Shea Dolce Thrives as Freshman Goalie in the Final Four

Shea Dolce is feeling the pressure of being the starting goalie for Boston College as the Eagles head to the final four.

“The ACC tournament was one of the most nervous I’ve gotten for a game just because you know the stakes and you know what’s on the line,” Dolce said. “And the pressure of the situation ended up helping me. Having that pressure sometimes fires me up and gets me going.”

“I’ve just now realized how incredible it is.”

— Shea Dolce

The ACC Freshman of the Year, Dolce is hoping to become the first true freshman to win a national title in goal in a decade. Megan Ward was a true freshman when she made six saves — three crucial ones in overtime — when North Carolina edged Maryland in 2013. Molly Dougherty was a redshirt freshman when she anchored the James Madison defense to the 2018 title. Megan Taylor was a freshman goalie when she helped Maryland reach the national title game in 2016.

“As a freshman going into the national championship versus a senior, there was kind of an ignorance-is-bliss situation going on,” Ward said.

Ward didn’t start regularly until the ACC tournament in 2013. Dolce has started the last 14 games for BC, which will play Syracuse in the NCAA semifinals Friday in Cary, N.C. Syracuse is the last opponent to score double-digit goals against Dolce, but she saved 12 shots for a 17-16 BC win over the Orange on April 20. Since then, she’s allowed just 7.0 goals per game and feels drastically better than when the season started.

“I feel like such a more confident player,” Dolce said. “I think in the beginning, it was definitely difficult gaining the confidence. I knew my teammates trusted me, I knew my coaches trusted me, it was more telling myself that I was good and I was meant to be in the position.”

With classes done for the semester and a few days to prepare for the semifinals, Dolce finally has had a moment to reflect on her first season. It’s been a whirlwind and self-described learning experience.

“The season moves so fast, so you don’t really have a lot of time to sit back and look at it all together,” Dolce said. “It’s just been unbelievable, and I’ve just now realized how incredible it is.”

Dolce came out of Darien (Conn.), one of the premier high school programs in the country, as the top-ranked goalie and sixth-ranked freshman overall by Inside Lacrosse, but earning the starting spot for the Eagles was a major challenge. Incumbent starter Rachel Hall was back for a fifth year, and she’d helped BC to the last two final fours, including its 2021 national title.

“I was really grateful that she took a fifth year because I knew I’d be able to learn from her and from playing under her,” Dolce said. “Throughout the whole process, she’s been amazing, and she really helped me adjust coming in.”

Dolce is competitive but came in without any expectations about playing time. She knew she didn’t have the age and experience of Hall, and her self-doubt centered on letting down a defense that started two juniors, a senior and a sixth-year.

“What I told her,” said Darien head coach Lisa Lindley, who this month earned her 500th career win, “was, ‘Just give it time, go in there and don’t have any pressure on yourself, and just work hard, and I’m sure you’ll be given an opportunity,’ which she was, and her skills will shine. And they have, which is tremendous.”

Dolce’s start at BC mirrors the beginning of her high school career. Late to the sport, Dolce didn’t begin playing lacrosse or goalie until she was in sixth grade. Three years later, she earned the starting spot for Darien as a freshman over a pair of upperclassmen, including a returning senior.

“If anything, she prepped me so much for this,” Dolce said of Lindley. “It was really interesting to be able to go through that in high school and then come into college and do the same thing, just at a bigger stage. It’s kind of funny to look back at now.”

Dolce is part of an athletic family. Her mother, Jennifer, was an All-American lacrosse player at William Smith. Her twin sister, Kelly, swims for Brown.

The twins’ older sister, Gwen, played lacrosse at Darien and just finished her junior year as a nursing student at BC. She studied abroad this spring but helped Dolce’s transition to college in the fall.

“It was the biggest help in the beginning of the year,” Dolce said. “Having someone on campus that you’re related to is the biggest plus. You know they’re always there, and she is my biggest supporter.”

Dolce also played basketball and soccer all four years at Darien, something she says aided her athleticism. At 5-10, Dolce’s size and activity in the cage are difference makers. Her quick reflexes enable her to make stick saves on either side, and she has shown the ability to sprawl or kick away shots. Her positioning and angles stood out with her technical and stick skills.

“Even as a freshman, she could clear to the 50 standing in the crease,” Lindley said. “That was huge for me because our teams typically love to fast break. And if the goalie can get the ball out quickly, obviously that aids us in starting our fast break.”

