Sam Fish just completed her freshman season at Princeton University, where she competed and earned the starting position in the middle of the season. She went on to earn Second-Team All-Ivy League honors, playing a key role in the Tigers defense. Originally from San Diego, CA, Sam attended Scripps Ranch High, where she also played volleyball. In high school, Sam was selected as an Under Armour All-American, four-time first-team all league, three-time all-CIF, and selected three times for the WDNT team. Sam drops a lot of great tips, especially how the battle for the starting spot ultimately made her a better goalie.
How long have you been playing goalie/lacrosse?
I have been playing goalie since 2nd grade (12 years). I started playing goalie as soon as I played lacrosse.
What drew you to the position?
There wasn’t any one thing that drew me to the position. In second grade my coach asked if anyone wanted to play goalie and I said "sure why not” and fell in love with the position ever since. It also helped that growing up my brothers were both attackers so you could say I had a lot of practice.
What’s your favorite part about playing the position now?
My favorite part of the position is that it is almost the quarterback of the defense. The goalie position has such an impact on the game. While it comes with a lot of responsibility knowing that any goal you let in can be the winning goal for the other team, it is also exciting to know that any one save that you make can either win the game or completely change the tempo of the game.
What’s the hardest part about the position for you? How do you try to manage or handle that aspect?
The hardest part of the position is having a short term memory. In cage it is very difficult after letting a goal in, to reset your mind and focus on the next play. I have gotten a lot better at this over the years but it is something that I am always trying to get better at. A "next goal mentality” allows yourself to reset and focus on the next save. I always try to tell myself no matter what the score is, if we are winning by a lot or losing by a lot that the score is always 0-0, it just helps me to refocus and not worry about the play that just happened. There is always a fine line from learning from the mistake that just happened and not dwelling on it.
In close games how do you stay focused?
Whenever I am in a close game I remind myself first off, to have fun because I think sometimes everyone on the field forgets about the very reason why they play lacrosse which is to have fun doing something you love. Every player I’ve known over the years always plays better when they are having fun and that doesn’t mean losing focus it just means focusing on the controllables and celebrating every little thing. I've noticed that if I focus on having fun and enjoying the moment it takes away any pressure or nerves that I am feeling. The second thing that I do in close games is I go back to the basics. By going back to the basics I focus on the ball in the head of the stick, my angles and sending my hands to the ball. This allows me to focus solely on stopping the ball and it helps to block out any outside distractions.
When things start going south in game, like consecutive goals without a save, how do you rebound and stay confident? What about when things aren’t going well defensively as a unit?
When things start going south in a game I try to focus in on the basics of watching the ball and getting my hands to the ball. If I am struggling to make saves in a game and a timeout is called I like to use those timeouts and have one of my teammates toss a ball at me to get my hands moving. If a timeout is not called I practice the save of the goalie that I just let in once or twice while they are setting up for the draw but then I let that last goal go and repeat to myself “next save.” When it comes to the defense I am a firm believer of positivity. The defense never tells me how to make a save so in the same regard I never tell them how to play defense. I like to focus on the things that I need to work on first because if a goal was scored it cannot only be on the defense, there was something that I could have done better as well. If there needs to be a change on defense or I think that there is something that the defenders aren’t seeing I will let them know from a goalies perspective what I am seeing (because the goalie has the best view on the field), rather than tell them what they should be doing as a defender.
Can you discuss any challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
One thing that I struggled with in the fall and the first half of this season was the fact that there are two other amazing goalies on this team. I knew that coming into this season I would have to step up my game immensely. There were a lot of frustrating times where I felt that I had played the best that I could play in practice and I still did not start the game that weekend. But one thing that I learned from fighting for the spot is to not shy away because there are other really great goalies around you but rather take it as a chance to get better. I truly think that the struggle for the starting spot really made all three of us better in the end.
What’s the best part about playing in college? Favorite college lacrosse memory?
The best part about playing in college for me is the level of competition. Getting to play with and against the best players in the nation is truly incredible and makes me so excited to step on the field everyday. My favorite lacrosse memory would have to be when we won the Ivy League Championship. This was a big moment because at the beginning of the season we were just hoping to make it into the tournament because we had lost early on to an ivy team. But coming into the ivy tournament off of a huge win against Penn and not only being in the tournament but being the number one seed and getting to host unbelievable. In the game to win the tournament we had a rematch against Penn. Winning that game was huge because not only did we just prove that beating Penn earlier in the season wasn’t just a fluke but we also proved to ourselves that we were the best team in the ivy this year. For me and my freshman class it meant a lot to us because there were five of us out there on the field and we helped contribute to the legacy at Princeton that we are now all a part of.
If you committed early, how did you stay motivated to keep getting better? How do you stay motivated now in the off season?
I committed the spring of my sophomore year. I don’t think there was anything that I really had to tell myself to keep myself motivated after committing just because I saw a lot of other commits older than me who did take it easy after committing and I did not want to be like them. I looked at being committed as a starting point. It was the point where the real work began. After I committed I started working harder on the field because I knew that if I wanted to have any chance of seeing the field my freshman year I would need to step up my game. In our offseason now, that is when I feel the toughest part of lacrosse is because that is when you put in the work. It can be really hard waking up at 6 am to do agilities or having captains practices where the sole focus is conditioning. But the thing that gets me through is knowing that all of the hard work now will pay off in season. Remembering that was what got me through all of the run tests and the lifts in the fall.
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 think the recruiting process is a difficult thing for everyone. Though, if I had a chance to redo mine I think I would do it exactly the same. I learned very early on from the older girls around me that it is easy to get caught up in the process because it is very exciting coaches are trying to reach out to you because they like the way you play. I was fortunate that my parents never lost sight of the big picture and always reminded me to do the same. When I went into the process I made a list of the schools that I was interested in, I had a general idea of the kind of location and type of school I wanted. But there was one question that I always asked myself after I left a visit and it was “would I be happy at this school if I got hurt and could not play lacrosse” and if the answer was no then I knew that was not the right school. I think that its important to remember that you are not just committing to a lacrosse team but you are also committing to a university and while lacrosse might be a big factor in the school you choose it should not be the main factor.
Did you feel burnt out after the recruiting process? Have you ever felt burnt out throughout your career? How did you get through those periods?
I think when you are playing lacrosse all the time there is a big chance that you will feel overwhelmed and burnt out. I personally have gone through many times when I felt that way. To get through that I just like take a step back and take a break from lacrosse and do other things. I think that breaks are good because they help you reset your mind.
Do you have a favorite drill or one that has helped you the most in goal, with and without someone else?
My favorite drill that I can do on my own is juggling. While it might seem like it is simple and won’t help that much, I have found that it improves my hand speed tremendously and it helps me to focus on the ball.
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)?
I think the one area that I have improved the most in is my hand speed and being able to get my hands to the college-paced shots. I have had a couple of goalie coaches over the years and I like to take little pieces from each one and implement what works for me.
I don’t really have a pregame ritual but I do make sure that I am loose and stretch out. I like to start my warm up with a field stick and then progress into my regular stick.