Lacrosse Goalie Says Sport is 60-Minute Mental Workout

Earth and environmental studies major Charlie Congleton ’07 is Wesleyan’s leading goaltender.
Posted 05/01/07
Q: Charlie, you have been the starting goaltender for the very successful men’s lacrosse team at Wesleyan for 2 1/2 years. When did you take an interest in goaltending?

A: I started playing lacrosse in 4th grade, In 7th grade, no one wanted to play goalie so I volunteered at the beginning of the season and started standing in the net. They started chucking tennis balls at me and I stopped them. So then I stood in there with real balls and stopped those. Pretty soon my friends were just throwing balls at me and I didn’t want to get out of the net, I loved it. The only goal I let up in my first game hit me in the head and went straight in the air and fell behind me, but we ended up winning. I think that if I had gotten lit up in that first game I wouldn’t be here now. Goalie is all about having confidence in yourself and your abilities especially in those first couple years. It gave me a lot of confidence that, “Hey, I can actually stop these balls and that helps us win.” That was pretty cool and I just built off of that.

Q: When you came to Wesleyan, the Cardinals had a solid goaltender in Matt Wheeler ’05. How would you describe your relationship with him during the two years you were teammates?

A: Matt is a great guy and was a great goalie. He’s also one of my good friends from the time I’ve had at Wesleyan from being in Beta Theta Pi and playing lacrosse together. We were both very focused on winning games when he was around and as his backup it was my job to push him so that he and the team could get better. When our coach, John Raba, gave me a shot to start after we dropped our first four NESCAC games in 2005, I think he was just trying to shake things up. Once we started winning games I kept playing. Matt was always very supportive after that and all he wanted was to be part of a winning team even though his game wasn’t where he wanted it that year.

Q: Do you remember the first game you started as Wesleyan’s goalie?

A: Yes. It was against Trinity and it was cold, wet and I had a cold. I had played a solid amount of time in the previous couple NESCAC games against better teams so I felt confident I could stop shots. But we ended up winning in overtime. Once we got that first win behind us that year it felt easy to just go in there, have fun, and win, the next games.

Q: Since getting your first start, the team has posted a record of 39-7 and attended the NCAA Division III tournament twice with another chance very likely this season. What makes this team so good?

A: I think we work harder than anyone else in the league year-round to get better. On top of that, we love having fun doing what we are doing during practice, on the bus the day before games, and especially during games. I don’t think you can win if you aren’t having fun, and on top of that it’s fun to win, so it’s a positive feedback loop. And if we do lose we find what we did wrong and move on. Once there’s nothing you can do about a game, it’s time to play the next one and do more than what you did last game to get the W.

Q: What are your thoughts on Coach John Raba and the rest of his coaching staff?

A: I can’t say enough about Coach Raba and all of the coaches we’ve had the past four years. They have such a great lacrosse IQ and we are rarely unprepared for a game as a team. When they deal with us individually, they will reward hard work and improvement with more playing time and they won’t stand for lacks of effort. Off the field they are our parents away from home and care immensely about our success and well being. They are always pulling for us. Overall they are everything you could ask for from a coaching staff. I’ve improved 10 times since I was a freshman because I finally got to work with a goalie coach, too. It’s just been an unbelievable experience playing here.

Q: Most spectators marvel at the resolve of someone willing to stand in front of a net with minimal padding and hard rubber balls being fired at him. What is the experience like?

A: The first thing is you have to convince your mind that getting hit by the ball is actually better than not getting hit at all. Once you can do that you are more relaxed when the ball is shot at you. Then you need to focus on watching the ball leave the shooters stick and come at you because if you don’t see it you won’t save it 95 percent of the time. You need to realize you are going to have to move yourself to where the ball is going to be. That’s when the adrenaline kicks in and you just react to each shot and get something in front of it. A lacrosse game for me is basically a 60 minute mental struggle with myself to see if I can focus on the ball yet still be aware enough to make clears and direct the defense around and then get back into focus mode all in a split second.

Q: Last year you led all NCAA Division III goaltenders in save percentage (saves vs. goals allowed) and ranked in the top-10 nationally in goals-against average. You are again in the top-10 this season in both categories. How would you characterize the synergy between you and the defense?

A: Well clearly I wouldn’t have any personal success without my D in front of me. It’s a symbiotic relationship because there are times when I let down my D if they make a good play and I make a mistake and the goal goes in and there are times when they make a mistake and I have to come up with a save. And we’re constantly working during the game and the season on minimizing mistakes. Overall we’re confident we can stop shots outside 10 yards consistently.

Q: How far do you think the 2007 Cardinals can go as the post-season approaches?

A: We’re taking one game at a time because if you start looking ahead during the playoffs chances are you are going to be unhappy with the results. But I think we can go far.

Q: What is you major at Wesleyan and how would you describe the university as an educational institution?

A: I’m an earth and environmental science major. Wesleyan has been a challenging academic institution and has provided me countless opportunities to pursue whatever it was that I was interested in learning more about. In my major, I particularly enjoyed exploring the science behind our planet’s geology and the methods we use to map and collect data on the Earth’s surface from satellite systems in orbit.

Q: Tells us some of your other interests besides being bombarded by lacrosse balls?

A: Well I’m a huge sports fan of pretty much everything. I’ve even gotten into NASCAR during my time here and play that a lot on the Xbox. But in terms of real hobbies, I’m a huge outdoor guy and like to go hiking, camping, whitewater rafting, skiing, fishing, things like that to get my adrenaline fix when I’m not getting peppered. I worked at a summer camp the past four summers doing just those things, so it’s been an important part of my life.

Q: What does the future hold for Charlie Congleton after Wesleyan?

A: Next year I’m working for my goalie coach Lukas “Money” Cash and his companies Revolution Lacrosse, Nation Lacrosse, Goalie Nation and Rev-Mind that run girls club lacrosse teams, lacrosse goalie dedicated websites and camps and clinics, and sports psychological coaching up in Boston. Some day I’d like to go back to school and further my education. I’m not too sure yet, right now I just want to have some fun and find out what it is that I love to do.

Q: Any other secrets to your success?

A: Jesse Bardo ’07 is one of the main reasons I am where I am today. He spends 20-30 minutes with me everyday warming me up and ripping on me to get me better and he’s been doing that since sophomore year. He and former lacrosse player Steve Binswanger ’06 and my teammate Dave Wilkinson ’09 have kept me loose and sharpened my skills for the past three years and I can’t thank them enough. Their sense of humor and the fun they have when they play keeps me positive and having fun too.

By Brian Katten, director of Sports Information