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An unbreakable bond: UMass men’s lacrosse’s seniors share connection that goes beyond sport

(Daily Collegian/Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

(Daily Collegian/Judith Gibson-Okunieff)

Following last season’s heartbreaking 9-8 loss to Towson in the Colonial Athletic Associate championship game, rising seniors Bob Fahey, Kevin Porzelt, Kyle Karaska and Kurt Hunziker were set to be next in line to lead the Minutemen in their final season.

A class that started with 14 freshmen back in the 2012-2013 was down to its final four.

These aren’t average seniors whose relationship is limited to the field and locker room though. Throughout their tenures at UMass, these four have become practically brothers.

Now, a bond that started as freshmen in the halls of Prince dormitory in Southwest Residential Area is approaching the end of a chapter. The Minutemen (4-6, 0-2 CAA) have three regular season games remaining, with only one of which will be played at home on Garber Field.

Where it all began

For Fahey, Porzelt and Hunziker, lacrosse was introduced into their lives at very young ages, and for all three of them, they immediately fell in love with it.

Picking up lacrosse meant dropping another sport for the four – including Karaska, but at a much later time – and that sport was baseball.

“I played baseball before that like most young kids which I loved, I loved baseball,” Fahey said. “But as soon as I started playing lacrosse it became more lacrosse, more lacrosse each year and less baseball, less baseball.”

Fahey grew up in Westford and went to high school at Bishop Guertin High School in Nashua, New Hampshire. He originally began playing in the Westford lacrosse leagues in elementary school and started club lacrosse in sixth grade.

Porzelt and Hunziker followed a similar path. Porzelt grew up playing lacrosse in his hometown of Cold Spring Harbor, New York where lacrosse is the main sport to play.

While Fahey, Porzelt and Hunziker were budding lacrosse stars, Karaska didn’t get started with lacrosse until his freshman year at Bishop Guertin. This is also where Karaska met Fahey, who is now one of his closest friends and teammates.

Karaska played baseball and hockey for most of his life before shifting to lacrosse.

“It was a good transition,” Karaska said. “I played hockey my whole life too and it was the stick skills of hockey on a football field and yeah I was just captivated by it, it was really cool.”

When their times came to pick a collegiate program to continue their lacrosse careers, the four all chose UMass for the same reason: Minutemen coach Greg Cannella.

Fahey said the vibe he got from Cannella and the University was different from other schools he could have played at, including Vermont, Syracuse and Lehigh.

Porzelt, Hunziker and Karaska all agreed that the feel of the program and Cannella’s coaching style sold them on UMass as well.

“The biggest thing about the program was definitely coach Cannella,” Karaska said. “Sitting down talking with him, it felt like he really cared about not just the way I played the sport or how good I was at the sport, he really cared about who I was and where I came from and the lifestyle I came from and how I would fit his program.”

On top of Cannella’s dedication to making his players not just better lacrosse players and  more prepared for life, Hunziker attributes the program’s “tough mentality” to what made it appealing.

Hunziker believes in working hard and earning success and called coming to UMass “humbling” because the athletes who were thought of to be the best in there high school are no longer the best on the team.

‘Time flies when you’re having fun and that’s what we’re having’

It wasn’t long before the four seniors became close friends once they all arrived in Amherst.

Karaska and Fahey had been friends in high school, and during freshman year at UMass, Fahey lived with Porzelt in Prince and Hunziker was their neighbor.

Now four years later, Hunziker, Fahey and Karaska live in a house together off campus and Porzelt is always over.

When asked how fast those four years went, their response served as another reminder to themselves.

“Too fast, it’s crazy how fast,” Porzelt said. “It feels just like yesterday we were moving into Prince and starting it up and now I have (four) more guaranteed games of my life, it’s crazy.”

Porzelt put his remaining time in Amherst into perspective saying there were times he would play five games in one day let alone for the rest of his life.

“Each year is just like, I remember after my freshman year like damn that’s fast, that went by so quickly and then the second year it was even faster and third it was even faster and the fourth one, I’m already into the CAA’s right now,” Karaska said. “But it’s a great time, I mean, time flies when you’re having fun and that’s what we’re having.”

Since the 2013 season, the Minutemen have a record of 23-30 and have made it to two CAA tournaments in that span. However, no senior can pick one specific game or stat that they will remember most.

They all say that what they will remember most is playing with one another.

“I would honestly just say playing with those three, those three other seniors,” Fahey said. “They are like my three best friends, we hang out, we live together, we hang out and do everything together and to be able to walk out on to Garber field with the three of them is something really special to me, something I will really never forget.”

Captains

Last summer after the season wrapped up, Cannella named Fahey, Porzelt, Hunziker and Karaska captains of the team for the 2015-16 school year.

Their initial duties were to be in contact with members of the team weekly. The team was broken up into groups of four or five players and each captain had to call every member of his group once a week.

That is just a technical aspect of their job as captain. Another is just simply leading by example.

Karaska wants the younger players to look up to him for guidance before, after and during games. He said he hopes to show the younger players how to push through conflicts instead of sitting back and complaining.

In a season that has been tough on the Minutemen, one thing that cannot be denied is the team’s resilience, and that can be traced back to the seniors.

On March 8, Albany handed the Minutemen a 16-4 beating, its worst loss of the season. UMass then answered by winning two straight games against then-No. 10 North Carolina and No. 20 Penn State, its best wins of this season.

All four of the seniors take being named captain as a tremendous honor.

“It is probably the biggest honor I have ever received in my life,” Porzelt said. “It’s a 24-hour job. You have to be the guys that kids look to each and every day to work hard and it’s just been something that you really don’t understand what it means until you’re actually put in to that position. I have so much respect for the guys who were captains before me.”

Being best friends off the field has helped their play on the field. Fahey, Porzelt and Karaska, all defensemen, and Hunziker, a midfielder, have a special chemistry that makes playing much easier.

The biggest advantage though is the ability to hold one another accountable without fear of disrupting their relationship.

“I would say accountability is a huge thing,” Fahey said. “You know the last two years, we’re not afraid to say something to Kyle, Kevin or Kurt because we know they won’t react in a bad way. They’ll react in a positive way. If we see Kurt doing something wrong and we mention it to him, he knows we are just looking out for his back. And that he wants to do it right for us, so it’s a two way street.”

When it’s all said and done

Life goes on after lacrosse and the senior core understands that. But they feel that the lessons they’ve learned and the friendships they have made these past four years will stick with them for a long time.

“You prepare and you think you’ve put it all into a specific goal, things just don’t go your way and it’s all about how you react to that,” Karaska said. “Are you going to fold and let it overcome you? Or are you going to persevere and push through it.”

Graduation is inevitable, and Karaska has seen it coming for quite a while.

“I guess I speak for the other three too, we try to cherish it from day one since we got here in August,” Fahey said. “Just trying to bring everything in for the last time.”

What Karaska says he’ll look back on the most is playing on Garber Field. This is a sentiment that all four of the seniors claim they’ll cherish most.

“I’ve spent more time with those three guys in there, those four guys in there and the players down in the locker room than I do anyone else in my life and just being up on that field,” Karaska said. “I’ve spent so much time up there, it’s really like a sacred ground to me and I’ll always look back to UMass lacrosse and think about that field.”

Philip Sanzo can be reached at psanzo@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @Philip_Sanzo.

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