Cole Kirst, one of five lacrosse-playing brothers, is the only player on the 32-man U.S. U19 training team with a year of college experience.

Cole Kirst Brings Experience to U.S. U19 Squad

Early in his coaching career, Nick Myers was a camp counselor at the Cardigan Mountain Lacrosse Camp, a famed New England institution that dates to the 1970s. One of his fellow counselors was a high school coach from New Jersey, Kyle Kirst.

Myers, Kirst and the rest of the staff used to play pickup basketball in the evenings. “Kirst was the man, big power forward,” Myers said.

Kirst, the father of five lacrosse-playing sons, had his children at the camp and Myers, now the head coach at Ohio State and for the U.S. men’s U19 team, remembers the boys when they were little.

The middle of those five boys, Cole, was introduced to the U.S. national team program at those camps by another counselor — Dan Eipp, a member of the gold-medal winning 2012 U.S. U19 team who went on to play at Harvard and now plays in the Premier Lacrosse League.

It got a young Cole dreaming of wearing red, white and blue, but he knows the dream isn’t easy. His older brothers Connor (a senior All-American midfielder at Villanova) and Colin (a senior goalie at Lehigh) both applied to try out for the 2016 U.S. U19 team, but were not invited.

Cole Kirst, a sophomore attackman at Lehigh, got the call to try out for the 2020 U.S. team, along with his younger brother, C.J., a senior at Delbarton (N.J.).

C.J. did not move on in the tryout process, but Cole finds himself as one of 32 players headed to Ohio State for a training camp this weekend, trying to make the final 23-man roster that will play in the World Lacrosse Men’s U19 World Championship in Ireland next summer.

It would be another milestone for this lacrosse family, which suffered a tragic loss in 2015 when Kyle Kirst, a former Rutgers goalie, died suddenly at age 47.

Lacrosse has helped the Kirst family heal. C.J. will become the fourth of the siblings to play Division I lacrosse when he heads to Cornell next year. The youngest, Caden, is in eighth grade, and a goalie like his father.

“I can’t imagine my life without lacrosse,” Cole said. “I know how proud he’d be of each of us, and my mom is just as proud.”

"If you want to beat Canada, you have to make all of the right plays at the right time, and that’s what Cole Kirst does best." — Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese

Another person who is proud of Cole’s accomplishments is his college coach at Lehigh, Kevin Cassese. One of the most accomplished players in U.S. team history, Cassese won a gold medal with the U.S. U19 team in 1999, played on three U.S. senior teams, winning gold in 2002 and 2010, and was an assistant coach for the 2014 U.S. team.

“His energy is electric,” Cassese said. “There’s nobody I’ve been around that gets as genuinely happy as much as Cole does when his teammates make a nice play. We actually put a highlight video together of his buddies scoring and showing him celebrating in the background.”

That’s exactly the type of team-first attitude that Myers wants, and needs, for the U.S. team program, but there’s still a tough road ahead to make the team.

Kirst has a unique advantage. A September birthday has generally made him one of the youngest players on his lacrosse teams, but for the U19 team, he was the only player at the tryouts with a year of college experience under his belt.

“It was definitely weird, but it gave me a sense of confidence to have that one year of college experience,” Kirst said.

After making the first cut down to 50 players, Kirst survived the second tryout weekend as the roster was pared to 32. He led the White team offense with a goal and two assists in a Blue-White exhibition in July.

This will be the first time the team plays together since that weekend and many of the players will now have the experience of a college fall ball season under their belt, but Kirst still has an advantage.

Heading into the tryouts, Cassese urged Kirst to believe in himself and do what comes naturally, but also to embrace the leadership role he could provide.

“He has a unique perspective as the only one with a full year of college under his belt,” Cassese said. “He knows what the grind is all about and how important it is to seek out those struggling to lift them up.”

Lehigh had three senior starters on attack last year, so after getting some initial starts on attack due to injuries, Kirst came out of the box on the midfield unit for much of the season. The Seton Hall Prep graduate will be back on attack in an up-tempo offense being installed by new offensive coordinator John Crawley this year, but that versatility he gained in 2019 could be key.

“We’ve got several more tough decisions to make, and that lefty attack position for this team is very competitive,” Myers said. “At this camp, we’ll move some guys around and see how they fit into a couple of different positions.”


Cole Kirst had 12 points as a part-time starter for Lehigh last season. He'll take on a bigger role for the Mountain Hawks this year following the graduation of three senior attackman.

It’s all part of the process of building something special by next summer, and this weekend is huge for the program.

“This will be our first outside competition, so it’s a chance to evaluate and also for our coaching staff to grow,” Myers said. “It’s the first time we’ll be together on the sideline. Hill has already played five or six college teams this fall, so it’s going to be an awesome challenge. Any time you can do that, it’s a home run.”

The U.S. team will play both Culver Academy (Ind.) and The Hill Academy (Ontario). In preparation for the 2016 world championship, Hill beat the U.S. squad 16-11.

“Hill kind of took it to us last time,” Myers said. “Playing a team like Hill or Culver will show you a lot of your blind spots.”

Teaching the U.S. players how to play under the international rules, which generally create slower-paced, half-field games, is part of Myers’ challenge. Cassese thinks that will be a benefit for Kirst.

“He’s lethal against short sticks,” Cassese said. “He’s such a big body and fundamentally sound. He’s a strong physical force out there and you can count on him to make the right play 100 percent of time. I’ve been through this enough. If you want to beat Canada, you have to make all of the right plays at the right time, and that’s what Cole Kirst does best.”

Kirst is hoping he gets the chance to suit up against Canada next summer. But he’s already getting a sense of what it means to represent his country and is excited to make true the dream that started in the mountains of New Hampshire.

“When we walked in the locker room before the last game and saw the jerseys hanging, it hit me — all of the summer tournaments and camps,” Kirst said. “I kind of stopped to take it in and really be in the moment. All of the hard work was worth it. Now, I’m ready to get out there and keep working.”

NOTES: The U19 team will play Culver Academy (Ind.) on Saturday at 3 p.m. and The Hill Academy (Canada) at 10 a.m. Both games will be played at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio and admission and parking are free of charge. Spectators will be directed to park on the east side of Ohio Stadium, off of Tuttle Park Place, and will enter the stadium through Gate 16.