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Boston College goalie Shea Dolce sits unfazed by the fandom before the NCAA championship game at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. Dolce's kick save in the waning seconds helped preserve BC's 14-13 comeback win over Northwestern.

La Dolce Vita: The Story Behind the Save of the Century

June 19, 2024
Kenny DeJohn
Joe Sullivan/BC Athletics

Pictures might be worth a thousand words, but two words sum up the photograph of Shea Dolce that made the rounds on social media before, during and after Boston College’s astounding come-from-behind win over Northwestern in the NCAA championship game.

Locked in.

In the photo, Dolce meditates alone on an aluminum bench at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, North Carolina. The crowd behind her, saturated by the highlighter yellow t-shirts that have become BC fandom’s staple, screams for her attention.

Dolce sits unaffected, unmoved as her shiny golden helmet stares down at the grass. She does this before every game. Joe Sullivan, a member of Boston College’s creative team, just happened to capture it before the biggest contest of Dolce’s career against the team that embarrassed the Eagles in the 2023 title game.

“That’s a time for me to relax, take a deep breath,” Dolce said. “That’s my time of reflection. I was reflecting on where we were. I was playing in the national championship game against Northwestern. It’s a moment of gratitude, grounding myself in the moment.”

Ironically, another Boston College goalie is clearly present in the now-famous photo. Rachel Hall, the Eagles’ 2021 championship goalie, peers over Dolce’s left shoulder holding a sign that says, “Time. Room. Save.”

A metaphor if ever there was one.

It was Hall whom Dolce replaced as a freshman in 2023, taking over for the veteran netminder and starting the final 16 games of the season. Hall wasn’t bitter. Instead, she helped the Darien, Connecticut, product adjust to the college game.

“Having her in my corner last year was unbelievable. She had experience I didn’t have,” Dolce said. “It was so full circle.”

Dolce was a key reason why Boston College advanced to the national championship game a year ago, coming up clutch in the NCAA semifinals against Syracuse.

There was nothing anybody could do to stop Northwestern, though, as the Wildcats trounced the Eagles 18-6. That did not sit well with Dolce.

“That was a pretty horrible national championship experience for a freshman goalie,” coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein said. “We all vowed that we were never going to let something like that happen again.”

Sequence of Shea Dolce's last-minute leaping kick save on Northwestern's Dylan Amonte in the NCAA women's lacrosse championship game in Cary, N.C.
Sequence of Shea Dolce's last-minute leaping kick save on Northwestern's Dylan Amonte in the NCAA women's lacrosse championship game in Cary, N.C.
Joe Sullivan/BC Athletics

Ominous memories resurfaced when Northwestern stormed out to a 6-0 lead in the rematch this year. Callahan Kent could tell something was off. The Boston College goalie coach and daughter of defensive coordinator Jen Kent, Callahan Kent has built a special bond with Dolce. A former goalie herself at Vanderbilt, Kent is just like her protégé. Preparation and routine are their tenets to success. Nobody on the team watches more film than Dolce, who struggled to even estimate just how much tape she consumes.

“When I know the team I’m going to face, I’m going to watch hours of film on them,” she said. “I watch film every single day. It’s a lot of time.”

Then there’s the pregame routine. Kent can tell what type of game Dolce is going to have based on the vibes in the warmup. An outsider might call it more of a workout than a warmup, though. Whereas Kent estimates most goalies — herself included when she was at Vandy — need maybe 10-15 shots to get ready, Dolce requires 60-70.

“She’s always wanting more,” Kent said.

Dolce warms up earlier than the rest of the team, with Kit Arrix, Mallory Hasselbeck, Kent and offensive coordinator Sam Apuzzo dedicating significant time to peppering their goalie with every look imaginable.

“Sam Apuzzo is shooting on me in warmups, and she’s breaking a sweat,” Dolce said. “It’s very different, but I love being as confident as I can. The more shots I see, the more confident I feel. I don’t see doing it any other way. I can’t see any other way.”

Then comes her time on the bench. That isolated moment of mentally getting right. Afterward, she’ll complete warmups with the team before the opening draw.

Because Kent is so keenly aware of Dolce’s emotions, she took her goalie aside after the first quarter, one in which Northwestern blitzed the BC defense. They talked about the things they’ve focused on all season, like keeping her hands up and stepping out on shooters to cut off angles when the ball is fed inside.

But even with pristine technique, there’s an immeasurable component to goalkeeping — momentum. All Dolce needed was a save or two to get going. She can remember the exact one that shook off the yips.

“It was the second quarter, my save on Madison Taylor center-high,” she said. “She had gotten the hanging hash, and she got fouled and put on the center hash. I was searching for that one save to get my momentum. I saved it, and my momentum brought me out of the crease. I cleared it out and it ended up leading to a goal. I was very fired up after that one.”

To call it smooth sailing from there would imply things were easy. They weren’t. But Dolce and the BC defense did a complete 180 and certainly made it look that way.

