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Kyle Karaska looks to lead the way for UMass men’s lacrosse team in his senior season

(Kyle Karaska. Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

(Kyle Karaska. Robert Rigo/ Daily Collegian)

Some people are born lacrosse players. They have been playing the game for their entire life and that’s how they reach an elite level.

Kyle Karaska is not one of those people.

A senior defenseman for the Massachusetts men’s lacrosse team, Karaska has worked hard to grow into one of the best players on the Minutemen and Colonial Athletic Association.

UMass coach Greg Cannella has witnessed this growth first hand.

“He’s grown tremendously since he’s been here,” Cannella said.

“He’s a man now.”

A new game

Karaska had never played lacrosse before attending Bishop Guertin High School, a private Roman Catholic school in Nashua, New Hampshire. Previously a baseball player, he grew tired of the sport, finding it to be too slow, and decided to try out lacrosse due its more physical nature.

While at Bishop Guertin, Karaska played lacrosse for the first time, along with fellow Minuteman and close defense teammate Bob Fahey. Karaska attributes much of his success to playing with Fahey, both in high school and at UMass.

“Bob’s taught me everything about lacrosse,” Karaska said. “Bob was always the kid that was like my coach. I just watched Bob do whatever he did and then I tried to mimic it.”

Karaska found his motivation to succeed at Bishop Guertin, realizing that he had a chance to play lacrosse in college.

Physicality

When asked to describe Karaska’s playing style for the Minutemen, both his coach and teammates all said the same word: physical.

The physicality of lacrosse is what interested Kyle in the sport and it is what makes him the player that he is today, something that he couldn’t do in baseball.

“He’s definitely aggressive,” Fahey said. “He goes after guys; he goes after pretty much everything on the field.”

Karaska’s physicality shows up on game day in big ways. In the final game of his sophomore season, the Minutemen were trailing Delaware when he saw an opportunity to make a big hit on a Blue Hen streaking up the field.

“He absolutely destroyed a kid coming down the alley,” Fahey said.

“He hit (him) so hard that you could hear it from almost the sideline, and we went pretty nuts for him,” said senior close defensemen Kevin Porzelt.

Karaska remembers that game, but not for his big hit like his teammates do, but rather because that loss ended UMass’ season.

“I think that hit came down to just a bunch of frustration almost,” Karaska said. “I was just trying to get a big play going. We needed a spark, we needed something, and I had an opportunity to hit a kid and I took the shot.”

Friends for life

Karaska and the three other seniors on the team – Fahey, Porzelt, and short stick midfielder Kurt Hunziker – have developed a close friendship during their time with the Minutemen. On the same team, playing the same positions and attending some of the same classes, the four spend nearly all of their time together.

“These are the guys I moved into Southwest with freshman year, and they’ve been there ever since then. And they’ve never gone anywhere,” Karaska said. “I wake up every morning and they’re there, I go to classes with them, we do everything together. We’re really just a tight-knit group.”

“I’d say we’re all pretty much best friends,” Huntziker added. “We hang out all the time. Me, Kyle, and Bob live together. Kevin might as well live at our house, he’s always over.”

This closeness does not mean that they go any easier on each other on the field. Because they have such a solid relationship, the four seniors feel comfortable with each other to point out if somebody messes up a particular play.

“We’re telling each other if you messed up or not,” Hunziker said. “Like I’m going to tell him, and he’s going to tell me. So it’s a really good dynamic that we keep each other in check.”

Stepping out of his comfort zone

Now in his senior year at UMass, Karaska is one of the veterans of the team, and with that he has had to take on more of a leadership role. He was selected to be one of the team’s four captains this season, along with the other three seniors.

Karaska cited the many leaders from his first three years with the Minutemen for providing him a great example to follow in terms of leadership. Karaska also credited the UMass lacrosse coaching staff with providing him the skills to become a leader, both on and off the field.

“We see these guys every single day and they’ve always put a perfect image on how to be a leader, what it means to be a leader and they really emphasize that we take traits from what they do and carry it over to ourselves, and that’s really how I’ve become a leader,” Karaska said.

Leadership is not something that came to Karaska immediately. Like the other aspects of his game, he worked hard to become a more involved teammate and somebody who takes control on the field.

“He’s definitely stepped out of his comfort zone,” Fahey said. “When he came in he was more on the quiet end when talking about defense, talking down there, communicating to everyone. The last couple of years he’s really developed into someone on the field that’s really vocal, really can communicate, and really can lead a team.”

Karaska has made it a point to talk to his teammates more in order to create more cohesion between the players on the field.

“He’s very communicative,” Huntziker said. “Just talking all the time. He’s one of those guys you can hear when you’re not even talking to him, but you know where he is because you can hear him on the field.”

Putting the team first

Karaska has played at a top level during his time at UMass and for his hard work he has earned a number of accolades. Last year as a junior, he was selected to the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association All-New England First Team and the All-CAA First Team.

This year before the season began, he was selected as a Preseason NEILA All-Region Second Team and the Preseason All-CAA team.

“Anytime it’s a preseason thing it’s based on reputation, and I think Kyle knows that,” Cannella said. “Kyle knows that if he doesn’t continue to compete and play his hardest every single day, none of that comes your way. He understands you have to earn it. But he also understands if the defense is successful as a group, then the personal accolades will come as well.”

Karaska himself is more concerned with the success and development of the team than any personal accolades he may earn.

“It’s always great when you achieve something and other people notice, but I’m really here just for the team,” Karaska said. “We always put the team before everybody else. If I get put up for an award I try not to think about it as much as possible, I’m really focused on what we’re doing as a team and how we’re going to get better as a team.”

A life after lacrosse

Karaska’s life post-UMass is already reaping the benefits of his time playing lacrosse. He has lined up a job for after he graduates, thanks to a UMass lacrosse alumnus Tom Fallon.

After interviewing with Trilogy Medical Partners for three days over winter break, he has accepted a job with the company and plans on moving out to Las Vegas in July to start working.

Karaska will be working as a sales representative for Trilogy Medical Partners, working inside the surgery room, assisting the surgeons if they have any questions regarding how to use the medical equipment.

With his time as a member of the Minutemen coming to an end soon, Karaska appreciates all the time he spent working hard with his teammates, trying to get better as a team.

“When I think of UMass lacrosse and I think back to the time I’ve played here, I always just think back to Garber Field and just everyday going out there and just playing with the guys, my teammates,” Karaska said

“That’s the biggest memory I have and what I’ll take away from this.”

Jamie Cushman can be reached at jrcushman@umass.edu.

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