In a sport where goals scored tend to outpace saves, lacrosse goalkeeper Chris Williamson ’12 came up with a season-high 18 saves in a 7-6 victory against Middlebury last Saturday and 14 saves in a quadruple-overtime battle the next day against Williams. He saved over 70 percent of shots he faced on the weekend, including a critical stop as time expired at the end of regulation against Middlebury. 

The Polar Bears have grown to rely on Williamson’s steadiness in net, but his lacrosse career started on a whim and his goalie career on even less. The Winnetka, Ill., native did not grow up in a region of the country known for its lacrosse pedigree. In fact, Williamson played hockey until the sixth grade, when he decided he needed a change.

“I got hit in the head a few too many times and I had to quit,” he said. “It was a happy accident.”
According to Williamson, his career as a goalie began similarly.

“It’s the position nobody wants to play at that age,” Williamson said. “So everyone would have to throw their sticks into a pile [to choose who would have to mind the net], and my stick got picked once or twice. I realized pretty quickly I found my calling.”

His calling, incidentally, involves getting pelted by dense rubber balls flung at nearly 100 miles per hour. But those who know him best say he has the personality for the position.

“Let’s be honest here,” captain and defenseman Max Rosner ’13 said. “No goalie is ever really normal. As a group, they’re a few fries short of a happy meal. You can see that with Chris.”

Williamson said he has heard that before. 

“My father always says we’re a few cards short of a deck,” he said.

Williamson said he agrees, that “you can’t be very smart if you play goalie.”

Described by friends and family as quirky or eccentric, or both, Williamson, known as “Mitch” to his teammates, is the kind of teammate players and coaches alike want in the locker room.

“He’s a confident athlete but not in an arrogant way,” Head Coach Jason Archbell said. “It’s a quiet confidence; he doesn’t take himself too seriously.”

“He goes around the locker room with this extra ‘oomph,’” Rosner explained. “A lot of guys look up to him for the hardworking individual he is and his high lacrosse IQ. He’s come into his role as a leader, regardless of grade or age.”

By “age,” Rosner meant Williamson’s status as a fifth year senior. He delayed his junior year because he did not like how his grades were turning out. After some consideration, he decided to pull an academic 180, changing his major from neuroscience to philosophy. 

“Neuroscience was a lot more number crunching than I expected it to be,” he said. “I was just getting more out of my philosophy classes.”

He spent his gap year taking philosophy classes at Northwestern and  working at an Apple Store. 

“I’m a huge closet nerd,” he said. “I built computers as a kid. I toyed with the [Computer Science] major but the labs were a bit of a turn-off. Now, I’m just the resident IT for the lacrosse team.” 

The year off worked to everyone’s benefit. Williamson got his first chance in front of the net his sophomore year when the team lost starter Jake McCampbell ’11 to injury. Though Williamson would have likely challenged McCampbell for his job the next season, the gap year allowed McCampbell to finish his career and Williamson to preserve a year of eligibility. 

It did have an impact on his mother, though; he said she still calls him to make sure he is planning on graduating.

“She’s not what I would call optimistic,” he joked.

Despite his reputation for odd humor and playing dub-step, Williamson is as serious as can be between the pipes. Slightly smaller than the average goalie at 6’1” and a lean 160 pounds, he has mastered the nuances of goaltending. He is known for adjusting his positioning in an attempt to goad opposing attackers into taking poor shots. Despite his role as a leader on and off the field, his crease is a private world where he focuses on nothing but his job.

“Yeah, I’m directing traffic a bit, but at the end of the day, my job is to stop the ball,” he said. “There are six other guys who can direct traffic.”

Stopping the ball is much more easily said than done, given the size of the net. Knowing that a shut-out is an impossible hope affects a goalkeeper’s mindset. 

“Your goals are relative,” Williamson said. “I try to save at least 50 percent of the shots coming at me. If a team shoots 15 times, that’s about seven goals. I know we can win if we only have to score more than seven.”

“Though I guess that can backfire,” he joked. “If you only see one shot in a quarter and it goes in… well, you haven’t met your expectations then, have you?”

The sports editor of the Orient  chooses the Athlete of the Week based on exemplary performance.