Moments before Maryland’s season began at Navy, Kyle Bernlohr’s emotions got the best of him.
After three years of sitting on the bench and waiting to become the Terps’ starting goalkeeper, Bernlohr was about to see his dream come true. That realization overwhelmed him.
“I was definitely really emotional in that game,” Bernlohr, a redshirt junior, recalled this week. “I kind of got flashbacks of the past three years pretty much dating back to the day I committed to Maryland.
I finally got what I came here to do. I got really emotional before the game and felt really blessed to be in a position that I’ve dreamed of my entire life.”
Bernlohr made 12 saves in that 8-1 victory against the Midshipmen on Feb. 14 and hasn’t looked back. After the season’s first month, he leads Division I in both goals-against average (5.14) and save percentage (.683).
Bernlohr’s statistics might surprise outsiders, but to those within the program, the numbers confirm what they had hoped for.
“Kyle has done a good job,” said coach John Tillman, whose No. 9 Terps (3-1) host No. 10 Princeton (3-0) on Saturday. “He’s worked awfully hard. We know that Kyle’s got a lot of potential. He works every day to try to make himself better.”
— Kyle Bernlohr
Bernlohr’s success was unexpected: He spent his first three seasons backing up Niko Amato, the country’s top goalie in 2014 and the Atlantic Coast Conference’s first four-year, first-team all-league selection at goalkeeper.
Bernlohr, an Ohio native who chose the Terps over Ohio State, acknowledged that there were times when he took out a blank sheet of paper and listed the schools he might transfer to.
“I kind of sat down with my dad [Mark, a former Penn State baseball player] and evaluated the situation,” he said. “And really, my ultimate goal is to win a national championship, and looking at other schools, the possibilities compared to the opportunity I still had here, Maryland was definitely the right choice.”
Bernlohr said the most positive influence during his freshman year was goalie coach Brian Phipps, a former Terps goalkeeper. Phipps, now coach of the Archbishop Spalding boys lacrosse team, said he worked with the 5-foot-10, 160-pound Bernlohr on keeping his toes pointed toward shooters, holding his stick high and moving forward and laterally toward shooters.
Bernlohr just wanted to prove himself, Phipps said.
“He went to practice every day and played hard and wanted to get better,” he said. “He kind of saw it as a competition every day to try to beat out Niko and compete, and I think that’s one reason why Niko was so good. He had someone behind him that kept pushing him every day to get better. When the opportunity arose, you knew Kyle would step up to the occasion and capture that spot.”
Senior defenseman Casey Ikeda saw Bernlohr’s competitive streak every day last year when they were roommates. Ikeda said that if he beat Bernlohr in a video game, Bernlohr refused to admit defeat.
“He kind of would get into it with the offensive players jokingly, and people loved to score goals on him because he would talk trash like Niko,” Ikeda said. “Kyle’s always been a good competitor and a good goalie for us. He’s willing to do a ton of things. He would step into the goal with his right hand when we played righty goalies or use his left hand when we played lefty goalies. He just did it all when he was Niko’s backup.”
ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra said Bernlohr’s success can be traced to observing Amato.
“When you’re sitting behind a top goalie, you get an opportunity to break down offensive tendencies and pick an elite goalie’s brain and push yourself to play at that level,” said Carcaterra, a former midfielder at Syracuse. “A kid like Kyle was getting better in practice every day for the past three years. The lacrosse world just didn’t get an opportunity to see him because Niko Amato was there.”
Tillman said he appreciates that Bernlohr’s success hasn’t gone to his head.
“I don’t think Kyle’s satisfied right now,” Tillman said. “I think he realizes there are some aspects where he can get better. But I do like his leadership skills right now. His clearing is starting to get better. He’s been very humble about this whole thing so far, and I think he’s tried to make sure that he’s one of the guys that the younger players can look up to.”
Bernlohr’s play would seem to satisfy those who questioned whether the Terps could replace Amato. But even Bernlohr acknowledged that he had not envisioned this strong start.
“I felt confident going into the season opener after the scrimmages in the fall and the spring,” he said. “But all that matters is the games that count, and as the fourth quarter was ending at Navy, there was definitely a sense of relief that I was able to show what I can do and show what this defense can do.”
So could he have dreamed of a better debut than the one he had at Navy?
Smiling, Bernlohr answered: “Other than saving that one goal, I don’t think so.”
This article was written by Edward Lee from The Baltimore Sun and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.