During his four years on the Lehigh men’s lacrosse team, Donny Stires had not started a game.
That changed April 1 when he was given the starting nod for the first time in his career against Patriot League opponent Boston University.
Stires, a senior goalie and captain, performed well in his first career start, making a career-high 13 saves as the Mountain Hawks upset the Terriers 10-6. Coach Kevin Cassese said Stires earned his start by practicing well for the two weeks leading up to the game.
He had a rocky start to the game as he let in two goals early in the first quarter, but he wasn’t going to let his nerves define him.
“When the game started, I let those first two in and tightened up a little bit thinking, ‘Oh no, what’s going to happen,’” Stires said. “But once you get the first couple saves, you start to get a little more relaxed. Obviously you can’t play tight because you’d make uncharacteristic mistakes, so I just try to keep myself as calm and loose as possible.”
Cassese’s confidence in Stires never wavered.
“(Stires) seems to be a person who thrives under pressure because he cares more about those around him than he does about himself,” Cassese said.
Stires found out about his move into the starting lineup the day before the game. That time gave him the ability to mentally prepare himself for the pressure of starting. He said being a backup goalie meant he always has to be prepared to step into a game.
However, Stires credits his preparation to his teammates and coaches. He said at practice, the coaches work different goalies in with the starting defense so everyone gets a chance to work together and understand the defensive strategy, allowing for there to be more flow when the lineup changes.
Stires knew his height fit him into the game plan as well. At 6 feet 5 inches tall, he is six inches taller than the next-tallest goalie on the Mountain Hawks’ roster.
“I’m a bigger goalie, and Boston has a tendency to shoot high a lot, so that played to my advantage,” Stires said. “I think the guys saw that and were confident in the coaches’ decision.”
Cassese said Stires has been stepping into pretty big spots throughout his career and always handled it with confidence. Therefore, no one was ever concerned about his ability to help the team.
Stires believes the game helped to improve his self-confidence because of the way he performed in an important league matchup. In addition to that, he knew he already had the confidence of his teammates after being voted team captain at the beginning of the season.
“Being able to be lucky enough to be voted captain this year was a huge plus for me,” Stires said. “It’s such an honor to see you have that respect from your teammates and to have that kind of responsibility.”
Freshman defenseman Erik DiGirolamo looks up to Stires as a captain because of the way he keeps the team focused and working at practice.
“He’s a really good leader that we all respect and look up to,” DiGirolamo said. “He keeps us together as a team and keeps us on track to perform our best in every game.”
At first, Stires struggled with how he could lead his team without being on the field. He decided on being a vocal leader for his teammates to hear regardless of whether or not he was on the field.
“(Stires) has been a great captain,” Cassese said. “He’s grown as a leader and has learned that he has tremendous influence on his teammates, regardless of whether he’s on the field or off the field.”
He also said Stires’ work ethic comes from the fact that he walked on to the team four years ago and has worked to prove his worth every day since.
“That has helped him to become a tremendous competitor and appreciate his role on the team every single day,” Cassese said.