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Westminster goalie excels despite eye disorder

Published June 8, 2010 5:20 pm

Griffins thankful Juan Diego product stayed in Utah.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

During a rainy, late-night game in Georgia last fall, Westminster men's lacrosse goalkeeper Dallas McLellan squinted, struggling to read the field amidst the white fog that fell over his eyes. The falling rain, reflecting the light from both the overhead spotlights and the glistening pools of water formed on the artificial turf, overwhelmed his already-strained sight.

For most, the rain would have been nothing more than a minor distraction. For McLellan, however, it was literally blinding.

"I never even saw some of the shots that went past me," McLellan said. "It was one of the most frustrating, discouraging games I've ever played."

It's not a scenario one would expect from a three-time Men's Collegiate Lacrosse Association (MCLA) All-American goalkeeper.

McLellan suffers from a rare eye condition called keratoconus — a degenerative eye disorder characterized by a conical shape to the cornea, causing substantially distorted vision with multiple images, streaking and sensitivity to light. For him, the struggle to see clearly has become part of life, and the only cure is a complete corneal transplant. Until then, his vision is expected to continue to deteriorate.

"Once I'm eligible for that opportunity, I'll take it," McLellan said.

In the meantime, McLellan is required to wear hard contact lenses, which apply enough constant pressure to flatten out the conical shape of his eye. The severity of McLellan's case, however, has resulted in those lenses rubbing against the steep surface of his eye, leading to chronic corneal ulcers, abrasions and infections. The resulting scar tissue has left him with the persistent haze.

Not that McLellan is using it as an excuse. To the contrary, the Westminster goalkeeper has some of the best eyes in the game. This season, he recorded 173 saves while stopping over 60 percent of the shots against him.

"You learn a lot of tricks as you go — how to follow the shooter's elbow and read a stick," McLellan said. "I've had to figure out ways to find the ball when I can't see it."

With most shots now coming at an average of 100 miles per hour, McLellan has about 1/10th of a second to react. In most cases, his judgment is spot-on.

"But whether I make the save or not, the coaching staff is not afraid to have me in those big situations again," McLellan said.

That's exactly the kind of environment he was hoping to play in when his Division I hopes were dashed after his senior year at Juan Diego.

Following an all-state career in which he helped lead the Soaring Eagle to a state runner-up finish in 2007, McLellan had plans to take his game to the Air Force Academy. But as he set that plan into motion, his eyes would not cooperate.

During his recruitment process, McLellan visited a specialist every day for nearly a month to try to figure out the best solution to his increasing vision trouble.

"I just wasn't sure what was going to happen, or how bad it was going to get," McLellan said.

So, he reluctantly chose to stay in Utah, take care of his eyes, focus more on academics and take a more low-key approach to the sport at Westminster.

The Griffins are glad he stayed close to home. —

Westminster lacrosse

Five former Juan Diego lacrosse stars — juniors Josh Condas, Dallas McLellan and Jimmy Nguyen, freshman Brad Tack and sophomore Marshall Serzen — now play for the Westminster College men's lacrosse team. After having lost in the high-school state title game in 2007, the trio of Condas, McLellan and Nguyen went on to lead the Griffins to an NAIA national title in the program's first second year.

• Dallas McLellan plays with an eye condition called keratoconus — a degenerative eye disorder characterized by a conical shape to the cornea causing substantially distorted vision with multiple images, streaking and sensitivity to light. Despite his condition, McLellan is a three-time MCLA All-American.

• During the MCLA tournament held May 11-14 in Denver, the No. 10 seeded Griffins reached their fourth-consecutive semifinal game by defeating No. 7 ranked Elon and No. 2 ranked Dayton in the opening rounds.

• McLellan's season-high 173 saves earned him a place on the first-team MCLA All-American team. Sophomore Matt Lambourne was named a second-team defensive All-American, junior Jacob Wyman a third-team All-American midfielder and sophomore Marshall Serzen earned a honorable mention as a face-off specialist.