April 8, 2013

Making Sense: Good Times Back for Kyle Holechek

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

After starting out at Division I Lehigh and overcoming a rash of injuries, Kyle Holechek has finally found himself on the field for Stevenson. His arrival has been a boon for both the Mustangs and Holechek.

Kyle Holechek is usually a fun-loving guy, but as he sat in a CCBC-Catonsville classroom with strange faces all around him and his ankle throbbing, the good times were definitely not rolling.

It was the spring of 2010, and just one semester before, it appeared Holechek had things lined up. He had access to a premium college education and was playing Division I lacrosse at Lehigh, which had been his dream while playing for Loyola Blakefield (Md.) High School. Alas, he soon had the unpleasant realization that his aspirations of being a D-I close defender weren't in line with reality.

As many have found out before him, the responsibilities of being a D-I athlete cut into time to pursue other interests. When the exhausted ligaments in his ankle, which had been rolled so many times in high school that it was more of a swivel than a joint, finally gave out during fall ball, it was a final sign that Holechek was not where he wanted to be.

"I don't know if I rushed myself into it, but maybe I wasn't prepared for the job aspect of D-I," admitted Holechek. "Especially being a freshman, that will catch you by surprise. It wasn't much of a fit for me. I loved the guys there, but D-I wasn't exactly what I was looking for."

The problem was Holechek wasn't exactly sure what he was looking for, or what his options were. He had already come to terms with possibly not playing lacrosse again, especially after having his ankle surgically reconstructed. He just wanted to find a place where he could revel in the college experience.

Then he got a call from Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene.

"His high school coach contacted us about him," Cantabene said. "'Kyle is out there and he's not at Lehigh anymore, do you want to give him a call?' He was taking some classes or was down at the beach or something. We just kind of stayed in touch with him."

Living in Owings Mills and Reiserstown, Md., his whole life, Holechek was mildly familiar with Stevenson, but not necessarily in its current incarnation.

"I've known it since it was Villa Julie," said Holechek of Stevenson's former moniker. "But if you've been to the campus now, it looks nothing like it did six years ago. In my mind, it's still new to me. As much as I want to say I've known it has existed this whole time, it's completely revamped."

The calls kept coming from Cantabene, although there was a break from contact when Holechek had appendicitis in July — another event that made 2010 a year to forget — but unlike his first college selection process, his parents stayed completely hands off. "The conversation was solely between me and [Cantabene]," Holechek said. Most of the phone calls consisted of convincing Holechek of the merits of the Mustang lacrosse team.

Accepting Stevenson's rise as an educational institution was one thing, but embracing non-scholarship lacrosse was a completely different hurdle.

"The funny thing is I never thought about playing Division III lacrosse," he said. "It was either D-I or I'm going just going to school somewhere and enjoy college and get an education. That was my predicament after leaving Lehigh. The lacrosse part of Stevenson was also new to me because it never occurred to me that they were top-tier D-III team until I started looking around. Once coach started calling me, it became a lot more visible to me."

Attending a fall ball practice prior to the 2011 season, Holechek saw the likes of Jimmy Dailey, Richie Ford and Kyle Moffitt buzzing around on the offensive end and long poles such as Evan Douglass and Kyle Menendez running the show on the back end. There were nine All-Americans on the field, including Dailey and Douglass, who were the USILA player of the year and top defenseman, respectively.

Villa Julie this was not.

Holechek decided to finish up classes at Catonsville and transfer to Stevenson for the 2011 season. He was ready to finally get back to being the goofy guy who can brighten any locker room, but that would have to wait. During his first practice with the Mustangs on the rock hard AstroTurf that the Baltimore Ravens used, Holechek suffered a knee injury that would rob him of much of the preseason.

"He wasn't really an impact player in that first year here," Cantebene said. "We knew he could be a good player, but he had to figure out how to do it. I think that happens to a lot of Division I players who come to our place. They think they'll just come here and play, and it's a little better level of lacrosse than they think and they have to learn how to get into the lineup."

"That whole year was quite the adventure for me," Holechek said. "I had surgery on my ankle in March, appendicitis in July and a fractured knee in January."

When he returned fully healthy the following fall, it was clear that both Holechek and Cantabene made the right decision. He quickly established himself as a defensive stalwart, starting every game for the 18-5 Mustangs that advanced to the national semifinals. He finished tops on the team in groundballs (79) and caused turnovers (54), and even posted three points. Holechek was rewarded with a second-team All-American selection.

"We want a guy who has good feet and can pressure the ball," Cantabene said. "But we want guys who can handle the ball — put it on the ground and pick it up. Those are things Kyle can do. We also like them to have a little bit of a mean streak to go out and play kids and not always be the nicest of guys. You need to have tough guys to win the games we do. He's one of those guys."

Holechek believes his strongest asset is the ability to lead the defense, filling the role of what he calls, "The Conductor."

"If you're sitting on the sidelines, it's probably my voice you'll hear the entire time," he said. "Ever since Loyola, I've been the guy who wants to run things. I make sure that I know the other team's plays better than they do. I want to be in control down there and bailing out guys on the backside, intercepting passes when we're on man down."

Cantabene said Holechek's willingness to help his teammates can be as much a curse as blessing with his penchant for occasionally forgetting his primary responsibility. But the coach will take that to have Holechek coddling a defense featuring a freshman goalie and an Australian defender getting his first taste of NCAA lacrosse. So far this spring, the Mustangs are 11-1 against one of the toughest schedules in the country and have allowed less than seven goals per outing.

And now that Holechek is healthy and comfortable in his new surroundings, Cantabene and the Mustangs are starting to get a feel for what kind of fun the junior can bring to a program with championship dreams.

