Harrison Thompson’s roots shape development in wait to become SU goalie
Mountain Lakes roots shape SU goalie's development
With the old goalie he once backed up in the Carrier Dome and the new one perched on the sidelines, Harrison Thompson took a step forward in the crease and positioned his stick. Hobart’s William Delano had torn toward the center of the field from the left alley, beating his Syracuse defender and eyeing potential shooting windows that poked around Thompson’s 5-foot-11 frame.
Delano wound his stick back with the Orange clinging to a 5-3 lead in the second quarter of their March 6 game, and Thompson tracked the shot from its release. It careened toward the center of his body, so the stick followed that path of right to left to ensure the ball sank into his mesh — and not the 6-by-6-by-7 shape of it behind him that he was tasked with protecting. Thompson hadn’t started a collegiate game despite three years on SU’s roster. He watched as Drake Porter secured the spot atop the goalie depth chart for his senior year and then a graduate season resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, Bobby Gavin transferred from Virginia in the middle of the fall season, won the starting spot and created a timeshare at the goalie position for the 2022 season’s first few games.
But in his first opportunity as a starter, Thompson made that save, and four others by that point, and immediately glanced upfield before sending a 30-yard pass to short-stick defensive midfielder Carter Rice, starting the Orange’s transition offense and ultimately leading to a goal at the other end of the field. In that moment — one where Thompson’s mere presence on the field captured his collegiate improvements while the long pass, and the quick hands on the original save, served as a reminder of the skills that launched his lacrosse trajectory in the first place — Thompson’s wait for the starting spot had paused. He’d spent three years splitting time at Mountain Lakes High School before earning the starting role, and if everything went right in this game and season, Thompson could position himself to take the next step in a similar trajectory at SU.
“He knew he’d have his shot,” Dean Thompson, his father, said.
He was an “offensive-minded goalie,” Dean said, who took instincts from his younger years as an attackman and made them transferable between the two positions. Igniting the transition game became a hallmark of his skillset, and a 65% save percentage his senior year of high school was the tangible number to reflect the foundation a goalie needed, too. He became the latest success story from the small town in New Jersey that streamlined its program from second to 12th grade and reached a peak in Thompson’s senior year when they won the Tournament of Champions.
But Thompson only made three more saves the rest of the game, surrendering nine goals, nearly blowing SU’s lead and watching as Gavin entered in the final minutes of the third quarter and stabilized SU’s defense in its win. He only started two more games the rest of the season, one the next week in a loss to Johns Hopkins and one at the end against Notre Dame that head coach Gary Gait said he deserved. And after the waiting game stopped for two weeks — after his personal goalie trainer received a call from Thompson with news about him starting ahead of the Hobart game, after he hung up the phone and thought “this is it, this is the time to get rolling” — it started all over again.
Mountain Lakes legacy
By the time that Thompson returned home last offseason, the crease surrounding the net in Thompson’s backyard where Martin Bowker had trained him and his older sister, Kelsey, had already turned into dead grass. Dean had lights installed about seven years ago so Bowker, their personal goalie trainer, could practice with Kelsey at night, and eventually, they flipped the switch on for Thompson, too. They’d pinpointed that heading into Thompson’s junior season, he needed to sharpen his approach to saving low shots. His weight needed to be shifted forward. He needed to balance on the balls of his feet instead of standing upright with their spine. If a detail lacked, his hips slowed his drop to block the low shots.
Bowker’s initial evaluation back when Thompson was in eighth grade started with dropping his cell phone in front of Thompson to see if he could catch it — testing his reflexes — and what followed were slight tweaks to his fundamentals, as Bowker wanted to avoid changing too much. From there, Bowker asked Thompson to break down his own games, generating self-feedback for two or three aspects and then crafting that day’s workout from there. One day, it was feeds coming from X. Another, was shots in tight.
To end their twice- or three-times-per-week sessions, they played a game where each save was one point for Thompson, each goal was one point for Bowker, and the first to 10 points won. At one point last summer, Thompson’s brother Davis, who was an All-American at Birmingham Southern, was home and they played to 25. They were both shooting this time, and Bowker and Davis scored and kept scoring until they led by about seven, Bowker said. That’s when he started “digging” at Thompson with comments, Bowker said.
The rest of the way, they could hardly score on Thompson. Bowker’s 100-mile-per-hour shots turned into saves. Davis’ attempts on the run didn’t work, either. It was one of those moments, Bowker said, where he thought, “He’s something special.”
“There’s not many kids, and I’ve trained a lot of goalies, who can turn it on like him,” Bowker said.