How May 2019 Turned Owen McElroy Into One of the Nation's Best

For the past two seasons, goalkeeper Owen McElroy has been the calm, consistent, superb foundation of arguably the stingiest defense in Division I lacrosse.

And No. 2 seed Georgetown’s fifth-year senior goalie, who will lead the Hoyas (15-1) into their fourth straight NCAA tournament Sunday against visiting Delaware, can look back at his collegiate journey with deep appreciation of some early days he once wanted to forget.

McElroy, now a two-time USA Lacrosse Magazine first-team All-American, spent his freshman season planted third on Georgetown’s goalie depth chart, well behind All-American senior Nick Marrocco.

Marrocco played a huge role in a program-turning season under head coach Kevin Warne, now in his 10th year running the Hoyas. In 2018, for the first time in 11 years, Georgetown won the Big East tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament. The Hoyas finished 12-5 following a first-round, overtime loss at Johns Hopkins.

McElroy, who had come off of two fine seasons as a starter at New England’s elite Avon (Conn.) Old Farms, spent the 2017-18 year settling into the demanding, student-athlete experience at a highly challenging school. The adjustment between the pipes to the Division I game, with its speed, complexity and exceptional shooters, was daunting at times. 

As a sophomore in 2019, McElroy earned the honor of replacing Marrocco — now a four-year professional veteran who plays for the Premier Lacrosse League’s Cannons LC in Boston.

Overall, McElroy had a solid first year as a starter. He went 10-6, recorded at least 15 saves in five games and allowed 11.6 goals per game with a .517 save percentage. But after an uneven first half in a Big East tournament semifinal against Providence, McElroy was benched.

With freshman Chris Brandau in goal, the Hoyas edged Providence, knocked off Denver to win their second straight conference tournament, then went down against Yale in the NCAA tournament.

McElroy digested that humbling month of May and clearly responded. Since the fall of 2019 and the Hoyas’ COVID-shortened, 6-0 showing in the spring of 2020, there has been zero doubt regarding the top of the goalie depth chart. 

“I’ve had my ups and downs. It was a tough fall [in 2017 as a freshman],” McElroy recalls. “I had played in a really good league in New England. But I didn’t realize how high the level was going to be in college.

“I’m grateful for what I learned from Nick and [former No. 2 goalie] Jack Stephenson. They’re two of my best friends,” he adds. “Some guys get thrown into the goal as freshman and they are ready to go. I was not one of those guys.”

“Learning the college game and learning to lead a defense [as a goalie] at that level is very difficult. I went through the same adjustment as a freshman,” says Marrocco, who mentored the younger McElroy throughout the 2017-18 school year and keeps in touch with him. “When Owen was a freshman, I could see this kid being a stud eventually. He had all of the skills to become a dominant goalie. I was pumped to see him start to dominate.

“He’s a freaky athlete with very quick hands. He likes to play outside the goal, is really good in the clearing game. He sees the field well. He’s got a natural swagger, but he keeps his cool. Great body language, doesn’t get fazed by much. Once things started to click for him, he was off to the races. I would have been very mad at him if he didn’t capitalize on the skills he had.”

“There isn’t one person I’ve seen grow on and off the field as much as I’ve seen Owen McElroy grow.”

— David Shriver

The hardware and numbers speak to the ways McElroy has elevated and refined his game. By unanimous votes, he has earned back-to-back Big East Goalkeeper of the Year Honors. He appears to be a lock for more honors across the board.

“In the years I’ve been coaching, there isn’t one person I’ve seen grow on and off the field as much as I’ve seen Owen McElroy grow,” says Hoyas goalie coach David Shriver.

Last year, when the Hoyas went 11-1 in Big East play with a truncated regular-season schedule and wound up 13-3 overall after losing to eventual NCAA champ Virginia in the quarterfinals, McElroy led the NCAA in goals-against average (8.30) and was fifth in save percentage (.583). The Hoyas led the nation in scoring defense and held 10 opponents to single-digits, all victories.

The normalized 2022 schedule produced early, impressive non-conference wins over Penn and Notre Dame. The Hoyas’ 16-11 victory over the Irish was marked by a dazzling 24-save effort from McElroy that matched his career high against Providence in 2021.

It was clear by midseason that the Hoyas were equipped with a productive and dangerous offense, which enters the NCAA tournament averaging 15.4 goals, fifth-best in Division I. The identity of the Hoyas, however, still starts with a defense that is the sturdiest of the Warne era. The Hoyas combine good size, skill, spacing and the right tempo. And a goalie who communicates well from the cage and does a masterful job protecting it.