"He's a character, that's for sure," Cantabene said. "He's not the quietest guy out there, but I think that is why he is so well-liked by his teammates. He's such an easy guy to get along with, but he knows when to be serious. He's got a great personality. He definitely makes me laugh."

Holecheck doesn't mind showing off that personality.

"I love being surrounded by an upbeat atmosphere," Holechek said. "We play music in the locker room and I'm not afraid to dance around in my spandex. Billy Burgoyne and I aren't afraid to go around the locker room singing and jumping in and out of the laundry baskets. It builds team chemistry, and especially with me being a goofball as an older guy, it allows some of the younger guys to get comfortable with what we've got going on here. If nothing is going on and nobody's laughing, there is something going wrong in that locker room. There is nothing better than laughter during the tougher times."

Holechek is hoping that the tough times are in the past. But they are still clear enough for him to realize just how good he has it now, and just how fun-loving he can be now that he's made the right decision.

"I was as depressed as you can get with a blown-out ankle, going to school with none of my friends around, and only in my second semester out of high school and I'm going to a community college. That was tough," Holechek said. "I am pretty sure at one point, I was done playing college lacrosse, but things just started to click. It was almost like someone wasn't ready for me to be done playing lacrosse. I can't explain how thankful I am for what coach Cantabene and the guys at Stevenson did for me. It was truly a blessing."

Players of the Week

NCAA Division II
Taylor Mansfield
, A, Sr., Seton Hill

The No. 7 Griffins played host to No. 8 Pfeiffer on Saturday afternoon in a key South region clash and Mansfield was quite rude to the visitors. He netted seven goals, providing the difference for Seton Hill in a 14-7 breeze. Despite playing alongside the likes of All-Americans Matt Delmonico and James Delaney, Mansfield is second on the team in points with 42.

NCAA Division III
Corey Elmer
, A, Jr., Cabrini

With No. 12 Denison coming to town to face the 11th-ranked Cavaliers in one of the few remaining premium non-conference games of the season, Elmer stole the show with seven goals and two assists in a 13-8 Cabrini win. Elmer leads the Cavs with 50 points (26 goals, 24 assists) this spring. The next closest player on the roster has 25.

MCLA Division I
Kacy Carter
, A, Jr., Colorado State

The trip to Utah may not have been the most pleasurable bus ride, but it was no problem for Carter, who put together a monster weekend. It started on Friday night against No. 4 BYU. The Cougars were helpless against Carter as he scored seven goals and set up two others in a 16-5 rout. He followed that up with two goals and two dimes in a victory over Utah.

MCLA Division II
Daniel Casselli
, A, Fr., Grove City

The Wolverines had lost eight straight games to No. 6 Dayton heading into this weekend, but thanks to Casselli, Grove City is riding a one-game winning streak against the Flyers. The rookie out of Tampa, Fla., scored four goals and set up a fifth as No. 16 GCC bounced Dayton, 11-5.

Power Fives

NCAA Division II
1. Merychurst (9-0) – The Lakers probably took some satisfaction knowing they may have knocked Dowling out of the tourney.
2. Adelphi (8-0) – It was a fantastic victory over Le Moyne, but there is no getting around the Panthers goalie play.
3. Limestone (11-1) – Round one against Pfeiffer looms this weekend. The Falcons are the only test left for the Saints.
4. Merrimack (6-1) – The Warriors always show up for the big games, it's the trap games that seem to haunt them.
5. LIU Post (8-1) – If the Pioneers can finish up the season 3-1, there's no way to keep them out of the NCAA tourney.

NCAA Division III
1. Cortland (10-0) – The Red Dragons get a bit of a breather with a stretch of three SUNYAC games, but Naz will give them a test soon.
2. Dickinson (10-0) – Road games at Gettysburg and WAC in four days will give the Devils their toughest stretch of the season.
3. Stevenson (11-1) – After four games, the Mustangs are outscoring MAC opponents by an average margin of 21-3.
4. RIT (9-2) – What are the keys to the Tigers' success? Well, going 49 percent (24-for-49) on extra-man opportunities is one place to start.
5. Tufts (8-2) – The Jumbos finished up their homestand on track, but now face four of the final five on the road.

MCLA Division I
1. Colorado (12-0) – It all comes down to the showdown with Colorado State on April 20. Everything else is a formality.
2. Colorado State (12-0) – Austin Fisher and Kacy Carter have combined for 65 goals. The rest of the team has 73.
3. Arizona State (12-1) – The Sun Devils are in a nice spot, but they need to know Thursday is Grand Canyon's Super Bowl.
4. Chapman (11-4) – There are going to be several displeased teams when they find the Panthers on their side of the bracket.
5. Boston College (6-0) – It's not unreasonable to think that the Eagles will enter the MCLA tourney with an undefeated record.

MCLA Division II
1. St. Thomas (7-0) – The Tommies outshot St. John's 20-6 in the first half. Not going to lose many games that way.
2. Westminster (10-3) – The Griffins looked like they were in trouble against Concordia, but turned it on in the second.
3. St. John's (9-1) – If the Johnnies can knock off NDSU on Thursday, they should sit down with the No. 3 seed in Greenville.
4. Liberty (12-1) – No shame in the three-goal loss to D-I Richmond. It's great prep for the Flames' stretch run.
5. Concordia (8-2) – The Eagles have six weeks to become a better defensive time. If not, the semis is their plateau.

Notebooks

NCAA Division II: Merrimack's Connor Reagan lost a year trying to figure things out, but now he gets it.
NCAA Division III: Aurora has the look of a young Cabrini program at this point in the Spartans development.
MCLA Division I: In its second year back from banishment, UNLV has already shown it can run with the big dogs.
MCLA Division II: North Dakota State has always faced obstacles, and this season is no different.


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