That confidence Dolce likes to build up in warmups? It was finally evident in the game’s middle two quarters before making way for the flow state. Read, react, save. No more thinking, even for someone as cerebral as Dolce.

In the fourth quarter, with Boston College ahead 13-12 but in the throes of a seesaw battle for control, Dolce saved an Izzy Scane rocket and popped out of the crease with her eyes up the field. From Dolce to Cassidy Weeks to Rachel Clark to Mckenna Davis, it was a transition masterclass. Davis’ dunk on the doorstep gave Boston College a two-goal lead.

“I had just saved Izzy Scane’s shot, and I was not going to let her touch the ball again," Dolce said. "I caught the ball out of the air, and I just kept running. And Cassidy Weeks, if there’s anybody streaking down the field as I’m clearing the ball, it’s her I’m looking for. I celebrated like crazy on that. It was ‘the play.’ The sequence was beautiful. That one felt the best.”

It’s not the play everyone remembers, however. Rather, it’s the save. As in The Save. ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich, a former four-time All-American goalie, called it the best save he’s ever seen considering the magnitude of the moment.

Erin Coykendall planted her left foot on the left-most hash of the eight-meter arc, her stick cocked back in a shooting position with 29.3 seconds left and Northwestern trailing 14-13.

On the whistle, Dylan Amonte cut behind defender Sydney Scales, who fixed her gaze squarely on Coykendall.

Coykendall quickly darted her eyes right to shift the defense before delivering an on-the-mark feed to the streaking Amonte, who faked high and aimed for the bottom-right corner. Dolce, who left her feet after biting on the fake, stuck out her left leg. The ball ricocheted off her foot.

"That’s purely reaction and the muscle memory I’ve built up with Callahan,” Dolce said. “What really saved me is my foot. It’s so crazy to look back at. I think about things I could have done differently in that situation, but it just comes back to reaction.”

Dolce walked away from championship weekend with an NCAA title, a must-frame photo and a left cleat that Boston College people joked about preserving in a glass case.

“Maybe I’ll hold on to that pair,” she said.

A memento that might not have been possible without the fuel she gained by losing last year’s championship game. Walker-Weinstein won’t glorify losing — BC improved to 2-5 in NCAA finals —  but she reiterated a point made during the post-championship game press conference.

The Eagles’ 18-6 loss a year ago made them ready for Northwestern this time around.

“What’s important is that when things go wrong, you don’t bail on each other,” she said. “You don’t bail on the people you’ve grown with. You don’t bail on the gameplan because the gameplan is a product of 12 months of work. You don’t bail on yourself if you’re part of those mistakes. You have to find a way to play until there’s double zeroes.”

Or double eights.

Shea Dolce in the huddle during the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic
A member of the U.S. Women's U20 Training Team, Shea Dolce has her sights set on Hong Kong. Thirty-two players are vying for 22 spots on the travel roster for the upcoming world championship.
Riley Rumbley/USA Lacrosse

No Hard Feelings

Shea Baker and Madison Taylor shared a brief hug in the handshake line following Boston College’s 14-13 comeback win over Northwestern in the NCAA women’s lacrosse championship game.

After matching up head-to-head for the final three quarters of the title game, it was a gesture of respect. Of congratulations and of empathy.

And of recognition that the two would be working toward the same goal in a few short weeks.

Baker, the BC defender, and Taylor, the Northwestern attacker, play together for the 2024 U.S. Women’s U20 Training Team. They are among the 32 players, including 12 from the NCAA finalists, competing this week in a training camp at USA Lacrosse headquarters

Twenty-two will be chosen to represent the United States in the World Lacrosse Women’s U20 Championship in Hong Kong, China in August. The final tryout comes only three weeks after the NCAA final.

“We’re glad to have each other and have the opportunity to be on the same team,” Taylor said. “Why this is so cool is because everyone gets to be on the same team and we probably would have never played with each before that, or even known each other.”

Baker and Taylor got plenty familiar with each other in the national title game. After Taylor scored twice to help Northwestern jump out to the 6-0 lead, the Eagles changed up their defensive matchups and put Baker on her.

“I’ve always looked up to Maddy,” Baker said of the Tewaaraton Award finalist. “She’s crushing it. And to go from matching up with her in the biggest game of our lives and then having her on my team and learning more about her as a player and as a person is amazing. I remember meeting her at the first training camp, and I was like, ‘She’s so cool.’ It’s awesome to have her on my side of the coin on the U.S. in the red, white and blue.”

For the other Shea, this week marks her return to the field for the first time since making the save of the century. Dolce is one of three goalies at USA camp. Two are likely to be chosen for Hong Kong.

“I play against all these girls all year, so having the chance to come together and play with them again, it’s something that I’ve been looking forward to all season,” Dolce said. “It’s just a cool experience coming off this high. It couldn’t get any better than this.”

— Justin Feil