March 31, 2011

Austin Kaut Grows Flow for Grandma

by Chris R. Vaccaro |

Austin Kaut's flare for big saves and big hair have made him an instant favorite in Happy Valley, where Penn State's freshman goalie has already had some standout performances this season.

When Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni describes Austin Kaut, he talks about how his poise is uncommon for any freshman, especially a goalie, and about his uncanny ability to learn quickly and develop a sound understanding for defense and leadership.

Kaut, a freshman, admits he was nervous prior to the school year about having to learn everything in the fast-paced world of Division I men's lacrosse.

Kaut, a former All-American at Springfield-Delco (Pa.) High School, joined a Penn State team with junior and senior goaltenders already on the roster. It didn't matter.

In seven games so far this season, the stud known as "Sour-Kaut" in the locker room -- primarily because it sounds good, not because he's actually a sour person -- has developed a cult following for the Nittany Lions. Penn State had won three straight games against Rutgers, UMass and St. Joseph's before suffering an 8-6 setback Tuesday at Bucknell.

Kaut has twice won Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Week honors. In the March 19 win against UMass, which was ranked No. 10 at the time, he made 25 saves, the most in a single game by any player in the NCAA this season. The Minutemen piled on 18 shots in the first half, and Kaut made 14 saves.

Even in a 6-5 triple-overtime March 5 loss to Ohio State, Kaut was exceptional, with 16 saves to keep the Nittany Lions in the game. He has played all but 11 minutes in the cage for Penn State and sports a 7.66 goals against average and .659 save percentage.

The idea of Kaut being a capable college goalie was in the cards at some point, but not this soon, especially not for a Penn State team in transition with Tambroni taking over the helm for Glenn Thiel.

"I wouldn't say that our staff is surprised by his performance on the field, as he has been very good since day one on campus," Tambroni said. "Over time he has earned the respect of his teammates and coaches, and at this point has been one of our most reliable players on game day."

Day one for Kaut meant playing in a scrimmage against Johns Hopkins. The 7-4 loss didn't sting, since he used it was a welcome-to-the-NCAA moment.

"They're one of the top programs in the nation," he said. "It was there that it hit me. This is college lacrosse now."

Supporting Kaut's natural abilities in the crease is his natural head of hair that has flamboyant written all over it. He has grown it since high school to honor his grandmother, Elaine Wacks, who passed away when he was in eighth grade.

"She loved my hair when I had it long," he said.

Whenever he decides to cut it -- preferably not while he's in the middle of such a torrid playing streak -- he said he'll donate it to Locks of Love.

The Kaut family lives roughly three and a half hours away from Penn State in Springfield, where they're all rabid Nittany Lions fans. Kaut loves the atmosphere in the fall when the football team is playing, but was quick to point out that there is more to Penn State than the gridiron. Lacrosse, he said, could be a major attraction in the coming years.

With Kaut in net, it should be.

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