Salisbury goalkeeper T.J. Ellis has starred in goal for the top-ranked Salisbury men’s lacrosse team to start the year. With a 7-0 record and a Capital Athletic Conference-best 6.23 goals against average, Ellis has cemented himself as the starting option.
But his journey to get where he is today was much more complicated.
Ellis began playing lacrosse when he was in the fifth grade, and he did not start out between the pipes.
He kicked off his lacrosse career playing as a midfielder. But his high school, Oakdale High School, had no starting option in the goal.
Ellis’s coach at Oakdale forced him to play goalie, which launched his love for the goalkeeper position.
The collegiate career for Ellis has been somewhat more complicated. After graduating, Ellis took his talents to the Stevenson University lacrosse team.
While he was at Stevenson, Ellis said he felt himself begin to fall out of love with the game he once enjoyed.
“Stevenson was not my place. It was just not the right time for me to be at that school,” Ellis said. “I didn’t really want to play anymore.”
He decided to take a semester off and distance himself from the school. After about a month, he began to feel the itch to get back on the field.
Once Ellis found his competitive drive for the game again, he began looking into junior colleges. He committed to Howard Community College to play lacrosse in his sophomore season.
Ellis said the coaching staff and his teammates at Howard helped him grow the love for the game he found in high school.
“I loved it there, loved my coach, loved my teammates and coach [Erik] Foust at Howard got me to where I am right now,” Ellis said.
Ellis said that it was a long journey and a long process, but it got him to where he is today.
In one season at Howard, Ellis had 99 saves with a 7-1 record. He also saved nearly 53% of the shots he faced.
During this season at Howard, Salisbury head coach Jim Berkman began recruiting Ellis to join the Sea Gulls. A month into the summer, Ellis committed to Salisbury.
The battle for the starting keeper job at Salisbury was another obstacle Ellis had to overcome.
Then-junior goalie Brandon Warren started for the maroon and gold for much of the 2019 season. He recorded 165 saves and a 17-2 record as the starter.
Meanwhile, Ellis appeared in 15 games last season with 39 saves and a 5-0 record.
Berkman said Ellis won the starting position in the fall. He said he came into practices and played a little bit better, and now he is capitalizing on his opportunity.
“Sometimes, goalies get on a little bit of a roll, and they get a little confidence, and right now, T.J. has a lot of confidence,” Berkman said. “You see it in how he clears the ball, the way he carries himself on the field and his performance in practices has won over the team’s confidence.”
During the 2020 season, Ellis has seen over 337 minutes of action in goal. The other three keepers for Salisbury have combined for roughly 83 minutes.
On Feb. 25, Ellis was named to the United Stated International Lacrosse Association Team of the Week for the week of Feb. 16-22. During this week, Salisbury defeated No. 10 Gettysburg College 11-5.
Ellis helped shut down the Gettysburg offense by allowing just five goals on 30 shots faced. He had eight saves and held the Bullets from scoring until the end of the first half to help the Sea Gulls stay undefeated.
Senior defender Drew Borkowicz said this is the best performance he has seen out of Ellis in his time with the team.
“Last year, we definitely struggled with goalie play. This year, T.J. came in and was focused on what he needed to take care of,” Borkowicz said. “I feel like his defense really helps him out, and I’m seeing him play the best I have ever seen him play.”
Now having been on both ends of the starting keeper battle, Ellis said he understands the main goal, which is to win games.
Ellis explained that though he is enjoying being the main guy between the pipes, the team’s overall success is what truly matters.
“The best player is going to play here. It’s tough if you don’t start, but the atmosphere here with all these guys is it’s the team first,” Ellis said. “So, if I’m not the right goalie that’s going to be in, then that’s okay with me, because as long as we’re winning games, that’s all that matters.”
By DANIELLE TYLER
Featured photo: Sports Information image.