Alex Rode, 2017, St. Paul’s School
by Nelson Coffin
From his position on the bench, up-and-coming goalie prospect Alex Rode had a front-row seat to watch talented goalie AJ Barretto work his magic between the pipes for St. Paul’s School in 2015.
When his turn came to play the following spring, Rode not only matched Barretto, he exceeded the high standard set by the future Army West Point Second Team All-American.
Rode, VSN’s No. 1 Boys Lacrosse Goalie of the Decade, was that good for the Crusaders while facing the powerful offenses provided by MIAA A Conference rivals.
Always using proper technique was not necessarily his calling card, yet Rode was extraordinarily effective protecting the cage as his 444 career saves and program-best single-season mark of 258 saves as a junior at St. Paul’s attest.
His career in the goal started innocently enough when the goalie for his Lutherville-Timonium Rec. Council team didn’t show up.
Rode, then in the fourth grade, volunteered.
“I just wanted to try it,” said Rode, who said that he has been working on charter sailboats in Charleston, S.C. and will soon start a career in insurance claims there.
It was love at first save.
At St. Paul’s, a program that also produced former Princeton University All-American Scott Bacigalupo in the late 1990s and more recently featured former Bryant University star Gunnar Waldt and Barretto, Rode was in the right place for a promising net-minder to develop.
For one thing, he had the proper mindset to deal with the pressure that is part and parcel of being the last line of defense.
Rick Brocato, whose final season coaching the Crusaders was Rode’s senior year, said that he always told his players that lacrosse should not define who they are as people.
“Alex took that and ran with it,” Brocato said. “He was not obsessed with lacrosse — he had a lot of outside interests.”
By no means, Brocato said, did that detract from what Rode did on the field.
“He had a commanding presence, and he really worked hard,” the coach added. “The other kids really respected him.”
They couldn’t help but admire his acrobatic moves that frustrated rival offenses.
“We would wonder how we won some of the games we did,” Brocato said. “Then we’d look at the film — and it was because of Alex.”
One such encounter stands out for Rode and Brocato — a 2016 battle against Calvert Hall College in rainy Brooklandville.
“It’s still my favorite high school game to this day,” Rode said. “Two of my best friends played defense for Calvert Hall — George Rittenhouse (Air Force Academy) and Jed Manning (Ohio State) — and our defense — John Faus (Holy Cross), Connor Sorg (Delaware), Ian Hunter (Boston College) and Gaeger brothers, Carson and Riley (both Towson University), ran an amazing zone the whole game.”
Employing a zone against the Cardinals meant that VSN’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year would be facing a ton of shots, and he was up to the task by stopping 16 of them.
“Alex had a sequence of saves in that game that is as good as any I’ve ever seen,” Brocato said. “He always made the hardest shots look easy. Plus, he had a short-term memory and always played his best in big games.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound standout was the only Baltimore-are product to be selected in the Senior All-Star Game at the Under Armour All-America Lacrosse Classic after recording 164 saves with a .564 save percentage as a senior.
His penchant for shining in the spotlight was on display on the University of Virginia’s 2019 and 2021 national championship teams.
In the 2019 finale against defending champ Yale University, featuring Baltimore buddies Jackson Morrill, VSN’s No. 3 Attackman of the Decade from McDonogh School, and former Boys’ Latin star Matt Brandau, Rode was often spectacular in holding the Bulldogs’ vaunted offense at bay in a 13-9 Virginia victory.
“I was very fortunate to have played against Jackson and Matt in high school,” Rode said. “They were great players, but our defense played on-point. It was really a fun game.”
He earned Final Four MVP honors after making 13 stops, including what the NCAA website called “a litany of impressive saves in the first half as the Cavs limited Yale to two goals in 30 minutes.”
That effort came following Rode’s even more impressive 19-save performance in a 13-12 double-overtime over Duke University in the semifinal round to finish the weekend with 31 saves and a .608 save percentage.
“I got hot when the team got hot,” Rode said about his stellar postseason.
Last spring, Rode was back in goal when the Wahoos claimed another crown by beating the University of Maryland, 17-16, to spoil the Terps’ bid for a perfect season and their first national championship since 2017.
He made the crucial save in the final seconds after sophomore Luke Wierman scooped up the ball off the face-off and raced toward the goal.
“I felt like I owed my team one,” Rode said, alluding to Maryland’s 4-1 closing run that came close to tying the game. “My defense did a great job of edging him out to where I could see him and get into my stance. That made a big difference.”