Perseverance has become an instinct, rather than burden, for Nico Iacovino.
The star goaltender for the Downingtown East lacrosse squad broke his thumb six times before entering high school. He then had a very inauspicious first game in net for the Cougars as a freshman starter. And then, of course, he missed out on his senior season to the first worldwide pandemic in a century.
“It was tough at first when we first realized that we would lose our season,” he said. “But my lacrosse season is a pretty small problem compared with what is going on now, so I looked at the big picture.
“It helped me focus less on missing the season, and more on what I can do to get better.”
Yes, Iacovino is a glass-half-full kind of guy — which was crucial when he faced some adversity in the season opener of his rookie year in 2017. Less than a minute into his high school career – 40 seconds to be exact – he surrendered a goal … to the opposing goalie.
“So you can say that I started from the very bottom,” he laughed.
“(Wissahickon) won the opening faceoff, and passed it back to the goalie. He started walking it up the field and nobody pressed him.”
The keeper wound up making a beeline to the net, and Iacovino remembers thinking, ‘I’m a freshman, don’t leave me like this.’
The goalie uncorked a low shot that found its mark.
“And as I went to save it, I ended up falling,” Iacovino recalled. “I just sat on the ground laughing and thinking: ‘It can’t get worse than this.’”
Former teammate and best friend, Zach Lee, now playing at Syracuse, often brings up his initial high school lacrosse humiliation, but Iacovino is quick to note that it was the only goal he surrendered that day, and East won it 13-1.
“We knew Nico was a special player before he entered high school,” said Cougars’ head coach Todd Cliggett. “He is a player that puts in the extra work when no one is watching, which is why he is one of the best in the country.
“He has great leadership and confidence in the net, and leads by example on and off the field. Was the backbone of our (defense) and someone we could depend on every day.”
Iacovino started playing lacrosse as a young age because his older brother, Lucas, needed somebody to go against. Nico wore his brother’s number (13) as a tribute throughout his days at Downingtown East.
“Lucas had a net in the yard, and he would always throw me in the net, and that’s how the goalie thing started for me,” he explained.
The Chester Springs native was a first-team All-Ches-Mont selection as a sophomore, and then followed it up with 267 saves during his junior season. He earned All-Conference and All-State accolades, and finished his career with 597 saves and a .650 save percentage.
“I’m sure he would of been a lock for All American his senior year,” Cliggett said.
“I thought my junior season was my best,” Iacovino added. “I felt like I was making more of an impact.”
All of the thumb injuries – five to the right and one to the left – limited Iacovino’s recruiting prospects. But after making the Philly Under Armour All-American squad in 2019, things heated up in the fall of his junior year.
It eventually came down to two finalists, Villanova and Lehigh, and Iacovino visited both. On Oct. 1st, 2018, he committed to play for ’Nova.
“It may sound like a cliché, but it just felt like home,” he said.
Working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant, Iacovino’s his part-time job and his senior season was simultaneously scrapped due to the coronavirus. But he persevered, and spent much of his time over the last few months following Villanova’s off-season workout program, and working on his own skills through save drills and wall-ball.
“All of the sudden I had nothing to do, except schoolwork,” Iacovino said. “I’ve always wanted to try out on-line learning, and I felt like I actually did better in some of my classes.”
He just recently started working again at the restaurant, but he always reserves time in his day for lacrosse.
“To me, working on my game is everything. And I am very competitive,” he added. “I will turn heating food into the microwave into a game. Everything is a timing game for me.”
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