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A North Jersey lacrosse goalie is poised to break provincial records

WANAQUE – Tyler Acanfrio wants the records. But deep down he prefers the rings.

The sophomore from West Milford is on an historic pace with 513 saves in his short high school career. That number will increase Saturday when the Highlanders take on Wayne Valley in the Passaic County final with a chance to avenge last year’s championship loss.

Currently, Acanfrio is on track to break former DePaul star Collin Modelski’s (903) save record in North Jersey. Modelski’s single-season record (305) could also be in play if the Highlanders win a round or two in the state tournament this year.

Getting hit by a hard piece of rubber at high speed and high frequency is not for the faint of heart. Acanfrio says bring it.

As his hockey colleagues often say: a busy day at the office brings out the best.

“I actually agree with that,” Acanfrio said. “It keeps you moving. It keeps you warm. If you stand there the whole game, you’re not warm. You see a shot and it goes in.”

The youngest of three lacrosse-playing brothers, Acanfrio grew up with two shooters on call and a snapshot of life at the varsity level. So by the time he was called into action on Day 1 of his freshman year, the 6-foot-1 backstop was more than ready for this moment. Acanfrio led North Jersey in saves with 285 as a rookie and ranks first again this year with 228.

Another year in the program helped him develop a stronger bond with his defense and get sharper put-outs.

“The kid is incredible,” coach Gary Stoll said. “Having him is like a secret weapon because we can go into that zone and say, go ahead, shoot up. He’ll probably make it most of the time. He’s light on the outside and he’s only a sophomore, so we have to enjoy the players like him that come around every now and then.”

All season, the Highlanders (7-8) have relied on their defense to win low-scoring games and bolster a team that often shuffles players around in search of the optimal lineup.

While Acanfrio was a crucial piece with a .697 save percentage, he sees his comrades in the back as the key to his statistical success. Holding opponents to under seven per game is not a one-man feat, but a team effort with senior pole Matthew Watt and sophomores Pat Foley and Stephen Dellagicoma.

“The way my defense plays, the shots I get are outside shots,” Acanfrio said. “They’re playing great in the zone. I have to thank them all.”

Acanfrio started playing lacrosse in kindergarten and learned the skills of the trade from school record holder Kyle Little, who worked with him twice a week early on. It took some time to overcome the fear of the ball and the instinct to duck, but over time Acanfrio began to worry less about getting hit and more about team success.

His career began in high school when he opted to play year-round, sensing his potential in a role that can be so unforgiving.

“I actually picked it,” Acanfrio said. “Some people would say: why would you choose a goalkeeper? But I like it.”

Every veteran of the fold has some horror stories. For Acanfrio, it was an opportunity he made toward the end of his freshman season.

“There was one on my leg,” Acanfrio said, pointing to his left thigh. “It left a bruise and it was huge. It stayed there for about two weeks straight.”

Acanfrio will certainly leave a mark on the history of West Milford and beyond. But after saving 19 shots in the semifinals against Lakeland, avenging an overtime loss and getting a snap for his 500th save, today takes priority.

“(The milestones) are nice to have, but at the end of the day it’s how me and my team do it,” Acanfrio said. “Getting a win is a win. The provincial finals are what it’s all about.”