- - Friday, May 18, 2012

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — For three years, goaltender Rob Fortunato sat on the bench during Virginia lacrosse games with little hope of seeing the field.

He found himself stuck behind one of the nation’s best, Adam Ghitelman.

Fortunato had options. In NCAA lacrosse, transfers can play at their new school without having to sit out a year. Other programs weren’t allowed to contact him directly, but let it be known through back channels that there was playing time available.

Even Fortunato’s coach, Dom Starsia, gave him a pep talk that didn’t focus on the lacrosse side of things.

“I’m a firm believer that good things happen to good people, but that might not include being in the starting lineup for a Virginia lacrosse game,” Starsia said. “Good things were going to happen for Rob Fortunato whether or not this season worked out the way it has.”

The goalie has been rewarded with on-field success in his senior season, putting up numbers that rank him among the nation’s best as he leads the Wahoos into the NCAA quarterfinals on Sunday.

“I knew Rob was a talented goalie,” defender Matt Lovejoy said. “But I don’t think you could ever anticipate a goalie playing as well as he has, especially one that hasn’t played before.”

Fortunato’s goals-allowed average of 8.25 per game is even with Ghitelman’s 2010 season, and slightly better than his 2011 work. Fortunato has also maintained a better save percentage than his predecessor, turning aside 57.8 percent of shots, seventh in the country.

Fortunato’s success has been key to a defense-first mentality that has led U.Va. to this point. The ‘Hoos won their first-round game 6-5 last week, the fewest goals they’d scored in a tournament victory.

Asked if he ever thought about leaving the program, Fortunato was quick to reply that he did not.

“At the risk of seeming dramatic, it was always about how I was going to conduct myself — really for the rest of my life,” he said. “I could have easily given up and quit, but when the going gets tough, you’ve got to beat it down. For me, it was about how to keep pushing myself, pushing the shooters, and helping Adam get better.

“And I couldn’t have asked for any more this year.”

The New Jersey native will be close to home Sunday when he faces Notre Dame in Chester, Pa., just outside of Philadelphia.

For Starsia, these final weeks represent a strong finish that was never guaranteed for Fortunato, but one that the coaches and players were rooting for.

“His picture is under the definition of ‘seize the moment,’” Starsia said. “It’s a great story for our young players.”

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