ILLINOIS WATER POLO
Tuesday - April 20, 2004
LICHT STANDS TALL IN GOAL
By Aaron Brown
Naperville, IL -- First impressions? Justin Licht knows all about them. Licht is 5-foot-8, 130 pounds and more than once other water polo coaches shook their heads at the diminutive goalie and said "but."
"I always heard, 'He's good but ... ' There's always a 'Yeah, but' to it," Licht told me a couple weeks ago after he recorded his his fourth victory in five games since the season began on March 8. "I heard it all the way through. I'd start for JV and then made varsity and it would be, 'Yeah, but that's about as far as he'll go. He's good, but he's still too small.' "
His first impression on the Huskies?
"You could say it was a little guy making a big impression," laughed Naperville North hole set Jon Rapchak.
"A really big impression," said two meter defender Andrew Fitch.
"Yeah, I've heard all the small jokes," Licht laughed. Beginning when he was cut from the basketball team in his hometown of Lombard.
"I was 13 and I was devastated when the coach told me, 'It doesn't matter how well you shoot -- you're too small,' " Licht recalled.
At 17, Licht recorded 260 saves and allowed only 94 goals over the course of the 2003 season. Not enough proof of his ability? His team had a record of 25-3, won two close games en route to the sectional championship game, and then defeated rival Naperville Central 14-8 to advance to the state tournament.
Licht didn't start until his junior season -- and even then it wasn't a certainty that he would last an entire season in goal. But Licht has made a career out of proving that size doesn't matter.
"When you're playing in goal, you take things more personally," he said. "You can sometimes see what people's impressions are of you when you go to play a team and the first thing they notice is your size."
Well spoken? You bet. And Licht is also one of those players who looks you square in the eyes when he talks to you, showing off the confidence he has in his abilities. Call it poise. Call it confidence. Call it experience. Whatever combination of intangibles Justin Licht brought to Naperville North, the Huskies think it's been contagious.
"Everyone talks about how a goalie can be a perfect fit for their team," Fitch says. "Well, for us, this really is."
Even with whispers that he was one of the better returning goalies this year, Licht says he was caught off guard by the news of his selection to our preseason all-state team.
"Someone sent me an instant message to tell me I was mentioned on this (www.illpolo.com) web site," said Licht. "I know we had a great season last year, but I wasn't expecting to be compared to some of best players in Illinois."
Aside from water polo, Licht enjoys watching movies like Super Troopers and Office Space and shows like The Sopranos and The Dave Chappelle Show. He also listens to music like Linkin Park and Kanye West.
It's clear that some people get caught up in talking about how players continue to get bigger and faster and become shortsighted when evaluating prospects less than 6-feet tall. Such is the case with Licht, who will play next year at the University of George Washington.
"Confidence is the biggest thing in being a goalie," says Licht. "When you don't have it, you play scared. If you go out there afraid to make a mistake, you're useless. For me, my attitude, my confidence, whatever you want to call it, it's who I am."
First impressions of Justin Licht? Those in this big-man's game who believe there's no place for someone under 6-feet, you've just been taught another little lesson in reality by Licht's state tournament appearance in 2003 and his team's 18-4 record so far this season.
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