A product of nearby Catonsville High School, Ruppel grew up a Maryland fan and is the starting goalie for the Terps as a freshman.

Three Saves in Seven Seconds: When Brian Ruppel Entered Maryland Lacrosse Lore

BRIAN RUPPEL’S RECRUITING JOURNEY started on a faded patch of turf outside the Coppermine Fieldhouse in northwest Baltimore. No one was allowed inside there — or anywhere, really. Schools were closed and the high school lacrosse season was canceled.

Uncertain what the future held in the early days of the pandemic, Ruppel, then a sophomore at Catonsville High School, joined an elite and somewhat secretive group of goalie prospects for socially distanced training sessions with Goaliesmith, a startup company that had cultivated an impressive roster of clients and coaches across the country.

They called it the Grit Pit, a no-frills part of the property illuminated by three flood lights affixed to the brick exterior of the vacant building and surrounded by protective netting.

“It was a beat-up piece of turf with a crappy backstop. Blue collar. We kept it under wraps,” Goaliesmith co-founder Andrew Gvozden said. “We had these small, incubated sessions where the best talent in Maryland and shooters would go to battle.”

Gvozden, 32, started Goaliesmith in 2016 with his brother, Mike, when they both lived in California. What started with a crop of youth and high school athletes in the Bay Area and Los Angeles grew into a nationwide tour working with more than 1,000 goalies in 19 cities.

Both former Division I goalies, the Gvozdens modeled Goaliesmith after the high-intensity, maximum-repetition workouts they did with goalie whisperer Mike Bellotte, who coached the brothers at Severna Park (Md.).

Gvozden described it as “CrossFit meets goaltending,” a rapid-fire 90-minute training session with built-in benchmarks for goalies who compete against each other.

“I want to see rubber. I want to get pressure and compete against these other nerds in the cage. I want to show my skills off,” said Andrew Gvozden, who was a four-year starter at Hofstra. “The balls are flying. The music is turned up. The atmosphere is loud. We want goalies going in to say, ‘Holy [crap], what’s going on?’ That’s the pressure of an overtime game.”

“I’ve been in the sport now for 20-something years and I’ve never seen anything like that.”

— Logan Wisnauskas

SOUNDS A LOT LIKE THE ENVIRONMENT SATURDAY in Charlottesville, where Ruppel, a freshman goalie thrust into the starting role for defending NCAA champion Maryland this season, made three acrobatic saves in seven seconds of sheer chaos.

Virginia had scored twice in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime and had three chances to win the game and send the crowd of 5,745 fans into a frenzy.

After Maryland coughed up possession coming out of a timeout, Ruppel hit the deck to stop a 15-yard bullet from Evan Zinn.

“I saw the first shot,” Ruppel said. “We tried to clear it and then I saw him come back down again.”

Defenseman Brett Makar caught the rebound and tried to clear the ball with a backhanded shovel. But Thomas McConvey intercepted the pass, got to about 10 yards out and fired an overhand shot that Ruppel deflected with his stick again as he fell to the ground.

“I tried to make the save as best as possible,” Ruppel said. “Luckily I was able to get there and get a piece of it.”

Zinn collected the ball on the doorstep and attempted to stuff it inside the near pipe, only for Ruppel to dive across the crease and deny the goal with both his stick and outstretched leg.

“Whatever it hit, I was just glad I was there,” Ruppel said. “Right place, right time.”

Daniel Kelly buried a time-and-room shot on the other end, securing a 14-13 victory and Ruppel’s place in Maryland lacrosse lore.

“I’ve been in the sport now for 20-something years and I’ve never seen anything like that crazy sequence,” said Logan Wisnauskas, the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner out of Maryland and current assistant coach at High Point. He watched the game during the Panthers’ bus ride back to North Carolina after playing at Georgetown. “That was truly remarkable.”

TERPS FANS WON’T SOON FORGET what the kid from Catonsville pulled off at Klöckner Stadium.

