PHOTO COURTESY OF SYRACUSE ATHLETICS

Journeyman Will Mark Primed to be Syracuse's Answer in Goal


Will Mark has always lived a nomadic life. A confident guy who’s California cool, Mark isn’t a loner. He’s content going with the ebbs and flows of life.

The goalie, now at Syracuse after transferring from Long Island University, has changed places before. While growing up in Danville, Calif., Mark spent three years as an international student in Heidelberg, Germany — a move necessitated by his father’s job at a German software company.

The Marks moved back to California in fifth grade. Will Mark then spent his high school years at Proctor Academy, a boarding school in Andover, N.H. All this before heading 2,929 miles east to play collegiately at LIU.

Well-traveled? Sure. But Mark’s learned that the crease stays the same wherever he goes. Eighteen feet around. Nine feet from the center of goal line extended at every point. A perfect circle.

“I played my first year as a fifth grader in California on my local club team and got placed on the second-to-worst team, the C2 team,” Mark said. “We had two goalies, and they didn’t show up. My first game, I got a shutout. The rest is history.”

History is what Mark made at LIU. He set a program record with 30 saves in a three-goal loss against Bryant on April 27, 2021. The Bulldogs took 78 shots, but he somehow stayed locked in. That was the third time in 2021 he reset his own single-game program record.

Mark came to LIU after his initial recruitment to Vermont fell through. It was a mutual decision after Mark learned that his grades wouldn’t guarantee him admission into the school.

At the same time, a few hours south, Eric Wolf was in desperate need of a goalie with LIU’s impending elevation to Division I. He told his entire staff to drop everything and only recruit goalies until they found the answer. It was Brendan Schroeder, one of Wolf’s assistants, who discovered Mark.

“We went all in, full-court press on Will,” Wolf said. “We got him on campus and put an offer in his hand. He became the centerpiece of everything we did.”

Wolf, now the head coach at NJIT, expected his team to take some lumps in its jump up from Division II. Mark helped alleviate many of them. The Sharks were 1-6 in 2020 but improved dramatically to 6-5 in 2021. They were 7-8 in 2022.

In his 33 games, Mark made 499 saves (55.8 percent) and allowed 12.18 goals per game. He faced 1,435 shots, an average of 43.5 per contest. The 48 shots per game he faced in 2020 were the seventh-most a goalie faced on a per-game basis since 2015, according to Zack Capozzi of Lacrosse Reference.

“If we didn’t have Will in the net, the lumps might have been a little bigger,” Wolf said. “Every game, you could look back and know you were getting 15-20 saves.”

A 44-hour drive away from home, Mark acclimated just fine to Long Island. He jokes, with a nonchalant West Coast laugh, that he eats a bacon, egg and cheese every morning now for breakfast. The crease, same dimensions as back in California, eased the transition.

“Long Island is not a different coast. It’s a different country,” Wolf said. “Will’s demeanor, it just worked. We’re all a little bit crazy as Long Island guys. He came in super laid back.”


“My first game, I got a shutout. The rest is history.”

— Will Mark


JACK RUNKEL, THE FORMER GOALIE COACH AT LIU AND 2012 NCAA CHAMPION AT LOYOLA, doesn’t think it’s unfair to say that Mark was frustrated by the lack of recognition he received at LIU.

He earned All-American honorable mention distinction from the USILA and was the NEC defensive player of the year for the second straight season, but the accolades failed to roll in for a goalie who ranked near the top of every statistical category.

“I was just always overlooked,” Mark said. “That chip on the shoulder is something I’ve developed over the years. That’s the fire. When I’m making saves at that number, they’re bound to look. But then again, the job’s never finished.”

Runkel could tell the type of day Mark was going to have based on the first five shots of warmups. Mark wanted to win so badly, Runkel said, that it physically and mentally hurt him. That made playing for LIU, a team doing its best and perhaps exceeding expectations as a new Division I program, sometimes more painful than Mark let on.

That’s the competitive mindset that Runkel seeks in his goalies. It’s one of the few things he can’t teach youngsters as founder of The Goalie Workshop. He didn’t have to teach Mark much either. His “God-given length” at 6-3 and his natural hand speed, couple with that desire to win, make him a rare breed between the pipes.

“When I first got to meet Will, he was super stoic and confident,” Runkel said. “I wouldn’t say arrogance, but his confidence is immediately what jumps off the page. He’s suave. When you see a goalie play with so much comfort, they tend to make things look really easy.”

The physical aspects of goaltending were never an issue. Instead, Runkel focused on the mental side of things with his star pupil. He harnessed his own experiences as a goalie to develop a relationship with Mark, one that provided insights on how to keep his mind sharp.

He saw so many shots in games that Mark would sometimes see hardly any at all in practice. Runkel — who Wolf calls “the goalie whisperer” — didn’t want him to get burnt out.

