Bethany Bonilla is a junior at Emmanuel College. She had the unique experience of being recruited to play the game while already at college, picking it up in her sophomore year. She started every game last season, only missing one due to an injury. Bethany provides much insight for newer goalies in the game and especially why a support system is crucial to your success on and off the field.
1. How long have you been playing goalie/lacrosse?
I’ve only been in net for 2 years. It was kind of a luck of the draw that I got asked to play goalie in my sophomore year of college. Originally, I was a recruited to play soccer at my college and one of the girls who played soccer was also on the lacrosse team and she reached out to me and asked if I wanted to be a backup goalie. Initially, I denied the offer because I had never had any interest in lacrosse. Long story short, I ended up starting my sophomore year in net and by happy coincidence, I ended up being very good at the position.
2. What drew you to the position?
I love being able to be the one that saves the game. I think I always wanted to be a leader and being a goalie I am able to be my own leader and help the defense work together. As soon as I picked up that stick and got in that net I fell in love with the sport. There’s just this unexplainable feeling that people think is crazy to have. You have a ball coming at you so fast that could potentially hurt you and some people think that is crazy, but for me, it’s the best part of the game. Knowing that bruise you got on your leg is from a sick save.
3. What’s your favorite part about playing the position now?
My favorite part about playing the position is probably having the biggest voice on the team other than the captains. I know my defense will listen to me and have my back and ill have theirs.
4. What’s the hardest part about the position for you? How do you try to manage or handle that aspect?
I think the hardest part about being in net is letting that shot you missed go. Like for such a long time I had a problem with beating myself up whenever I let a ball go past me. I would just dwell and dwell and then let more in because I was stuck on the shot before that. I would get in my head and it would ruin my game. I would just check out and there was nothing anyone could do to get be back in it because I was just so mad at myself. I think because it was my first season and I was filling in some big shoes, I was so new to the sport that I needed to find some light to play this position. I can’t tell you specifically what it was that just clicked for me. But there more I was playing in games the more I knew I needed to be less selfish and more selfless and that meant no more checking out because when I check out so does everyone else. I have a big part on the team so when I’m off it’s like a domino effect. I started putting sayings on my stick and whenever I would let something go, I would look at my stick and I would take a couple of deep breaths and move on.
5. In close games how do you stay focused?
When I think about this question I think about our biggest non-conference rivalry with Salem State. I remember getting to their field and feeling like this was going to be a good game but I didn’t think it was going to go the way it did. With only 1:39 minutes remaining in the third overtime, Salem state caught us in a corner picked up the ground ball and shot right through my legs which cost us the game 14-13 in 3OT. One of the biggest things that kept me focused that game was my teammates. With every shot and every save, I had my teammates right there to tell me that everything was going to be okay, they kept telling me to focus so I did. It was such a high-level playing game that I literally had no time to get down on myself. I just trusted in my teammates and in myself that I’m doing everything I can to try and save the game and although we didn’t win, it was probably the best non-conference game we have ever played in our 10 years program.
6. When things start going south in game, like consecutive goals without a save, how do you rebound and stay confident?
I think the biggest thing is just letting the shots go in your mind. Because the more you think about what you didn’t save, the less prepared you are for the next potential save. It sucks, and I won’t sugar coat it, like letting 5 or 6 even 10 consecutive balls past you SUCKS. But you just literally have to remind yourself that it has to go through 11 other people before it gets to you.
7. Can you discuss any challenges you faced and how you overcame them? (I.e. lack playing time, injury, time management, etc)
One of the biggest challenges I’ve had this year (junior year) was ending my season two games too early. In late March we had our first conference match up with Norwich University who typically we have a good game against and I think this game was good but Norwich for sure game in balls to the walls. I was taking pretty hard hits to my helmet and any time I came out of the crease the girls came full force and often times would shove me to the ground. There was one particular play where a girl came from behind my crease, got a pass and ripped it full on to my helmet and I was out like a light. I didn’t know where I was, I didn’t know how I got there and eventually, I was taken out of the game. After a couple of MRI’s and meetings with doctors days later, the severity of the hit to my head ended my season. When they sat me down and said I may never play lacrosse again, I lost it, I lost myself and I didn’t know what to think or where to go from there. I didn’t want to talk to anyone, I just wanted to be alone. I had headaches all the time, I was crying a lot, throwing up from how bad my head was hurting. It was just a lot to handle from the physical pain and then getting the news that I was diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome from all of the previous concussions I have had. Even now, I’m still dealing with my concussion but I’m beating a lot of odds that the doctors never expected.
I don’t think I could have overcome this without the support of my parents, my friends, and my doctors. Their patience and gentleness with the whole situation is what really pushed me to get better and to beat the odds that I am beating. Eventually, I was started Vestibular therapy which helps me get my coordination with my eyes back in place, and now I’m running 5-6 miles a day headache free which wasn’t something the doctors thought I would be able to do for a while. I think having a solid support system can get you through virtually anything.
8. What’s the best part about playing in college? Favorite college lacrosse memory?
The best part about playing in college is just being able to say I played in college and I made a family and walking away proud to be a Saint. I love my team and I love the entire athletic program. Its one big family and that’s the best part about playing in college, it’s the friends you make for life on and off your team with other sports.
9. If you had to do the recruiting process over again, is there anything you would do differently? Not in your choice of school, but things you considered highly then but might not necessarily now? What were the things that were most important to you to look for in a school during your process?
I’ve had refs and other coaches tell me all the time after finding out that I’ve only been in net for 2 years that if I took this position into consideration 10 years ago, I would not be playing where I am now. So I guess if I could do the recruiting process with lacrosse I for sure would choose to go up higher in a division if that was an option.
Although I was not recruited for lacrosse, the recruiting process for soccer is no different. I think if there is one thing a high schooler should take away from this question is make sure that you don’t choose a school based on a coach. Coaches can leave at any given moment (another job offer, get fired, quit). Literally, anything can happen from the time of your recruitment to the moment you step foot on the field. So make sure whatever school you choose, you choose it because you actually see yourself there and enjoying your time. You’re only an athlete for four more years, school will always come first.
10. Do you have a favorite drill or one that has helped you the most in goal, with and without someone else?
A whole lot of wall ball and one on ones with my goalie trainer. I don’t have a particular drill, I just love being pushed to my limits.
11. Where do you think you have grown the most in your game from high school to college and how did you do it? What resources did you use to get there (individual coaches, club teams, etc)?
Being less hard on myself and knowing I have a group of people that will have my back no matter what has helped me grow so much in the process of becoming a better goalie.
12. Pre-game ritual?
Headphones on blast and no distraction (looking at my phone or listening to gossip)
13. What makes you weird? (Or just a fun fact)
My parents were expecting a boy, and when they got me obviously I was a girl. They had my entire room set up with the name picked out (Sebastien). Long story short, my parents told my teammates to story while we were in South Carolina and now everyone calls me Seb, on and off the field. (:
16.Anything else you think young goalies would find helpful if they’re trying to play in college?
Your heart and head should be in sync with all of your decisions. If you have any doubt, take a step back and reevaluate your options.