Each week, The Baltimore Sun will publish a Q&A with a college lacrosse player or coach to get you better acquainted with the player and his/her team. Today's guest is Stevenson junior defenseman Kyle Holechek, a Reisterstown native and Loyola graduate who was named a Division III first-team All-American on Tuesday after a season in which he ranked second on the team in caused turnovers (32) and fourth in ground balls (71).
The No. 4 Mustangs (21-2) will meet No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology (19-2) in the NCAA Division III tournament final Sunday at 4 p.m. at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
How would you characterize your emotion as you prepare for your first title game appearance?
A lot of excitement. It's still coming in day by day. A lot of the guys are riding high off the Salisbury win (12-6 last Sunday). That was a big enough experience in itself, and I think the Philly thing is going to start to settle in once we hop on the bus. That emotion will really kick in once you know that you don't have the normal schedule, and you're doing the interviews and the banquets and things like that.
Are you still pinching yourself to make sure you're not dreaming?
Yeah, I am. I think I pinched myself twice today to make sure that it was still real.
Was earning the school's first appearance in a NCAA tournament final especially meaningful because Stevenson beat Salisbury, the reigning national champion, in last Sunday's semifinal?
It definitely validated us. I think a lot of the guys on the team didn't want to go through anybody else but Salisbury. In the short history of the rivalry that we've had, it's almost like — I'm a huge Ravens fan — the Ravens having to go through New England to get there. They took it from us last year, and I waited 365 days for the moment to come around again. So I think that was really necessary for us. It was a validation of what we've done this year.
The Mustangs beat RIT, 12-11, in overtime on Feb. 27. What are your thoughts on the rematch this Sunday?
I'm excited. We came into our first game with them kind of blind. So we had to take a step back and adjust to their style of play. It's a tough style of lacrosse to get used to because they don't play like any other team that we've played all year — other than maybe Lynchburg — with the way they run that kind of motion offense up top, just cycling guys through. They try to lull you into thinking that they're not really doing anything, and then they catch you off guard. It's that non-stop movement, pick-and-rolls left and right, that Canadian style of lacrosse that really pushes you to play a lot better off-ball.
Is the defense planning to see the hidden-ball trick that the Tigers used to score the game-winning goal in Sunday's 10-9 overtime win against SUNY-Cortland?
I saw them run that three or four times, but we've had teams in the past two games who have tried to do that to catch us off guard. It's one of the things that we've highlighted, but I don't think we want to get too sucked into one little piece. It definitely didn't get by us though. I think everyone has paid attention to that one.
Is anything less than a national championship disappointing?
I think now that we're here, I don't think I'm ever going to be satisfied with just being here. I know that it's incredible for this program to finally push through that semifinal game, but I think that if you settle for anything less than that, then maybe we don't necessarily belong there. If just getting there is your goal, maybe it's not the right time for you. I think the guys who want to take it all are the ones who deserve to be here, and I think we both deserve to be here. I think anything less would be a disappointment to me. I think we've worked too hard to let anything else happen.
How did you feel about being named a first-team All-American?
That's great. It's nice that if you don't have as big of a year as you did before when you look on paper, it still goes to show that people notice what you're doing out on the field. Just because you don't have the most caused turnovers in the nation doesn't mean that you're not one of the top defenders in the nation. That gave me a little validation, saying, "We notice what you're doing, and we recognize that you're a great player." It's a feel-good thing. But it absolutely means nothing to me if we don't win that last game.