It's a little premature to say Jay Nolly has been the Vancouver Whitecaps' free-agent catch of the off-season. Then again, the dude did win a Big 10 title with Indiana University's bass fishing club in his sophomore year.
No joke. He's even got a commemorative championship jersey -- complete with name patch -- to prove it. Plus, who's going to lie about something like that.
But while B.C. is renown for its angling, the Whitecaps goaltender is making a name for himself on the pitch rather than on the province's lakes and streams -- although he can be found there too, when not playing, travelling or practicing with the United Soccer Leagues First Division club. Nolly hasn't allowed a goal since taking over in net from Serge Djekanovic three games ago, helping Vancouver (6-2-1) to top spot in the 11-team league just past the season's quarter mark.
"You never expect a start like that, but that's always what the goal is so it was good it worked out that way," said Nolly, who will look to keep his shutout streak intact when the Whitecaps play host to the Portland Timbers on Saturday at Swangard Stadium. "Defence wasn't really what we were going out to do, coach has been pushing offence and scoring and all of us behind took it upon ourselves to get the zeros."
Hailing from Littleton, a town nestled in Colorado's Rocky Mountains and surrounded by winding rocky streams chock full of trout, Nolly learned the art of fly fishing at an early age.
"It's something I did with my mom and brothers, we were always outdoorsy people," said the 26-year-old, who was named the league's top goalie for his efforts in a par of road victories last week. "It just stuck with me."
Nolly started the season backing up Djekanovic, but was given the opportunity to take the starter's role after the Whitecaps dropped a 2-0 decision at home on May 23. It was Vancouver's last loss.
"It was a rough start to the season, both of us wanted the position, but I just kept pushing forward," said Nolly. "Now I'm in this position, I'm not ready to give it up. It's the mindset we both have and the team is better for it."
The Whitecaps sit two points up on the Charleston Battery (9-5-2) and three points up on the Timbers, but have yet to find their groove at home where the team is 2-2 with just a pair of goals scored. While Vancouver has had trouble offensively at Swangard, Portland has had trouble finding the back of the net period. The Timbers have been shut out in five of their last seven games.
"What's important now is that, even though we have been doing well, we need to be ready to play against Portland," said Whitecaps head coach Teitur Thordarson. "We want to have good performances and good wins at home."
Nolly came to Vancouver from Major League Soccer where he made one appearance as a starter with D.C. United last season. He played mostly with United's reserve team, posting two shutouts and 2-3-4 record. The 6-3, 208-pounder apprenticed for the professional game at Indiana where he stared in goal from 2001 to 2004, earning several individual honours and backstopping the Hoosiers to NCAA Division I championships in 2003 and 2004.
While he refuses to consider himself as a two-sport athlete -- "fishing isn't a sport" -- fishing and tending goal do have parallels. "Fishing is a big mental sport, especially fly fishing, there's so many variables," says the laid-back Nolly. "You have to be focused all the time and being a goalie, I'm back there solo, so I have to stay focused. I think it helps."
GOAL DUST: Whitecaps midfielder Jeff Clarke and left fullback Takashi Hirano resumed training after injuries kept them from travelling with the team on its recent road trip. ... The Whitecaps women play Seattle in the first game of Saturday's double header at 4 p.m.
© The Vancouver Sun 2008