Robbinsville High boys’ soccer goalie Walter Romanow makes a save Sept. 22, 2016 against Princeton. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)
Robbinsville High boys’ soccer goalie Walter Romanow makes a save Sept. 22, 2016 against Princeton. (Staff photo by Samantha Sciarrotta.)

Walter Romanow wants to receive first team all-Colonial Valley Conference honors this season. He said it’s a reasonable goal—one that he can reach. But early into his senior campaign, he’s proven his goal is within reach so long as he keeps stopping goals.

The 6-foot-4 Robbinsville High School goalkeeper has been a constant wall through September, having not surrendered a single goal through the Ravens’ first four games—all wins. Coming from a school lineage of all-conference keepers, Romanow had high expectations when he first took the varsity spot his junior year.

He also had high stakes, serving as an anchor for a talented 2015 squad that reached the state tournament quarterfinals. In that game, against Bernards, the score was tied 2-2 at the end of regulation. They went to penalty kicks.

“He played unbelievable with the saves he made, then he made two saves in PK’s,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “We ended up losing in sudden-death PK’s, but obviously not because of him.”

Like the rest of the team, Romanow still took the loss hard.

“There’s always something that no one else sees, that you know you can improve on,” Romanow said. “With those seniors, they were leaving such a big part of our team behind. It was a big wake-up.”

Romanow took to training both physically and mentally in the offseason. Fisher said he became a regular during optional workouts, and trained with a collegiate goalie while also playing on a club team. As a player with a propensity to ask for feedback, Romanow got stronger and limited his weaknesses. When asked where he could improve still, Fisher paused before saying, “Last year, coming into his junior year, I would have had more to say.”

But self-criticism is double-edged, especially for athletes in isolated positions, like goalkeeper. Romanow had to teach himself to let mistakes go, and gained confidence from his offseason work.

“Coach told me, ‘Mistakes are not going to determine who you are,’” Romanow said. “And with just being able to watch myself improve, I saw some mistakes I was able to change immediately. That was really cool for me because it was a different approach to take.”

There were also some nuances to the position that Romanow was still learning. For a talented goalkeeper, he’s not steeped in experience. When he and his twin brother, Zach, first started playing in youth recreation leagues as children, Romanow played everywhere expect in goal. It wasn’t until middle school, when his team didn’t have a goalkeeper, that he first tried it. The same positional problem came up again his freshman year, and the already 6-foot Romanow was considered the solution.

“I’ve learned to like it a lot more,” Romanow said. “When I first started playing, I didn’t really understand it at all. There’s so much more that goes into being a goalie that people don’t understand until you do it yourself.”

One of those things is being a communicative leader—with the rest of the pitch’s 21 players in front of him, Romanow must direct teammates and help keep them aware. It took the laid-back Romanow some time to begin commanding and shouting at his team, but everything started clicking once he did.

“To be honest, we’ve been playing pretty good defense in front of him, but when he’s had to make those couple saves a game, he has,” Fisher said. “Any play in the box, he just eats it up, because he’s so big.”

Zach—a center midfielder just an inch shorter than his twin—has the benefit of practicing against the biggest goalie he’ll see this season, but never having to actually play against him. Zach said his brother is a traditional goalie, calm in the box and with enough size and athleticism to snuff out crosses. He has a good enough leg to clear the ball from one goal to the other, Zach said, and can jump higher than anyone on the field.

What should scare opponents is that Romanow may not even be done growing. Due to birth date cutoffs in local school systems, the Romanow twins are 16-year old seniors. Though they won’t have their licenses until October, they’re fielding consideration from college coaches in all three NCAA divisions. The brothers have been teammates for the past decade, and are considering going to the same school.

“We’re close,” Romanow said. “We spend almost all of our time together. It’s a cool experience, getting to play with him, and to get to see each other get better.”

But before college, there’s goals left to reach. The Ravens want to hang another banner in their gymnasium with a conference title this season. After last season’s loss, Romanow was sure the team could replace the talent they were losing, but he wasn’t sure how. He’s learned this season that it’s through chemistry.

“We’re feeling really good,” Romanow said. “It’s not that we didn’t expect to do well. I just didn’t expect us to come out with this kind of a start.”

It helps when the other team can’t score.

“It’s nice to have a guy between the posts that you know you can trust,” Fisher said.