Fall ball was the introduction to a new level of play. Dolce came in with an open mind and dived head first into the challenge of adjusting to the college game.

“When I came to college, I knew that the starting spot at the time wasn’t mine, and I’m obviously a huge competitor, so I knew that first of all, I just need to see extra shots because I was just blown away the first week,” Dolce said. “I had gotten some shots from Cassidy Weeks, Courtney Weeks, Jenn Medjid and I was like, ‘Wow, this is crazy, I’m going to need some more of this.’”

Dolce began the spring platooning with Hall. Hall would start, and Dolce played the fourth quarter for the first two games. Then she played the second half of games against Northwestern and North Carolina as the calendar turned to March. She got her first start March 16 and played the entire game against Clemson, making nine saves in a 17-10 win. Starting has brought with it more pressure, but she has responded well.

“At the beginning of the season I didn’t have to worry about that,” Dolce said. “Now, I have to start out kind of fast. It’s very different, but my mentality of it, I wouldn’t say a lot goes into it, just knowing the start of the game really matters and having that confidence comes back into that, knowing I have confidence and I can trust my preparation that goes into each and every game and into each and every start of a game.”

Dolce’s preparation is a big part of why she is starting and performing well. It helped separate her from other freshmen that Acacia Walker-Weinstein has coached, and it helped earn Dolce the chance to start.

“There’s one thing that I think makes a player A) really clutch, B) really confident and C) really calm, which are all things Shea displays when she’s in cage, and it’s preparation,” she said. “The only thing that can do that is preparation. And Shea works harder than anybody. She’s studying film throughout the day, not once for 20 minutes, but throughout the day. She’s getting extra shots from her teammates. She’s so equipped for big moments.”

Just as quickly as Dolce got her first start, she faced her first significant challenge. In her second career start March 19, she didn’t make a save and surrendered six goals before she was pulled after the first quarter of a 13-8 loss to Denver.

“It was a huge learning opportunity for me,” Dolce said. “It was almost like I needed that like slap in the face to wake me up a little bit. And I think, ultimately if it hadn’t been for that game, I wouldn’t have succeeded as much as I did afterwards because I was worried that the coaches wouldn’t start me the next game or that my chances of starting would be over. If anything, it was the opposite of that. They had full trust in me, and it took me a lot of time to realize it’s not going to take one game for them to pull me from the job.”

Dolce’s reaction to her toughest game of the season worked two ways. As much as her coaches gave her confidence, she also served notice that she could handle adversity and bounce back.

“When I watched how she rebounded from it, how hard she worked after that, I knew she was going to be fine,” Walker-Weinstein said.


Three weeks later, Dolce had a memorable outing with a career-high 13 saves in a 12-11 comeback win over Notre Dame. She saved another 11 shots against the Irish in the ACC tournament semifinals on her way to being named the MVP of the ACC tournament.

“I didn’t even know there was an MVP of the whole tournament,” Dolce said. “Then when they were announcing it, I turned to some of my defenders and said, ‘Oh, it’s gotta be [Sydney Scales].’ Then they said my name, and I was so shocked. It means so much, especially after all the work I’ve put in this season. And a lot of it goes back to my goalie coach, Callahan Kent. After I got the trophy, I celebrated with my teammates and then I ran over to give her a hug because she just puts in so much time with me, and it’s really given me the extra tools to succeed.”

Dolce stopped eight shots in a 9-7 win over Penn, then stopped five shots while allowing only six goals in a 20-6 win over Notre Dame in the quarterfinals last weekend. She’ll try to join some rare company as a true freshman goalie playing for a national title.

 “As a freshman, sometimes you can just go in as an underdog and just play and have fun out there,” Ward said.

Dolce might feel pressure, but she also feels the team’s confidence in her. It says a lot that Boston College has trusted its final line of defense to its first-year goalie over an All-American and national champion. The Eagles have witnessed Dolce’s growth through the season.

“The biggest step she’s taken is not just making saves but being a leader, fully understanding the nuances of the defense,” Walker-Weinstein said. “We have different game plans every single game, and over the last month or so, she’s gotten incredible at that. She’s taken really big steps in that direction.”

Dolce isn’t content yet. She prepared earnestly this week and remains hungry to improve and learn as she heads into the biggest weekend of the year with the chance for two more games.

“Even though I’m starting and I’ve been playing well, I think I still have so, so much to learn and I will over the next couple years,” Dolce said. “Now I’m just going to go into the final four and take everything I’ve learned this year and display it and do my best, and next year I’ll come back and learn even more.”