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Lacrosse: Goller brothers have sticks, will travel
Lacrosse

Lacrosse: Goller brothers have sticks, will travel

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The Goller brothers don’t look like each other — Jack has their father David’s face and Bennett looks like mom Kristin — but they certainly act like twins, always wanting to be on the same lacrosse team, hanging out together, and sharing similar interests and goals.

The Gollers — whose last name rhymes with dollar — are two years apart, however, so they haven’t been on the same teams as much as they would have liked while playing the sport for more than a decade.

“We are best friends, and we have the same passions, so it makes it easy to always be around each other,” Jack said. “I have played a lot more lacrosse without Bennett than with him, so I try not to take the time for granted when were on the same field together. We’ve played so much lacrosse in the backyard together when no one is watching, that when we’re playing in a game together it’s just like the continuation of our training, and we know exactly where each other will be and how to play off of each other.

“We have always bonded over sports since we were little kids. Our dad raised us to be Sacramento Kings and Oakland Raiders fans, like he is. Our love for the teams allowed us to become closer than most siblings, and this relationship carried over to the lacrosse field.”

Bennett added that both grew up liking soccer, basketball and lacrosse.

“We have always enjoyed playing sports together. We are both very competitive too, so we love any chance we have to try to beat each other,” he said. “Off the field, we have different personalities, but we genuinely like each other and want each other to succeed.”

Jack and Bennett were lacrosse teammates when they started with the Napa Force, then again for two high school seasons at Marin Catholic in Kentfield. Now the brothers will reunite for a third time when Bennett graduates from Marin Catholic this year and joins Jack in the lacrosse program at Colby College, a NCAA Division III school in Waterville, Maine.

Both plan to major in economics.

While Jack was the first brother to start commuting 39 miles each way to Marin Catholic, Bennett was the first to choose Colby. It was after his brother signed with the Mules that Jack transferred there from Bucknell University of Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, where he played in the Division I Patriot League.

Bennett said he likes the small school liberal arts education available at Colby, which has only 2,000 students, and the Mules’ coaching staff.

“They seem truly invested in their players, which is very important to me,” Bennett said. “I also love the sense of community at Colby, and being a part of a community like Colby stays with you for the rest of your life.”

Jack, of course, likes Colby for the same reasons.

“I really like the coaching staff at Colby,” he said. “They expressed interest in me as soon as they saw me play, and that meant a lot to me. They told me all about Colby and their program and all of the awesome experiences that I could have at Colby. I like that they encourage the lacrosse players to study abroad, and I think that could be a life changing experience. Most programs do not allow their athletes to study abroad. I also am very intrigued by the alumni network at Colby. Last year during the uncertain times of the pandemic, Colby pledged to get all seniors jobs within three months of graduation.”

In head coach Guy Van Arsdale’s third season at the helm, Colby’s last full season in the spring of 2019 saw it go 8-6 in New England Small College Athletic Conference play before falling 12-9 to Williams College in the playoffs. The game story Mules’ website at colbyathletics.com said it was one of Colby’s most successful seasons in recent history.

It also said of the late April game that “snow began fall haphazardly as the third quarter began.” If Jack thought Pennsylvania was cold, wait till he goes even farther north.

“I always joke that being from Napa, anything under 40 is freezing,” he said. “It is really cold in season, and it can be difficult. Fortunately, you can bundle up pretty well for practice with lots of layers, and then once you get moving you tend to forget about the cold. But it’s definitely not for everyone. Standing in 10 degrees weather going through walk-through scouting sessions is not fun, and it took me a little time to get used to the change.”

While Colby played only three games before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down its spring 2020 season, Bucknell had played six contests. Jack recorded an assist and a ground ball for the Bison against Binghamton.

“Playing at Bucknell was an awesome experience. I got to live out my dream of playing Division I lacrosse,” Jack said. “I got to experience the daily grind and being immersed in lacrosse, and I honestly loved every second of it.”

Bennett said he “definitely” considered joining his brother at Bucknell.

“I heard from the Bucknell coach as soon as he was allowed to contact me, and I really liked what I heard and saw from Bucknell,” he said. “But it just wasn’t the right fit for me.”

But why would Jack transfer from a Division I program to a Division III one to play with his brother?

“Bennett and I are both midfielders, so we’re extremely connected to one another,” Jack explained. “When one of us makes a move, the other can get into a shooting spot and it allows us to work together to allow each other to succeed. Playing with one another helps because we can get on each other a little bit, and we’re always looking for each other and willing to make plays for each other.”

