For­tu­nato a rock in goal for UVA. af­ter 3 years wait­ing in the wings

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY PA­TRICK STEVENS

Rob For­tu­nato un­der­stood there would be com­pe­ti­tion at which­ever elite Di­vi­sion I pro­gram he opted to at­tend.

It was es­pe­cially true at Virginia, where a goalie who started for 31/ sea­sons was a class ahead of him.

“He says to me, ‘I want to come to Virginia and I’m ready to ac­cept this op­por­tu­nity,’ and his friends are say­ing, ‘Don’t go there, you’ll never play there, [Adam] Ghitel­man’s there,’ ” coach Dom Star­sia re­called of For­tu­nato’s com­mit­ment. “He knew ex­actly what he was get­ting into.”

For three years, For­tu­nato sat be­hind Ghitel­man. With the job fi­nally his af­ter no short­age of ef­fort, For­tu­nato has emerged as one of the steady­ing in­flu­ences for the top-ranked Cava­liers (8-0), who play host to No. 2 Johns Hop­kins (70) at Klock­ner Sta­dium on Satur­day.

For­tu­nato ranks sixth in the na­tion in save per­cent­age (.609) and sev­enth in goals against av­er­age (7.15), emerg­ing as a cru­cial el­e­ment in Virginia’s abil­ity to nav­i­gate an ar­du­ous and clut­tered early stretch.

“It al­ways goes back to work ethic,” For­tu­nato said. “I’ve been wait­ing for this for a while. I knew Dom wasn’t go­ing to hand it to me. I had to earn ev­ery­thing I was get­ting.”

Af­ter three years, it wasn’t go­ing to be easy. Virginia added well-re­garded goalies in its last two re­cruit­ing classes, and there was also some re­cent his­tory. Ghitel­man earned the start­ing job as a true fresh­man in 2008 over veteran Bud Petit be­fore the se­nior took over in the sec­ond half of the year.

There was also con­cern from the start of For­tu­nato’s ca­reer whether he could be a ma­jor con­trib­u­tor. He came from a small pri­vate school in New Jer­sey, where even he ac­knowl­edged there wasn’t al­ways fierce com­pe­ti­tion.

“When we re­cruited Rob, I’m not sure we ever, frankly, re­ally imag­ined him as a starter,” Star­sia said. “When he got here, it took a year or two to get ac­cli­mated to this level, to form the con­sis­tency and tough­ness re­quired to be a goalie at this level. I give him a world of credit for the way he hung in there.”

It was be­tween For­tu­nato’s sopho­more and ju­nior sea­sons when Star­sia wit­nessed a change in prepa­ra­tion and at­ten­tion to de­tail. For­tu­nato was the most im­proved player in the pro­gram that sea­son, and for a day it was es­pe­cially vi­tal.

Ghitel­man was sus­pended for the 2011 opener, and For­tu­nato stepped in to make 12 saves in a 12-9 vic­tory over Drexel. Ghitel­man re­turned the next game, but For­tu­nato’s cameo gave him­self and the Virginia coach­ing staff a glimpse at how he could han­dle a large role.

The time as a backup in­stilled in For­tu­nato the be­lief a steady per­for­mance would even­tu­ally earn him a start­ing job. And it has; For­tu­nato has four games with dou­ble-digit saves this sea­son and has al­lowed 10 goals just once (in a 14-10 win over Syra­cuse on March 4). “I didn’t want to be a goalie who is up and down, hav­ing a great per­for­mance and a not-so­great one,” For­tu­nato said. “Dom said the true def­i­ni­tion of tough­ness is to be con­sis­tent.”

Added Star­sia: “It’s been a while since we’ve had this kind of con­sis­tent level of play over an eight-game stretch [in goal]. For us, we are go­ing into ev­ery game viewing goalie as a strength of ours.”

It’s needed. Virginia and Hop­kins will meet as un­beat­ens for the first time since 2005, and the Cava­liers then face their usual four-week stretch of ACC play.

Con­sis­tency in the cage is of­ten a pre­req­ui­site for long-term suc­cess.

It didn’t come con­ven­tion­ally for For­tu­nato, but that’s only made this sea­son some­thing to ap­pre­ci­ate even more.

VIRGINIA ATH­LET­ICS

Goalie Rob For­tu­nato sat be­hind in­cum­bent Adam Ghitel­man for three years be­fore se­cur­ing the start­ing role his se­nior sea­son.

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