As the Loyola coaches were figuring out how to best build the defense this season, one position they didn’t have to spend time thinking about was goalkeeper.

The return of Dom Urukalo, an All-American as a sophomore, eased the process, according to Brian Rynes, who coaches the defense. Urukalo will be integral in the Ramblers’ quest for a state championship. This is the first season lacrosse is in IHSA sport. Loyola won 11 state titles as part of the Illinois High School Lacrosse Association, the last coming in 2016.

Urukalo, who missed the last four games with an injury and to rest, saved 58 percent of shots on goal during the regular season, helping Loyola to a 5.8 goals against average.

“He’s a big deal as he’s our last line of defense,” Loyola head coach Rob Snyder said. “He’s more vocal this year, and he demands good play from the guys in front of him.

“Plus, he’s simply great at making saves.”

Urukalo showed his potential freshman year when he was called on to start a a state quarterfinal playoff game after not playing at all with varsity during the regular season. The Ramblers beat St. Charles East 12-7 on their way to the state title.

As a sophomore, Urukalo earned the starting job and rewarded the Ramblers by saving 60 percent of shots on goal. Loyola finished second in the state, losing to New Trier 9-6 in the final.

This season, one of Urukalo’s highlights came in the team’s 9-8 win over Georgetown Prep, of North Bethesda, Maryland, on April 8. With the Ramblers ahead by a goal with less than one minute to go in the fourth quarter, Urukalo made a save to secure the victory, which was Loyola’s first over the national powerhouse.

“A guy had the ball on the crease, and I stuffed him,” Urukalo said. “It was a great moment. That was a huge win for us.”

In a way, Urukalo, a resident of Chicago’s Wildwood neighborhood, came to the position by accident. Playing for Loyola’s feeder team as fourth-grader, he was put in goal when the team’s starter didn’t show up. After the game, Urukalo said his coach, Mike Feuer, told him to buy some goalie gear.

“I played defense, but I wasn’t any good,” Urukalo said. “It kind of clicked when I played goalie. It was fun to stop shots. I just gravitated toward it.”

In September, Urukalo verbally committed to Manhattan College, a Division I program in the Bronx borough of New York City.

At Loyola, Urukalo played both football and lacrosse as a freshman and sophomore. His brother, Milan Urukalo (Class of 2014), started on the offensive line for Loyola’s Class 8A runner-up team in 2013. Dom said his experience as an offensive lineman has served him well in lacrosse.

“There is a lot of crossover,” he said. “You have to have quick feet and quick hands to play both positions.”

Another component to being a good goalkeeper is communication, something Urukalo said he’s embraced at this season. Last year, he deferred to defensemen and 2017 graduates Bryan Giella, Kyle Koch and Ian Swenson.

“I wasn’t expected to say much last year,” Urukalo said. “Now that I have experience, I’m more comfortable talking to the guys and directing traffic.”

After losing to defending state champion New Trier 5-3 at home May 1, Urukalo said the Ramblers are determined to prove they are the best team in the state. The top seed at the Maine South Sectional, Loyola beat No. 8 Taft 21-1 in the quarterfinals. The Ramblers play No. 4 Oak Park-River Forest on Wednesday in the semis. The sectional final is Friday.

“It hurt losing to them, but I think it’s going to be good for us in the long run,” he said. “It showed us we are beatable, if we don’t play how we are supposed to play.”

Photo credit: Michael Cutler