“Our unit is so well-connected. We’ve all got each other’s backs,” says McElroy, who helped Georgetown nail down its fourth straight Big East title by making a combined 28 saves in victories over Marquette and Villanova. “I probably have seen fewer tough shots than a lot of goalies have seen because our defense is just so good. They give me lots of shots I like to see.”

The defense is led in part by close defensemen/graduate students Gibson Smith and Will Bowen, the Big East Defensive Player of the Year and transfer from North Carolina, respectively. Smith has started for the Hoyas since 2018. It includes an excellent rope unit, led by senior LSM Alex Mazzone and senior SSDM Zachary Geddes, who was chosen by Chaos LC in the first round (eighth pick overall) of the PLL College Draft on Tuesday.

But the unit, tops in the NCAA having allowed 8.06 goals per game, is ultimately led by McElroy, the fourth-round pick (25th choice overall) of Chrome LC. He ranks second nationally with a save percentage of .623.

On a defense that bottles up opposing offenses with great footwork, stick work, smooth switches and well-timed slides, McElroy’s direction and dependability loom large.

“I’ve played with goalies in the past who were really good, but were up and down, streaky. Owen is so consistent, in practices and on game days,” Bowen says. “He’s a fierce competitor. He’s the eyes in the back of our heads. His demeanor is so contained. Whether a good or bad thing happens, he stays the same. And we do put him in a lot of spots where he has to make a ridiculous play to bail us out. Quarter to quarter, game to game, he steals goals.”

“[McElroy] settles down a huddle,” Smith adds. “I think the way he never gets too emotional really helps our game and helps us relax. It’s hard to repeat the kind of unbelievable year he had last year and not let your ego get you. But Owen found a way to be super-consistent.”

McElroy, who missed three games in April with a hand injury, has almost without fail recorded more saves than goals allowed and has only failed to save at least 60 percent of shots faced in three of his 13 games. He has averaged 12.2 saves in 2022. 

In Georgetown’s only loss, a 10-8 decision to Princeton on March 5, McElroy recorded 16 stops.

The Hoyas have since reeled off 11 consecutive wins and already have achieved a program record with 15 victories. Their goal is simple. Get back to the Final Four for only the second time in school history and win the school’s first NCAA crown.

When Georgetown made its only Memorial Day weekend appearance in 1999, McElroy, 23, was eight months old.  


By the time he was in middle school, McElroy had played attack, midfield, defense and goalie while growing up in Ridgewood, N.J.

His father, John McElroy, played midfield at Georgetown, from where graduated in 1988. John McElroy was the Hoyas’ MVP in 1986. The McElroys are believed to be the second father-son duo, and certainly the most accomplished, in the program’s 52-year varsity history.

John McElroy says his son had natural athletic ability that showed on the baseball field, the basketball court, the wrestling mat and of course, the lacrosse field. John coached his son through years of youth sports.

Owen remembers first picking up a goalie stick to try his hand during a summer youth tournament around seventh grade.

“I found out I was pretty good at it, and I liked it,” McElroy recalls. “By the time I was playing goalie in the summer after eighth grade, I realized [with Dad’s input] this might be how I make it to college and maybe play at Georgetown, which was my dream. I think playing all of those positions gave me a better understanding of the game, like how to read shooters.”

“Owen is a real good athlete with great hands and hand-eye coordination, and he never really liked to run. So playing in the goal was a good fit,” John McElroy says. “You’ve got to have a little crazy, nut job in you to play that position. He was a shy, tough, even-keel kid.”

McElroy committed to goalie full-time as a freshman and played for two years at Ridgewood High before his parents decided Avon Old Farms would be an ideal switch. Owen, who attended Avon for three years, says, “My grades weren’t in the right place [before the move]. My lacrosse career wasn’t, either.”

By his second year at Avon, McElroy was being lightly recruited and was invited to visit his father’s alma mater. Warne made him an offer in the middle of his junior year.

Warne thinks back to that unpleasant learning experience that greeted McElroy as a freshman, and that decision to bench his starting sophomore in that Big East semifinal. And the way it all worked out.

“We still joke about [the benching],” Warne says. “Owen came here with really good ability to save the ball, but he had to be open to rebuilding other parts of his game, just like any young goalie at this level. He’s extremely coachable. He wants to be great.

“His whole process, his journey, the way he has taken control of a defense and commanded his position, has been awesome to see. He makes our defense go, keeps us playing fast. He’s learned from his experiences and he’s made himself into who I think is the best goalie in the country.”