A baseball catcher is said to wear the tools of ignorance. A de facto coach who calls plays and directs the game, he’s a rodeo clown at heart, choosing to put his body in harm’s way more than a crash test dummy. The reward? Arthritic knees, jammed fingers from foul tips, and train-wreck collisions at home plate.
What, then, does that say about lacrosse goalies who wear significantly less gear — just a helmet, chest protector, and cup — and face 90-mph shots from as little as seven yards away? “A goalie’s natural reaction is to put his face in front of it,” says men’s lacrosse coach Peter Lasagna. “You have to ask yourself what it says about someone as a human.”
A better question: How can someone — in this case Paul Kazarian ’06 — be smart enough to get into Bates, but stupid enough to put himself in the maelstrom of the goalie’s crease? To paraphrase a line from the cult movieordinary people spend their lives avoiding tense situations. Paul Kazarian spends his life getting into them.
Last spring, Bates started out 8-0 and despite a five-game skid finished 9-6, losing to NESCAC champion and national runner-up Middlebury in the conference semifinals. The seventh-seeded Bobcats were the first lower seed to advance to the second round in NESCAC postseason history, upsetting No. 4 Bowdoin 6-5. At one point ranked No. 14 in the country, the Bobcats produced only their second winning season in five years.
“Paul deserves so much credit for what we accomplished,” says Lasagna, named NESCAC Coach of the Year. “A team succeeds or fails depending on the goalie, and Paul loves the excitement/terror of that ultimate responsibility. He delivers three or four ridiculous saves per game that just suck the life out of the other team.” Kazarian’s .591 save percentage ranked him fourth in NESCAC.
The average human reaction time, from recognition to applied movement, is two-tenths of a second. But a hard rubber lacrosse ball shot from 20 feet gets to the net in about .15 seconds, which gives the goalie no chance. He’s Popeye without spinach.
“I throw every body part at the ball, my feet, my elbow, my arm, my head, whatever,” says Kazarian. “It just finds a way to hit me.”
Yet his success has almost nothing to do with luck. It’s a science as sweet as boxing, except Kazarian is the punching bag.
Circling the 6-by-6 cage, attackers rotate the ball with laser-beam speed and – bang! – a sport played in the spirit of bumper cars becomes a chess match. The shooter hides the ball behind his head, then whips his stick down in the shape of a Nike swoosh. His shot rips through a tangled screen of legs, arms, and heads. All is confusion, except Kazarian’s thoughts. “You immediately go to the scouting report,” Kazarian says. “What has coach told me about this guy? What have I already seen?
“Does this kid go low to high, or high to low? Is it going to go away from me? Or to a low corner? If I were seven yards away from me right now and had all the time in the world, where could I put the ball by me?”
Perhaps the smartest player on Bates’ AstroTurf field, Kazarian typifies conventional wisdom the way Paris Hilton gives blondes a good name. Here are snippets from the scouting report on the senior whom friends call “PK,” which at best guess stands for Pure Krazy.
A native of Providence, R.I., Kazarian had been coached by Lasagna at Brown University lacrosse camps since seventh grade. “Apparently he still loves the sound of my voice yelling at him,” jokes Lasagna, who came to Lewiston in 2001 after 18 seasons at his alma mater.
As much as Kazarian wants to play in a championship game next year, he talks more about becoming a lobsterman next Short Term. “Do you think Bates will pay for a boat so I can do an independent study?”
There is no such thing as a backyard game: Wanting a Nerf hoop for his dorm room, Kazarian returned to campus with a regulation 10-foot basket. (He and his roommate hacksawed the pipe to make it fit.)
This July he’ll play in a Wiffle ball tournament on Long Island in hopes of qualifying for a national tournament.
This past June, playing for Bates at the multi-sport, multi-activity Renaissance Games at the University of Rhode Island, he put the penalty flag in flag football. “He laid a kid out,” says Bates friend Tyler Paul ’06. “He left his feet and just speared him. It was amazing.”
Kazarian played hockey in high school, but not goalie. “Too much padding,” he says. “Lacrosse goalies look tougher. Hockey goalies are mostly out-of-shape European guys.”
If you can’t find PK on campus, chances are he’s in the trainer’s office soaking in an ice bath. This stuntman, after all, has the leading role.
“I never want to be the guy people worry about in a big situation,” Kazarian says. “My teammates understand the sacrifices I make, and when they storm the field and I’m the first one they go to, it’s definitely worth being hit a couple times.”
Lasagna says it best: “There are not many Paul Kazarians walking around.”
Coach, it’s amazing he can still walk.