By Rachael Jennings
Amani Natson, from Hillside, New Jersey, is a self-described “calm, sarcastic” junior who loves Chemistry, Dance, especially jazz, and Lacrosse.
When she was a freshman, she would not have identified herself as a lacrosse athlete, but over the years, she has come to identify herself as a very specific kind of lacrosse athlete: a goalie: the end of the line, the last stop for defense.
Amani was new to the lacrosse field when she started at Dublin. In middle school, I used to drive past this park with my mom and see kids playing lacrosse. I thought, “I don’t know what this sport is, but I kind of want to learn about.”
“I was used to seeing soccer or football. I used to do cheerleading. But I had never seen this. I was really interested in trying this out,” she says. When she began looking at boarding schools, she knew she wanted to find one with a lacrosse program.
Her freshman year at Dublin, spurred on by her curiosity, she decided to attend lacrosse preseason during spring break. Amani remembers that it was freezing cold, gray, and raining, and she turned to Mr. Johnson, the Athletics Director and Coach, and said, “Why am I here? What am I doing?”
Standing in the blustering winds, stranded on the field at Franklin and Pierce, Amani was skeptical that this was the sport for her. And then Shaneil Wynter, who had played goalie, turned to her and asked, “Amani, do you want to give it a try?”
Shaneil was interested in playing defense, and Amani, new to the sport and interested in learning, was equal parts curious and nervous. “I was really nervous, like, ‘uh, okay,’ and I gave it a try,” she says.
“I was standing in the goal, and Mr. Imhoff, [another Coach] was easing me into it with simple shots that progressively got harder,” Amani reflects.
Her experience was unique. “Now, this was my first experience with lacrosse: as goalie. I had used the stick and tossed around the ball in the field, but this was it. That was all. I started in this position.”
Now, she sees goalie as the perfect position for her; she can hardly imagine playing another. “One time we were at a High Mowing game, and Hope Fowler and I switched spots halfway through. I was like, this stick is so light, I can run so freely. I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, no heavy equipment. Everyone was laughing,” she says.
Luckily, Amani got to spend a great deal of time with Mr. Imhoff and has come a long way from that initial rainy day in the goal—she has come a long way to find a home on the team and as this particular kind of athlete. With Mr. Imhoff’s coaching, expertise, and push for her to succeed, Amani learned quickly. “We work on everything, from clears, to bounce shots, to how I step. He corrects me on everything,” she says.
“We spend a lot of time together, making jokes and making fun of each other,” Amani laughs. “He will say something sarcastic, and I will make a comment, and then he makes me run a lap.”
“Mr. Imhoff always reminds me that I am such a good goalie, but, you know what, there is no way that I would be here without him. He never credits himself, but he needs to. He is one of the main reasons I have learned so much and that I continue to learn,” says Amani.
“It’s pretty unique to have this one-on-one coach,” she adds. “I know a lot of goalies who say they don’t get a lot of time with a coach, but here I am and get to spend all of this time with a coach who can pinpoint everything and help me grow from it.”
With the great benefit of having Mr. Imhoff as a coach, Amani describes that the team also helps her strive for excellence and get better and better.
“With the whole team, we work on a lot of different drills. We do a lot of field-based work, so a four-on-three or something called rapid fire, where they all stand around the eight and I am in the goal—we do this before games—and they just shoot on me. It’s like a ritual.”
And no matter what pressures exist for her in the goal, she knows that the team is in it—in every game and every practice—together.
“One thing that I love about this team and all of Dublin sports is when we are able to communicate,” she says. “That’s one of the most important things anywhere. I can hear people yelling the plays, telling each other where they are—that’s when I see the team is really cohesive. We are playing for each other. We are not playing as individuals.” Moments like beating Vermont Academy, against whom they have a longstanding rivalry, celebrate their success as team-players, but Amani says that it’s something they cultivate all of the time.
Even with a wonderful team and coaches, being the goalie does come with its particular challenges, however.
“There are times when I beat myself up. I know that I am the last line of defense and it has gone through other people, not just me, but I get in my head,” says Amani. “I am starting to get better about this. It’s a confidence thing. When you step into that goal, you have to know that you are going to save that ball. And you need to go toward the shot, have your stick up, do your best, be confident. It is really all about confidence but also knowing that you might not get every shot.”
That pressure has its flipside. “In goal, though, I can see everything on the field,” Amani explains. “One of my biggest jobs is telling defense where the ball is—shouting ‘ball, top left, ball, top right!’ Giving out direction and trying to be the eyes for the team is something I really like. One thing I think I’ve really grown from is one thing you have to do as goalie is talk to your defense. I have to be able to address situations. If something happens where the ball does get to me, I need to say, ‘watch this corner, watch here!’ I have to address situations in high pressure that may not be easy to address.”
Amani dreams of taking her dedication and passion to the next level by becoming a collegiate athlete.
“In college, I definitely want to play. I want to play with a team that’s similar to Dublin—small, tight-knit, a team that will push me to be better. I always want to strive for better things, I always want to be better, so I want a team that will take me to that next level. That has turned into a passion as I’ve grown closer to the sport. I really care about this sport.”
What she’s taken from the process of being a goalie translates on and off the field.
“What applies to other aspects of life?” she asks. “Beating myself up over something that I work really hard for—a test, an essay—the thing that I’ve learned is that there are so many factors that lay into something that doesn’t go your way. You have to accept it. You have to be able to move forward from it.”
When she thinks about the new lacrosse players and new lacrosse goalies that will soon grace Dublin’s field, she contemplates the best advice she could give.
“I feel like I’d probably say something along the lines of, ‘don’t be too hard on yourself.’ Or ‘don’t be afraid of Mr. Imhoff.’” She laughs, “No, really, I would say that it’s a learning process, it takes time, and once you get it, you’ll have fun. And maybe you’ll fall in love with it. So be open to that.”