Editor’s Note: In Sean Christman’s past work for LAS, he has written about Division 3 NCAA lacrosse and the MLL. However, this piece is entirely different. When looking through the Lehigh senior night program, Sean saw something that caught his eye. Senior midfielder Kyle Stiefel was trying out for the Israeli national team. With a little help from Lehigh head coach Kevin Cassese, Sean was able to contact Kyle, conduct an interview about his collegiate career and his Israel trip, and was then able to write this piece.
Photo Credit: Larry Palumbo, Coyote Magic Action Shots
You may know the name Kyle Stiefel from the past two NCAA tournaments, where he played for the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. In the 2012 tournament, Stiefel scored a hat trick against Maryland. This year, in Lehigh’s loss to UNC, Stiefel had a goal on an EMO possession.
However, playing college lacrosse was not an easy journey for Kyle. I asked him about his journey to the big time, and his response was long, well thought out, and incredibly insightful:
I actually had to secure my spot on the team through the walk-on process. In high school I was being recruited by 3 of the Ivy League schools and wanted to go to Dartmouth. When Dartmouth didn’t work out late in the summer going into my senior year of high school, I then was looking to go to the best academic school possible, while having the opportunity to play lacrosse.
I was then set on going to Penn State and the coach said he would give me a tryout with the team. Late during my senior year I got into Lehigh University which I made the purely academic decision to go there for college, and the coaches there told me about their walk on tryouts. I couldn’t have been happier to have made that decision of going to Lehigh.
That summer going into freshman year of college I worked extremely hard to prepare myself for the upcoming tryouts. I was training extremely hard and playing in the best men’s leagues in New Jersey. When it came to the tryouts I was definitely ready, and thankfully the coaches gave me the opportunity and invitation to join their team and family. My freshman year was definitely a building year for myself as I was still improving but not yet making the push for playing time. I also was playing attack still at that time which I played primarily in high school.
After freshman year I knew the areas I needed to improve and came back sophomore year trying to show what I been working on. I definitely was doing much better in the practices and team scrimmages and was climbing from the bottom of the depth chart to competing for playing time.
I will always remember this, when we were in the locker room getting ready for our home game against Presbyterian, Coach Cassese took me aside and said “We noticed how well you’ve been doing in practices and want to give you a shot today and see if you can translate what you’ve been doing in practices into an actual game”. My first shot was a lefty cut which I just missed, but my next 2 shots, which were righty, were goals. Those were my first goals of my collegiate career.
After impressing the coaches in this game, he continued to progress throughout his collegiate career, and kept climbing the depth charts. Perhaps his best moments for Lehigh came on the Man-up unit, where his right-handed rocket of a shot frequently found its way to the back of the net. Kyle credits his progression from freshman to sophomore year as the biggest success of his college career.
After a disappointing loss to UNC in this year’s NCAA tournament, many Lehigh seniors ended their lacrosse careers. However, Stiefel wasn’t done:
I heard about Team Israel through a buddy of mine and he played with the team in the Euro Games and he put me in touch with the coaches. The coaches then emailed me and called me, and invited me to the tryouts, which were all the way out in Israel at the Olympic Institute in Netanya where all the national teams train.
After a graduation trip around Europe, and a visit to Jerusalem, Stiefel made it to Tel Aviv for his tryout. Of course, there were a few changes between the college game and international game that were different to Kyle:
The rules were something that stuck out. The refs were calling hard checks and slashes a penalty almost automatically. Also if there is a flag drawn and the team drops the ball, the play is called dead unlike the play until change of possession or missed shot in college.
Since growing the game is a common theme at LAS, I asked Kyle what he noticed about the game in Israel, and he had this to say:
It was great to see that lacrosse is growing in Israel. There were numerous Israeli citizens trying out and also a few Israeli kids came to watch. It was great to see everyone from different areas of USA, Canada, and Israel be united through our heritage but also through the sport of lacrosse.
Kyle also told me about some of the rules for playing on Team Israel:
The national team will consist of Israeli citizens and people with dual-citizenships. There will be players asked to obtain an Israeli passport but doing so could demand military time in Israel, as every citizen 18-26 years old must serve in the Israeli Defense Forces. I won’t be obtaining an Israeli Passport therefore will not have duel citizenship and am competing for 1 of the 4-6 exemption spots on the team. This is obviously a more competitive spot on the roster.
Other teams and colleges represented at the tryout included Johns Hopkins/Boston Cannons, Maryland, Cornell, Hobart, and Lafayette. Despite the tough competition, he feels he did well enough at the tryout to make the team
My goal for the tryout was to make the team. I wanted to showcase to the coaches what I can do and especially my shooting ability. I believe I did accomplish this. I would need one of those six exemption spots and if it doesn’t work out, it was truly a great experience and got to meet a bunch of great guys and got to play lacrosse in Israel and tried out for the first ever Israeli National Lacrosse Team. I find out if I made the team in early August and there are scrimmages against Uganda and Iroquois in Baltimore that month.
Special thanks to Coach Cassese and Kyle Stiefel for their help in writing this article. I wish nothing but the best to Kyle as he continues to progress his lacrosse career, and continues to grow the game overseas.