Just like Ruppel, the lifelong Maryland fan who slept in a room with a wall painted red, never forgot the leaping cross-body save Kyle Bernlohr made on North Carolina’s Chris Cloutier in overtime of the 2016 NCAA championship game.

“Wearing Maryland across your chest has always been a dream of mine since I was a kid,” he said.

Ruppel (pronounced ROOP-el) has that opportunity in large part due to Wisnauskas, who was there with him in the Grit Pit three years ago. The Gvozdens enlisted Wisnauskas and his former Boys’ Latin teammates Matt Brandau (Yale) and Greg Ey (Towson) to shoot on a group of Baltimore-area goalies who were preparing for summer tournaments.

Ruppel was the only public-school kid in a rotation that included Loyola Blakefield’s Jack Webb (Johns Hopkins), St. Mary’s Wes Schmidt (Maryland), Boys’ Latin’s Cardin Stoller (Rutgers), McDonogh’s Anthony Wilson (Villanova), Gilman’s Kyle Morris (Virginia) and St. Paul’s Max Watkinson (Loyola). None of them had yet committed to colleges.

Wisnauskas noticed Ruppel’s work ethic and encouraged Maryland coach John Tillman to evaluate him with the Maryland Roughriders club team that summer. A three-sport athlete at Catonsville, Ruppel played midfield for the Comets as a freshman, scoring 25 goals. But he kept his goalie skills sharp and became a two-time Kelly Award winner as the top player in the state for his division.

“He’d show up to every session wanting to get better, wanting to see more shots against all the shooters Andrew and Mike were bringing in,” Wisnauskas said. “That’s what Terps do.”

Gvozden also vouched for Ruppel, explaining to Tillman that he possessed the same unflappable demeanor as Logan McNaney, then a freshman starter at Maryland. Coupled with his impeccable mechanics and patience — like a sea floor predator that lay still before pouncing on its prey — Ruppel had all the makings of a can’t-miss prospect. Inside Lacrosse confirmed as much when it gave him a five-star rating in the summer of 2020.

Ruppel was one of nine goalies in the graduating class of 2022 to receive four- or five-star ratings, “a generational goalie class,” according to Ty Xanders.

“I think we’re in a goalie renaissance right now,” Gvozden said.

Shortly after midnight Sept. 1, Tillman used FaceTime to contact Ruppel. He also received interest from Duke, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State and Villanova. Less than a week later, Ruppel committed to Maryland.

He received a text from Tillman the next morning.

“You woke up a Terp today.”


Brian Ruppel (372) trained with Goaliesmith alongside fellow Division I prospects (from left) Wes Schmidt, Cardin Stoller, Kyle Morris, Jack Webb and Max Watkinson.

TILLMAN PLANNED TO REDSHIRT RUPPEL this season. Maryland already had the reigning NCAA championship MVP in McNaney and a capable backup in Binghamton transfer Teddy Dolan.

But after McNaney tore his ACL in the Terps’ 12-7 loss at Loyola and Dolan was only so-so in a 15-12 win over Syracuse, Tillman turned to the freshman for a final four rematch at Princeton on Feb. 25. Dolan was the first to congratulate him.

“He gave me a hug and said, ‘You got it. You’re ready,’” Ruppel said. “That was a special moment.”

Ruppel made 14 saves — the most by a freshman goalie making his first career start for Maryland since Hall of Famer Brian Dougherty turned away 23 shots in 1993 — and allowed just five goals in an 11-5 victory over the Tigers.

The next week, Ruppel made three less-spectacular, but just-as-clutch saves in overtime against Notre Dame. Even though Maryland lost 13-12 on Pat Kavanagh’s triple-OT winner, it was a harbinger of things to come.

In four starts, Ruppel is allowing fewer than 10 goals per game and boasts a save percentage (57 percent) that ranks ninth nationally.

“It all starts with the defense,” said Ruppel, who backstops a unit that includes a pair of All-Americans in Brett Makar and Ajax Zappitello. “You can be as good a goalie as you want, but you have to have a good defense in front of you. Have trust in those guys and have those guys trust you.”

In Ruppel they trust.