stephanoff, switching positions is a challenge worth pursuing.
After playing lacrosse for six years, Stephanoff will be UM-Dearborn’s goaltender this season.
As goalie for the lacrosse team it is his job to anchor the defense. Not an easy task when opposing players are trying to hurl balls into the net behind him at speeds in excess of 80 mph.
According to his coaches though, Stephanoff has handled the change well.
“He’s responded in probably the best way possible … He took ownership of it,” assistant coach Mike Wagner said. “It turns out he’s come to us and said he’s interested in playing goalie next year. He’s very coachable… I have all the confidence in the world.”
These words of encouragement seem all the more impressive given that the UM-Dearborn lacrosse program had not planned on Stephanoff playing goalie at the start of the season.
Originally, the Wolverines wanted to recruit a goalie to fill the shoes of Sean Walsh, who lost eligibility after the previous year. But when that plan fell through, the coaches asked Stephanoff if he’d be willing to fill the net for them.
“I was a goalie in hockey for a few years, I mean it was kind of a natural thing for me. I love the position,” he said.
Wagner echoed these thoughts too.
“We failed to recruit a goalie over the summer, and the options were limited,” he said. “We knew that David played a little bit in high school, so we asked him if he could be a stop gap for us.”
As it would turn out, Stephanoff has been more than just a cork in the top of a bottle. In UM-Dearborn’s six preseason games, he allowed a total of 45 goals with a 7.5 goals-allowed ratio over that span. During that same stretch, the Wolverines scored 57 goals, leading to a 5-1 record.
Stephanoff hasn’t just stepped in to his role, he’s embraced it and excelled beyond expectations. After these strong performances, his teammates recognize and appreciate his commitment as well.
“David went from not knowing how to play… to being a pretty good goalie… one of the best goalies I think we’ve had in a long time,” teammate Andy Lochmann said. “He’s come a long way in a really short time.”
There’s no reason to expect the team’s success will not continue with Stephanoff between the pipes.
However, his switch to goalie may never have occurred if he hadn’t made another change earlier. After playing hockey for 11 years, some of his friends convinced him to try lacrosse since the two sports have similar styles and many guys enjoy playing both.
“After playing my first game I fell in love with it and ended up quitting hockey entirely,” he said.
Certainly that was a decision that has paid multiple dividends.
Once enrolled at UM-Dearborn, he met Dane Haskin, the current captain of the lacrosse team. The two talked for awhile and shortly after, Stephanoff officially joined the squad. The following two seasons he played attack. It wasn’t until the beginning of this season that the cards fell into place to allow him to take full control of the goalie position.
While still attempting to learn a few aspects of goalie, Stephanoff plans on improving in any way possible.
“[I’d like] to keep my save percentage somewhere between 50 and 60 percent, which in lacrosse is a really good save percentage. I’m hoping to be able to quarterback the defense the way I’m expected to,” he said.
Even the physical attributes of the position at times can be difficult.
“You got a little white ball flying at you… it’s difficult to see and you got to be able to react fast enough,” he said.
Based on the results this season and comments from his coaches and teammates, Stephanoff should have little problem reaching his goals and maturing as a leader for the team.
Wagner agrees Stephanoff has a few hurdles to jump, but sees no reason why he can’t become the player they all think he can be.
“He’ll stand out as one of our best goalies in program history, the way that he’s going right now,” said Wagner.