It was at the halfway mark of the 2018 season that Liam May’s varsity soccer career kicked into high gear, whether he was ready for it or not.
Starting goalie Carmen Zangrilli suffered a season-ending injury in game 11, against Notre Dame, and May was called on to finish out the season.
He was ready.
The keeper allowed just 10 goals while making 95 saves in helping the Bulldogs to an 11-10-1 record and the second round of the Central Jersey Group III tournament. He excelled in the season’s biggest contests. In a first-round state win over Allentown, decided by penalty kicks, he recorded a shutout with 16 saves. Prior to that, May allowed three goals and made 21 saves in three games as HoVal reached the Mercer County Tournament semifinals.
If he felt pressure, May never showed it.
“Nothing really seems to affect him,” coach Ed Gola said. “He’s not emotional. He’s very solid. He just went out there and made saves. He has a very calm demeanor back there, I think that helped him out.”
Hopewell will need that savvy from May as he enters his senior season.
“We’ve got a lot good youth but it’s gonna take a little time to come together,” Gola said. “So it’s very reassuring that Liam is back there.”
May is looking forward to the challenge but is also quick to point out that several of his teammates also picked up valuable time last season.
“I may have to step up in a leadership position,” he said. “But a lot of the guys here, although they’re young, they got a lot of experience last year. They’re comfortable playing with each other, they’ve been playing with each other a long time, they’ve got good skills. As long as we can work together and finish our opportunities we can go far. We should be a good team.”
May will be the only senior in a junior-dominated back, as Carter “CJ” Colt is the lone defender with ample experience.
Junior Mason Bursac and senior Joe Geary return in the middle of the field, while senior Zach Crow lends experience at forward.
“One of the things we need to work on, and I think this is leaguewide, is the ability to score goals,” Gola said. “We went from scoring 60 goals two years ago, to scoring 28. We lost six games 1-0. You reverse those scores and you have a much more successful season. One of our primary focuses is to try and create better opportunities, and that’s gonna start with the midfield. We have a lot of good talent, we just have to mature a little bit.”
And while that maturation takes place, Hopewell will rely on the goalie to keep it in games.
May is a lifetime keeper. He began at age 5, when goalies were not used, but once he reached elementary school age he was put in the net because of his height and ability to punt, along with experience he gained within the family.
“It was mainly because my brother (former Bulldog Eli) played in the field,” May said. “He was older than me and would always take shots on me. I just really enjoyed it and it kind of stuck. My travel coach, Ray Lauricella, used to be a goalie, so he would work with me a lot and that really helped me with positioning and just things like that.”
When he entered high school, May was helped during his first three seasons by goalkeeper coach Dan Balog, who stepped down after last year. He also got substantial aid from the guy he replaced.
“Carmen helped me just get into it,” May said. “He almost acted as like another coach for me, working alongside of me. He really brought me into that role.”
Even with that, he didn’t have much prep time for his first start, in which he made nine saves in a 3-1 win over Nottingham. From there, May eased his way in.
“At first it was uncomfortable and you have to adjust,” he said. “The defense did a really good job of just incorporating me, getting me used to the position and playing with them.”
For a goalie, being as one with his teammates is essential. He can have all the talent in the world, but it won’t help if he cannot keep the box organized.
“You constantly have to be thinking,” May said.
Gola feels May can both think and react.
“He has good hands, he has the ability to distribute well,” the coach said. “He has a good wingspan. He’s just a big presence back there. He has good command of his box, especially air balls. He can get off of his feet, read things, cut off angles well.”
May wants to go to college but is unsure if he will play soccer or not. He is a member of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and Future Business Leaders of America, and recently started a badminton club at HVCHS. But in the end, his favorite role is that of goalie.
“I love it,” he said. “Just taking a lot of shots during warm-ups. That’s my favorite part.”
He’s also pretty fond of taking shots—and making saves—once the game starts.