“There was a time I had to tell Will he couldn’t go into the cage in practice,” Runkel said. “When you think about it, pitch counts and snap counts, when you’re dealing with what I believe to be the best goalie that’s in the game right now, we had to protect that. He hated when I did this, and I know he did.”

But when you have a player of Mark’s caliber, someone who can dominate a game and opponent, keeping him right is paramount.

“When you have an asset that dominates their position, you have to figure out a way to cater to that,” Runkel said. “I spent a couple years with Andy Shay at Yale, and we had Ben Reeves. I know Coach Wolf experienced that at Albany with Lyle Thompson. What Will is proven is that he can dominate.”








MARK BALANCES THE MENTAL SIDE OF GOALTENDING BY FOCUSING ON MINDFULNESS.

Staying level-headed is something he admits he’s always struggled with, but through consistency and purposeful preparation, he’s been able to control the emotional swings.

He gets the right sleep and eats the right foods. He takes breaks, even if he has to fight the urge to hop back into the cage. He meditates for 10-15 minutes per day at the direction of the “Calm” app, which aims to improve the user’s health and happiness. It was named Apple’s “App of the Year” in 2017 and has a 4.8 out of 5 rating after 1.5 million reviews on the Apple Store.

“A big part of it is my father,” Mark said. “He’s a huge advocate of mindfulness. He’s constantly listening to podcasts and learning different techniques. He’s constantly sending me little articles, podcasts and videos that I can add into my game.”

All eyes are on the goalie after an offense scores. Even after a defensive breakdown that can make a shot borderline impossible to save, the goalie is always the last line of defense. There’s pressure associated with that. But Mark has worked to control his breathing throughout practices and games, allowing him to prevent many of the lows.

Turn, rake, on to the next one.

“I get pretty locked in during games,” he said. “If I get scored on, the next thing I think about is when I’ll see another shot. I want to make a save.”

In his brief time at Syracuse, Mark has already caught the attention of volunteer assistant Nick Acquaviva, the goalie coach who was hired earlier this fall. Mark is Acquaviva’s perfect goalie — big, athletic and fast with a good head on his shoulders.

“I think goalies get a bad rap of being those crazy weirdos,” Acquaviva said. “I think Will’s a pretty calm, standard guy. He has a great sense of self belief. He has a great sense of himself and what he wants to accomplish.”

But don’t confuse his stoicism for a lack of personality. He isn’t devoid of emotions. Mark celebrates the big saves and takes pride in letting the offense know he just stole a goal from them. Goalies are humans too, after all, and their energy can provide just as much of a spark as anyone else’s.

“I do have a tendency to play into the game and get a little excited sometimes,” he said, wielding that California cool laugh again. “When I make a big-time save and I know it, I like to let some people know.”




PHOTO COURTESY OF SYRACUSE ATHLETICS


GARY GAIT AND DAVE PIETRAMALA HAD A GOALIE PROBLEM LAST SPRING. Virginia transfer Bobby Gavin (11 starts) and Harrison Thompson (three starts) combined to save just over 40 percent of shots, and Gavin entered the transfer portal after the season.

Wolf is convinced that Syracuse has found its answer.

“I will bet everything you won’t have a problem in net for the next two years,” he said emphatically. “You’ve found the solution.”

Gait, whose first season in charge of the Syracuse men’s team ended with a 4-10 record, is turning the page on year one and entering year two with a young, budding offense and a stable of new faces on defense, a unit coordinated by Pietramala.

In Pietramala’s system, it’s imperative that the goalie be a communicator who does more than stop the ball. He needs to understand schemes, assignments and slides. It’s more than just see ball, stop ball.

“He’s definitely a very good goalie, and that’s what stood out,” Gait said. “He’s consistent. He makes the saves you should. He steals some. He knows how to respond to mistakes and doesn’t get too worked up. You combine that calmness with his focus and drive to be successful, it’s a good mix.”

That’s the thing. Even if Mark felt slighted about personal accolades at LIU, what was more painful is that the Sharks largely struggled to remain relevant. Mark wants to win. At Syracuse, a storied program that hasn’t won a national title since 2009 or appeared in the title game since 2013, Mark is deadset on ushering in a new wave of success.

“Everyone knows what’s on the line for us here,” he said.

But there’s no challenge too large for Mark. He’s been overlooked all his life. Syracuse, at least after last season, might be overlooked in 2023. Now’s his chance to prove that he’s a winner and that Syracuse won’t be down for long.

Walking into the Dome for the first time was a validation of his journey. In some ways, it was a reminder that there’s still work to be done in the crease, the one place he’s truly called home since that fateful shutout in fifth grade.

“Words can’t explain it,” Mark said. “This is one of the most historic lacrosse programs. It’s really special to me to just be part of this.”


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