Added Bennett, “On offense, we know how each other likes to play, so we can complement each other on the field. If Jack has the ball, I have a general sense of what he wants to do, so I can move to spaces on the field and try to get open for him and vice versa.

“We have either played with each other or watched each other play so much that we have a sense of each other’s games that is hard to replicate. I think I am speaking for both Jack and myself when I say that we love to play together and have great joy in helping each other succeed.”

The boys got involved in lacrosse when they were 8 and 6, after their soccer coach said it would be good cross-training in the offseason. They started in the Napa Force youth organization before deciding to step it up by playing for the Golden Gate Lacrosse club directed by Chris Rotelli, who led Virginia to the 2003 Division I national title and played Major League Lacrosse. When GGL became ADVNC, the brothers started making the long trip to practices with David to Stanford University and Sacred Heart Prep High School in Atherton, about 80 miles from home, and Saturdays and sometimes Sundays, too.

When they boys decided to attend Marin Catholic, it was Kristin who drove Jack there for two years until he got his driver’s license.

“At one point we bought a Sprinter van with a TV in the back so we could watch football during those long weekend trips to Atherton. That was very helpful with keeping us busy and sane,” Bennett said. “In terms of driving to Marin Catholic, Jack and I would talk and the car ride would pass very quickly. Once he left for college, and I was driving by myself, I began listening to podcasts or long playlists of music to keep me busy. I also call Jack occasionally while in the car to check in on how he is doing.”

Driving to the South Bay on weekends wasn’t as tough as going to Marin County on weekdays.

“The Marin Catholic commute was obviously a lot crazier,” Jack said. “I would usually sleep in the car in the morning and then try to do homework on the ride back. When Ben got to MC, I was able to drive, and we usually had some sort of carpool going, so it was never boring or difficult. We were always hanging out, so it was a lot of fun.”

The boys attended St. John’s Lutheran School, where Kristin is an admissions counselor, but opted for Marin Catholic “mainly because of its great lacrosse program in addition to excellent academics,” Bennett said.

“The lacrosse team has a history of competing and succeeding at a very high level in the Bay Area. The coaching staff has always been excellent. Matt Ogelsby was the head coach for Jack’s first two years, and he was one of the first people who showed us how to play lacrosse. Matt Palasek was our next coach for two years, and we knew him prior to MC too. He was a great coach and really let me and Jack play and grow together. He knows lacrosse very well and helped us do some very special things on the field together.”

Jack said Oglesby was the biggest reason he became a Wildcat.

“Coach Ogelsby is practically responsible for starting high level lacrosse in Northern California, and he had a lot of connections in terms of recruiting,” he said. “What he sold to me, in terms of attending Marin Catholic, was the professionalism of the program. He ran Marin Catholic lacrosse like a college program, and I loved that. Our facilities were better than anyone’s, our coaching staff was better than anyone’s, and the team was winning a lot of championships.

“Coach Ogelsby had to step down following my sophomore year, and Matt Palasek took over as head coach. From day one, I had a special relationship with Coach Palasek. He, along with Coach Kyle Van Thof, truly helped me develop as a player and they pushed me to be better on and off the field. I could talk to Coach Palasek about anything, and he always had my back. To this day, I have never played for someone that I had a closer relationship with than Coach Palasek, and I wouldn’t be the player or person that I am today without him.”

The Gollers said not many of their former Force teammates went to Justin-Siena, one of Marin Catholic’s rivals, so it wasn’t too big a deal when they visited the Braves in 2018.

“It was sort of like a home game for me and Jack,” Bennett said. “A lot of friends from Napa came to the game, and it was a lot of fun to play in front of them. Although this past season was cut short due to COVID, MC played Vintage before the season ended. That was a lot of fun for me. Two of my best friends growing up were on Vintage, and it was great to see them finally playing for their high school. I could tell it meant a lot to them, and it was great to compete against them.

Added Jack, “Being from Napa and coming back to play to play at Justin, I always felt like I had something to prove, and it was just a little added motivation that made the games fun.”

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Andy Wilcox is a sportswriter-photographer for the Napa Valley Register. He's had similar roles in Walnut Creek, Grass Valley, Auburn, Tracy and Patterson. He grew up in Ohio. His wife, Laura, is a pastry chef. He also enjoys playing guitar and piano.

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