Matt Palumb was going in a new direction in his professional life.
The Syracuse women were looking for a goalie coach.
Bringing the former Syracuse men’s All-American goalie in to work with the Orange women’s four goalies as a volunteer assistant coach has been the perfect match that they feel gives them a leg up on the numerous teams that can’t find goalie help.
“I definitely think it makes a difference to have a goalie coach on your staff because there are very subtle things in there that are the difference between giving up a goal and making a save,” Palumb said. “I think it’s huge.”
For Palumb, it’s a return after 20 years away from the women’s game. He coached on Jenny Graap’s staff at Cornell in 1998. Graap said of her first-ever goalie coach, “Matty P was the best,” but they couldn’t financially support his long commute with a part-time position.
Said Palumb: “I’ll bet you if you said to every program, ‘You can have one more paid position on your staff. What would you do with it?’ I’m sure it would be a goalie coach.”
Palumb is only back in the game after Syracuse head coach Gary Gait reached out to his former teammate when Palumb stepped down in October after 11 years as assistant athletics director for donor relations at Syracuse. Palumb was prepared to focus solely on officiating men’s lacrosse as a top-rated ref, and he has found a way to juggle that schedule with making more than half the Syracuse women’s practices and some of their games.
“Any time you can get instruction and someone helping give you tips how to improve, I think it’s important,” Gait said. “We certainly do it with all our players on the field. With offense and defense, we’re consistently coaching them on technique and when to do things and when not to. It’s really great when you can have an expert come in that you trust that can work on technique and when to throw an outlet pass, when to get it out quickly, when to slow it down, all those good things.
Palumb works with sophomore Asa Goldstock, who has started the first six games, highly touted freshman Hannah Van Middelem, junior Bri Stahrr and senior Erin Coleman. They call him “Matty P” or just “Matty,” and are thrilled to have his expertise and attention.
“He and I are really close,” Goldstock said. “We’re very, very close. I think that’s because he’s specifically my coach. It’s really easy for me to talk to him about anything. He’s in charge of us. He’s the one that calls the shots. He warms us up in practice. I think it’s great for us.
“It’s definitely a total 180 from last year. I don’t think anyone else in the country has anything like Matty Palumb. He’s a huge asset for our team, and I think it’ll help with recruiting in the future when we need more goalies. If you have a goalie coach with accolades like his, it’s huge for the team.”
Palumb hasn’t coached college women in 20 years, but he jumped right into his new position with an appreciation for how much the game has changed.
“What I’ve noticed is the progress that the women’s game has made in terms of how good of athletes these women are and how they handle the ball and shoot it and how strong and fast they are,” Palumb said. “They’re very impressive athletes.
“I coach my kid’s club team and I’m around boys’ lacrosse a lot obviously with the officiating and let’s just say the girls are a little more delightful to work with. They look you in the eye and it’s ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you,’ and they’re very coachable. They’re just a lot of fun to work with. They’re bright and in shape and just really good athletes and want to learn.”
Goldstock was pushing for a goalie coach after a freshman season last year in which she started every game, but wasn’t happy with her overall play or development.
“It was great last year to have Gary warming you up – it’s like having Michael Jordan shooting on you in practice,” Goldstock said. “But at the end of the year, I felt like I didn’t reach my full potential. I knew I could. There were maybe one or two games where I felt like that was all I could do and I played a great game. With the rest of the games, I felt like I fell short of my expectations for myself.”
Goldstock already feels better.
She is standing tall and reacting better to shots instead of dropping like she did last year to allow shooters to find the high goal. She came up with one the best games of her young career when she stopped 14 shots in a 17-15 win over No. 5 Florida on March 7, and credits her progress to the dedicated attention of Palumb.
“I’ve never had a coach quite like Matty,” Goldstock said. “He’s so positive. He’ll tell me when I really should have had a shot and what I did wrong, and he’ll tell me if I did everything right but I just couldn’t save it because it was a good shot. … I love having him there. I hate when he’s not here because sometimes I feel like I only play good when he is here.”
Competition is tight among the four goalies. Van Middelem has played in relief of Goldstock in four of the games, including an 18-11 loss to Maryland on Sunday. Stahrr and Coleman also have seen limited action in two games apiece.
“They’ve been very enthusiastic and very sponge-like as far as the things I bring to the table for them,” Palumb said. “I have the approach of there aren’t a whole lot of shutouts out there, so there’s more than one way to play goalie, and I don’t know if anyone has all the answers for this position. So my coaching style is to put some option out there and whatever options you’re choosing to put in your game, I want you to do it with purpose. Do what you’re doing for a reason.
“Positioning is what I’ve learned in the women’s game is gigantic. The big difference between the men and women is the men shoot the ball from 15 yards out and the women don’t. These girls see shots that are 8 meters and in all the time. Therefore, their most important part is positioning because if you’re not in the right spot, you’ll never get to the ball. We’ve worked really hard in being in the right spot and giving ourselves the best percentage to make a save.”
Syracuse is hoping that Palumb’s guidance will give them an advantage this season over so many teams that don’t have goalie coaches.
Syracuse will host Harvard on Friday and then travels to Cornell on Tuesday to visit Palumb’s first women’s team. Cornell edged Syracuse, 8-7, back then in 1998. This time, Palumb is in Syracuse’s corner, a valuable asset they are thrilled to have on board.
“It’s hard to find goalie coaches out there that stick in the game and stick around,” Gait said. “We’ve been searching here for a bit. We’ve had them on and off. We had Brett Queener for a few years (2011-2014). It was awesome. Then we had a bit of a dry spell trying to find somebody and Palumb became available and it’s been great.”
PHOTO BY RICH BARNES