Dating back to when he was a little kid playing several sports, the Calvert Hall rising senior had never come close to getting cut from a team.
But this tryout — the first of four consecutive days of workouts — and the team he was trying to make presented a challenge like nothing he had ever experienced.
Going up against 122 of the top lacrosse players in the country and being inspected by a selection committee of 20 coaches, the 17-year-old kept his streak alive when he earned one of the 23 roster spots on the U.S. under-19 men's national team.
Kelly, a two-time first-team All-Metro midfielder, is the youngest member and only high school player on the squad, which travels to Turku, Finland to compete in the 2012 Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) under-19 men's world championships this month.
The tournament began 24 years ago, and the United States has won all six titles to date — 1988, 1992, 1996, 1999, 2003 and 2008. The U.S. is the favorite to win its seventh straight world championship in Finland.
After helping the No. 1 Cardinals capture the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference championship in May, Kelly is excited for the chance to make an even bigger splash in Finland.
"It's always big to play for your high school or college, or even a professional team, but there's nothing like playing for your country. It's a whole different level," he said. "It's just a huge deal that I'm excited about, our whole team is excited about and I'm sure when they play our national anthem before that first game it's going to be a cool moment. We're going to be jacked up representing our country in Finland."
Kelly is known as one of the top faceoff specialists in the country, but there's more that caught the eyes of the selection committee during the four-day tryout held at UMBC last summer.
Jack Crawford, Loyola High's head coach who serves as an assistant coach for the U.S. team, said the committee was looking for players with exceptional athleticism, skill and the ability to adapt quickly under pressure situations while playing with a team-first approach.
"Stephen showed us all that stuff and was very consistent from the word 'go,'" Crawford said. "His ability as a faceoff man made a great impact on his selection, but he showed great ability in other areas. He also showed he could get down the field and be a threat on attack."
Kelly went into the tryout — which consisted of three games per day — hoping to impress the coaches with maximum effort. Kelly's competitiveness is another attribute that sets him apart from others, and it was evident on the final day of workouts.
"During tryouts, they kept saying they wanted players that could last all those games," said Evan Connell, a first-team All-Metro defenseman as a senior at Calvert Hall who didn't make the under-19 team. "So by Sunday, there were a lot of kids that were just gassed and a lot that didn't seem to be running as hard or were either tired or hurt. Last game of the day, hottest one of the summer, and Stephen is still running his heart out and going so hard. He has a motor that just keeps on going and I've never seen him stop."
After three years at Calvert Hall, Kelly has 43 goals, 36 assists, 445 ground balls and 532 faceoff wins (73 percent). The past year spent with the under-19 team, especially the practice time against his college teammates, has continued Kelly's development as a player.
"Playing against these guys and coming back for my senior year, it's going to be 'Wow!' because this has helped me get so much better. It's just a different speed than the high school level and I'm excited because it's going to improve my game," Kelly said.
In addition to controlling faceoffs and playing non-stop at both ends of the field, Kelly is prepared to do anything to help the team win.
"Coach [Tim] Flynn made a joke earlier about how I was going to have to be the ball bucket boy, but that hasn't happened yet," Kelly said while laughing. "All the guys have been really nice to me and made me feel like one of them. There's nothing I've had to do yet, but there's something I may have to do as the youngest guy and I'll be ready."
U.S. under-19 men's schedule
July 13: Australia
July 14: Canada
July 15: England
July 17: Iroquois Nationals
July 18-21: Playoffs