Few players find themselves in the position that junior goalie iles Kass did in 2004.

In his senior year of high school, Kass was considered one of the nation’s top goaltenders and among the country’s elite prized recruits.

It was no surprise, then, that upon arriving on the Hilltop, Kass was immediately given time on the field, coming off the bench in five games and starting once against Mount St. Mary’s. But Kass was still playing in the shadow of then-sophomore Rich D’Andrea (COL ’06), who saw most of the time in goal and put up numbers that kept him near the top of ECAC net-keepers.

That was until his sophomore year, when the athleticism and talent that had made Kass such a coveted recruit became evident and he earned a starting spot ahead of D’Andrea.

Kass quickly found himself leading the Hoyas to a 7-3 record in his first 10 starts in 2006. Although his statistics in the net showed that he was still developing, Kass proved to be a solid player for Head Coach David Urick and was expected to mature into an elite stopper. But a wrenching knee injury stunted his on-field growth and caused him to miss two games. Kass returned to the field soon thereafter, but thanks to a wobbly knee joint and shaky confidence, he was forced to split time for the rest of the year with D’Andrea.

D’Andrea dutifully stepped back into the spotlight during Kass’ absence, starting the final five games of the season and clocking 322 minutes in the crease. D’Andrea was not exactly a step down either – he allowed one goal fewer per game than Kass did on average and helped Georgetown to a 5-0 record during his time in goal.

The team’s ability to recover after losing its star keeper did not surprise Kass, who sees himself as just one cog in the defensive machine. With little coaching turnover in recent history and the father-son duo of Urick and his son, Scott (COL ’00), an assistant coach, players know the game plan.

“Consistency has been a big part,” Kass says. “We haven’t had to alter much year to year, so it’s easy for younger guys to pick up what older guys have done or if a guy goes down.”

This spring, the Rye, N.Y. native embarks on a quest to reassert himself as the valuable asset he proved to be last season while leading his teammates as an upperclassman.

“It’s good in terms of feeling more able to be a leader on the team,” Kass says. “I definitely enjoy being more in a leadership position. It’s challenging on a daily basis in a fun way to redress all the issues and try and sort out what are the things that we’re not doing well that inhibit us from getting where we want to get to.”

With his knee in a brace and his eyes trained on the field, Kass found an appreciation for the particulars of his coach’s defensive stategy during his time watching from the sidelines.

“I very much like the type of defensive philosophy that coach has,” Kass says. “Sometimes it’s tough to say what makes a defense do things the right way. It’s a culmination of a bunch of little things and maybe a little luck helps, too.”

As an upperclassman, Kass is particularly focused on addressing the problems that have kept the NCAA title out of Georgetown’s reach in the past. While the team’s glaring errors are simpler to correct, it’s the minor mistakes, hard to pinpoint and harder to correct, that combine to cost the team dearly.

“I think we’ve improved upon a couple of things that maybe we’ve lacked the last couple of years,” Kass says. “That’s when you get down to the small things that you’re not doing to the best of your ability. And then a lot of small things are going to add up.”

One small slice of team life that could prove momentous for a long run is the camaraderie among team members. How long that run is, however, will be determined not only by fundamentals but through familiarity with one another.

“I think we have the team unity this year that we haven’t had in the past,” Kass says. “Teaching each other and learning each other’s patterns of behavior moves us in the right direction. Our bond’s pretty strong this year.”

Where past teams have seen fissures develop in communication, Kass believes this year’s upperclassmen have made a point of building bridges.

“One of the things we as a whole have done better is communicate issues and deal with them and how they relate to the goal rather than maybe have one or two guys alone acting isolated from the team,” Kass says.

When the first shot of the season heads towards Kass in the season-opener against Maryland on Feb. 24, he will have less than one second to adjust – left or right, high or low, off the ricochet or down the middle.

Kass will be called upon to step in front of the rubber sphere hurtling towards him at close to 90mph, and like any keeper, Kass knows shots will get by him. But he is also aware that in his defense, he has a supporting cast that will do all it can to protect him.

“The equilibrium of our group of guys enables me to get into a comfort zone with them and them with me on defense,” he says.

Finding the consistent rhythm that comes with an entire season on the field will be a new experience for Kass after two years of staccato playing time. Now that two groups of underclassmen and a senior class look to him as an example and a shot stopper, Kass has evolved into a leader who will stand prominently on the field’s center stage.

“The nature of the position is to put a lot of pressure on yourself,” Kass says.

As a heralded golden boy recruit picked as the latest in a long line of great Georgetown goalies, Kass has already had every lofty expectation heaped upon him, But due to pesky injuries, he has not yet had the opportunity to show he can shoulder the weight. Armed with a force field defense and a clean bill of health, the time has come for Kass to come alive.

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