By Bob Narang

Lucas Fontana let himself enjoy the highlight-reel save for barely a second.

The Peoria Notre Dame goalie had just stopped a ball from hitting the back of the net with a full-length dive to his left and quickly popped up in an attempt to stop the next ball during the goalie combine at the 17th Annual PepsiCo Showdown College Showcase on Friday just outside of Chicago.

The senior netminder was among 300-plus high school boys and girls soccer players who attended the popular event at The Max on Black Friday. With more than 100 college men’s and women’s soccer coaches in attendance for the six-hour showcase, Fontana was all business-like in hopes of attracting attention to receive a scholarship.

“The training was very good,” said Fontana, who owns a 3.7 GPA. “It was a great experience.

“I’m thankful I was able to get out there, seeing all these coaches here was exciting and worth coming. I’m trying to play in college. The process is starting to pick up, so coming out to something like this is important to get my name out there.”

Playing for a program widely considered among the best in the state — four state titles and three second-place trophies since 2004 — Fontana said this showcase is an excellent venue to increase a potential recruit’s profile. This year’s event had college head and assistant coaches from 11 Midwest and East Coast states.

“I learned so much from the goalie combine, not only from playing in a pressure situation with a lot of (college) coaches watching me but I also gained a lot of confidence in being able to play well,” Fontana said.

Glenbard East goalie Zoe Romano was part of a big contingent of girls that participated in the goalie combine, which was directed by Stan Anderson from Camp Shutout/University of Illinois-Chicago goalie coach.

“This is my second time here, and it’s a great experience to come out here and have so much fun to test ourselves,” said Romano, who plays club for the Firebirds SC. “There was so much that I learned, just different ways from what I’ve been taught.

“I just tried to relax and play my game. This is great exposure to get your name out there. I would recommend this to any soccer player. It’s very good to be around other goalkeepers, because you can relate to things and share stories.”

Lincoln-Way Central junior goalie Emma Sauriol is hoping the showcase is a springboard to earning a starting spot next spring

“This is a good experience, in meeting people and getting exposure,” said Sauriol, who plays club for Windy City Pride. “My goal is to play in college, so this helps playing in front of (coaches).”

Anderson, who was named the 2018 Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association Person of the Year, is considered to be one of the top goalie coaches in the U.S. He’s been successful on the collegiate and professional levels, but now spends most of his time tutoring young goalies.

“We try and do a lot of exercises during the combine that will expose – in a good or bad way – the goalkeeper to the (colleges) looking at the goalkeepers,” Anderson said.

Anderson had the recruits participate in numerous exercises that displayed a goalie’s lateral ability, balance, bravery and footwork. They also focused on distributing the ball out and worked with collapsing ability before finishing with shot stopping.

The goalie guru, who also coached at Marquette and Wisconsin-Milwaukee and hosts a massive week-long goalie camp each July, added that the goalie combine allows players to improve their skills and learn how to perform in pressure positions.

“Goalkeeping is a massive trust position,” Anderson said. “That’s what these (college) coaches are looking for, someone who can do the job but also someone they can trust to lead the team.

“It’s without a doubt the most pressure-packed position on the field. Kids have to immerse themselves into goalkeeper-specific training if they want to produce results in an actual game. That’s where an event like this will help them see a bigger difference in what they can produce on the field.”

Bio on reporter: Bob Narang has been covering prep recruiting and sports for the past 24 years. His work also appears in the Chicago Tribune, Daily Herald, Athlon Sports and the DeKalb Daily Chronicle.