April 3, 2013

Kaut Remains Humble, Hungry During Hot Streak

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

With Austin Kaut setting the tone for a maturing Penn State defense in 2013, the Nittany Lions (7-3, 2-0 CAA) have won five straight games and are surging at midseason.
© Kevin P. Tucker

After two weeks of observing Austin Kaut in the cage during the fall of 2010, Penn State coach Jeff Tambroni had a strong feeling that the Nittany Lions had bagged a special, freshman goalkeeper.

Midway through his third season as the unquestioned anchor of 13th-ranked Penn State's formidable defense, Kaut continues to make the special days look routine.

Kaut's outstanding snapshots still grab the attention of teammates and opponents. A week ago, while he was draining the life out of Bucknell with a 14-save effort that punctuated a rare blowout of the Bison, Kaut forced Bucknell coach Frank Fedorjaka to do a double-take on, of all things, a Bison shot that wasn't even on goal.

While the Lions were pulling away in the second half to an 11-3 rout, Bison freshman midfielder Thomas Flibotte, who regularly shoots in the 100-miles-per-hour neighborhood, fired a mid-range laser that went about a foot over the crossbar — but not before Kaut got those lightning-quick hands moving, raised his stick and partially deflected it.

"I'm standing there thinking, 'You've got to be kidding me.' How did [Kaut] even get a piece of that shot?" Fedorjaka said. "We had gotten to him a little bit early, but then he began to see the ball really well, and he started getting to us.

"Austin is not jumping around [in the goal]. He's confident that he can locate the ball out of your stick and that his hand speed is quick enough to go and get it. He doesn't get out of position. He plays the odds, is patient and reacts well. That's a dangerous combination."

Kaut, who recorded 11 saves in the first half that night and allowed just one, second-half goal, has made quite the habit of getting to opposing shooters throughout his decorated time in State College, Pa.

As a freshman out of Springfield-Delco High School in Morton, Pa. — the same school and Philadelphia suburb that sent goaltending great Drew Adams to Penn State — Kaut was the brightest spot in a 7-7 season that marked Tambroni's first year there. All Kaut did was lead the Division I men's game in save percentage (.635) while earning Colonial Athletic Conference rookie of the year honors.

Kaut followed up by leading the Lions to a 9-6 record with top 10 finishes in save percentage (.584) and saves per game (11.1) in what turned out to be a bittersweet spring. He was great enough to be voted second-team All-American, but Penn State barely missed making its third NCAA tournament appearance.

With Kaut setting the tone on a maturing defense in 2013, the Lions (7-3, 2-0 CAA) have won five straight games and are surging at midseason.

Kaut ranks fifth in the NCAA in goals-allowed average (7.16), is tied for second in save percentage (.623) and is averaging 12 saves per contest. During the team's current winning streak, he is on an unconscious tear, having surrendered 4.44 goals per game while stopping 76.3 percent of the shots he's faced.

"Our defense is really growing up as a unit. It's not just me," Kaut said. "Coach Tambroni has always said to stay humble and hungry. You're going to make mistakes. When things go wrong, you have to look straight at yourself. Could I have made one more stop or one more outlet pass? There have been times when I've questioned my abilities."

Kaut has carved out quite a place with the Lions. In the cage, he's a fiery, vocal leader who maintains a steady, unflinching, read-and-react presence. There is little guessing or baiting with Kaut, who also is meticulous with his preparation, starting with the film work he does with Tambroni, who works with the team's goalies.

"He's a very driven young man with his craft," Tambroni said. "Every day we warm up the goalies [before practice] Austin gets in there with focus. He takes every shot as a piece in his development. He has struggled at times on the path. But his personality has always allowed him to stay on the path. He's got a big personality."

"You don't notice how phenomenal he is behind us, because we've come to expect so much from Austin."

— Penn State defenseman Jack Donnelly on goalie Austin Kaut

Tambroni said Kaut, as a young goalie with a competitive streak that still burns hot, was quick to jump on teammates for making a schematic mistake or bad decision in front of him. As an upperclassmen Tambroni said "he takes more responsibility, even if he's not responsible" for a defensive breakdown.

"[Kaut] is a character, and he plays with so much passion it's infectious," said sophomore defenseman Jack Donnelly. "He really knows the game and knows what everybody is supposed to be doing. You don't notice how phenomenal he is behind us, because we've come to expect so much from Austin.

"You really appreciate him when you review game film. I might think I've played good defense on [an opposing attackman] and forced him to take a 10-yarder that's an easy save for Austin. Then I'll watch the film and see that it was a six-yarder and my defense wasn't so good, but Austin made an incredible save to bail me out. He just has a knack for being where he's supposed to be."

Kaut said he didn't even pick up a goalie stick until middle school, and didn't commit to the position fully until his junior year in high school. He attended a string of Brian Dougherty camps and consulted goalies such as Adams, which explains his preference for baiting shooters – for example, by hugging one pipe to create an open area, before pouncing to stuff the shot in the area he's expecting the ball to be.

To watch Kaut these days is to watch a calm yet shifty technician who gives nothing away, while trusting his eagle eyes and quick hands and feet to do the work after the shooter has done his.

"Following the ball is 90 percent of it. Instead of stepping into the shot and getting hit by the ball, stay still and watch the head of the stick," Kaut said. "I love the adrenaline and seeing shots coming at 100 miles an hour. Am I going to make the save or not? I love the rush of being the last line of defense."

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