By CHRIS MACKOWIAK
Featured photo: Stavrakis (center background) defends the cage from Hampden-Sydney College attackmen. Emma Reider photo
4:45 a.m. It’s not the typical morning start-time for a college student. However, for Salisbury University men’s lacrosse goalie Anthony Stavrakis, it was the start of his journey each day on his road back to the maroon and gold.
A sophomore in the 2016 season, Stavrakis won a tight goalie battle to start the season in the cage for Salisbury. In his first career start, the Hillsborough, N.J. native received the win as SU defeated Hampden-Sydney College 12-7.
However, the second start was not as fruitful. In the first 19 minutes vs. No. 2 Lynchburg College, Stavrakis gave up seven goals, which led to the SU coaching staff to go to the bench.
After those two starts, Stavrakis only made eight more appearances that season– all off the bench. Now two seasons later and after a long comeback, the redshirt junior is back in the cage starting again for the Sea Gulls.
“It was unbelievable, I felt at the beginning of the game it took me a few minutes to settle in,” Stavrakis said following the 2018 season-opening win vs. Hampden-Sydney. “After that, I felt like I was dialed in.”
The 4:45 a.m. wake-up time harkens back to what it took to get into that starting position. Due to a hip injury, Stavrakis had to sit out the 2017 season which he redshirted.
He says that his days consisted of rehab before the sun came up, train rides into New York City for work during the day, and then lacrosse every night, training to be ready to compete for playing time this season.
The desire to be with his teammates and friends on the field drove him.
“It definitely helped my rehab 150 percent. You know, I kind of had a chip on my shoulder all summer because there was nothing I wanted to do more than help this team win games,” Stavrakis said.
That chip on his shoulder allowed him to come in ready for fall ball in another battle for the starting job again, similar to the one he was a part of in 2016.
After two years off from starting, Stavrakis says that he was shaky at first.
“After a week or two, I really settled in,” Stravrakis said. “I really felt like I had a good fall. The first couple weeks I feel like I’ve been really seeing it, stepping and moving with the ball.”
Just like in 2016, he won the starting job for the Sea Gulls. SU Head Coach Jim Berkman notes Stavrakis’ experience alongside his athletic quickness.
“When he stays disciplined and doesn’t get too excited, he’s quick,” Berkman said. “He’s an athlete. But sometimes his quickness and fidgety can be his enemy. We’re constantly trying to get him more relaxed and to not worry about everything, just focus on the ball. Then, react with his quickness instead of being over reactive before.”
Notable in his quickness has been his stick skills and interception ability. Those are things senior close defender Cory Berry has noticed too.
Berry joined the Sea Gulls just last season after transferring in from NCAA Division I Robert Morris University. He says that he has gotten to know Stavrakis well off the field and during fall ball while the goalie recovered.
For Berry, Stavrakis fits perfectly into an already talented SU defensive unit, even going as far as comparing him to a defensive star of the last two seasons.
“I like it because we play our defense really fast,” Berry said. “We like to move around a lot. He fits perfectly in there.”
“He’s definitely more electric than other goalies we would have this year. He reminds me a lot of Colin [Reymann] with how he chases the ball out. He’s all over the field. He always likes to come out of the cage. He’s just really electric in there.”
Former players Joshua Dean and then Colin Reymann were the two goalies in contention with Stavrakis back in 2016. Eventually, Reymann went on to start the remainder of that season into the National Championship game. As for the 2017 season, the rest is history.
Now in 2018, the electricity that Stavrakis brings to the field can help him continue to possess the starting job. Berkman says that the battle is still a lot closer than people think, but it is Stavrakis’ job to lose at this point.
Still today, sophomore Brandon Warren and junior Hayden Donnelly wait in the wings for their chance to impress the coaches. So far through two games though, things have gone well for the current starter.
With the same exact first two opponents as in 2016, Stavrakis has taken the challenge in stride as Salisbury now moves to 2-0 on the season with an 8.00 goals-against-average headed into their next game vs. Widener University on Saturday.
“I thought he played a solid game [vs. Hampden-Sydney],” Berkman said. “I thought that the goals he gave up were really good shots on their part and good placement too. He cleared the ball well. I think it was a good outing to give him some confidence moving forward.”
Stavrakis has come through to make 13 saves through two games for an overall 46.4 save percentage. With 16 total goals given up to two high-octane offenses, he also has the backing of a top defense in front of him.
The redshirt junior points out that he is very thankful for the multiple All-Americans that start in front of him which he sees as the top defensive unit in the country. Also, seniors defensive middie Troy Miller and defender Kyle Tucker are two of his best friends on the team.
“Really just being on the field with those guys is something special to me,” Stavrakis said.
They are friends that have been along this journey with him through his recovery. Now after the 2016 season did not go his way personally, 2018 offers a new chance for the goalie to shine on the big stage.
Just like when he was down with an injury, the love of the sport and his team drives him as SU moves forward into one of the toughest schedules in Division III.
“I guess you don’t really realize what you have until it’s gone,” Stavrakis said. “I know it’s a little cliché, but once lacrosse got taken away from me, there was nothing I wanted more than to get back on this field.”
Now he is back in the cage aiding the Sea Gulls on their mission towards a third-consecutive national championship.