March 28, 2013

Weekender: Pfeiffer's Kirk Emerges From Shadows

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Hayden Kirk (above) played behind some pretty talented goalies in high school, but now that he is reached the college level, he's carved out his own reputation, including a spot on the Tewaaraton watch list.
© Vickie Palmer

When the 2011 season ended, Hayden Kirk finally found himself in front of fellow goalies Mike Giordano and T.J. DiCarlo.

Kirk, then a freshman for Pfeiffer, led the nation in save percentage (65.7), with DiCarlo, a sophomore at Mercy, and Giordano, a senior LIU Post, finishing in fourth and eighth place, respectively.

Prior to that, Kirk was the one looking up.

All three were members of the 2007 Farmingdale (N.Y.) High program. The pecking order started with Giordano, who would later lead Post to the 2010 Division II national championship, followed by DiCarlo, who was named the D-II Goalie of the Year for the Mavericks in 2011. Playing behind those guys until his senior year, Kirk wasn't on a lot of radar screens. Only one Division II school offered him a partial scholarship.

Still unsure of what he was going to do after graduation, Kirk took a break from a family summer vacation in Myrtle Beach to drive up to Misenheimer, N.C. — located roughly between Charlotte and Greensboro — to speak with Pfeiffer's head coach at the time, Peter Milliman.

"I sat in Coach Milliman's office and he said he needed a goalie," remembered Kirk. "There wasn't anything else better, and I didn't want to end up sitting at home or maybe go to Nassau [CC] or maybe not even play lacrosse. I decided to come here."

It wasn't easy for a kid raised in the heart of Long Island to come to central North Carolina, and it was just as hard explaining to his friends and family — those who were familiar with the Dowlings, LIU Posts and NYITs of the world — where exactly he was going to play ball.

"I used to tell people I was going to at Pfeiffer and they'd say, 'Pfeiffer? What the hell is that?' Now I just stick with 'a small college in North Carolina,'" laughed Kirk. "That's not a knock on the school; it's just that I've had to explain it so many times."

Kirk quickly acclimated to the pace of life in the South, and has become comfortable with his choice of schools, even if it's not hard for the locals to figure out where he's from.

"As a personality, he's Long Island through and through, and I mean that as the highest compliment," said Lars Keil, who took over the head coaching reins this spring for the Falcons after Milliman left to become an assistant at Princeton.

There was no adjustment necessary on the lacrosse field, however. He was named the Conference Carolinas rookie of the year and first team all-league pick after leading the nation in save percentage his first year and was tabbed again to the all-conference first team last year after finishing fourth in D-II with a 62.1 save percentage.

There's nothing flashy about Kirk's game. He trends toward the more technical aspect of the position, although he has a trick or two from the unorthodox school that are showcased when he's forced to make a stop on the inside. Basically, he's a ball-stopper.

"His ability to track the ball and his ability to move and make saves is just incredible," Keil said. "The way that he can evaluate what is going on and mentally prepare for competition, whether it be scrimmages in the fall or games in the spring, is just fantastic."

As with most of the top goalies, Kirk's success is partly the product of the players protecting him. It's something that he readily admits.

"I've been really fortunate with the defense I have in front of me," Kirk said. "Ninety-five percent of the player I am now is because of the defense in front of me."

Limestone head coach J.B. Clarke has seen Kirk up close for the past two seasons. The Saints have roughed up most of the teams on their schedule, but the Pfeiffer game is always a struggle with Kirk in the net. Over the past two years and the 36 games it has played in that time, Limestone has only been held to single-digits four times. Three of them have come against the Falcons.

"Hayden has had terrific games against Limestone," Clarke said. "He is very similar to Jeff White at Le Moyne. They play such good defense in front of him and he makes the saves he has to make behind that defense it makes him very tough to beat. Neither goalie is asked to make a lot of saves, but they make the ones they need."

"When he's on — and I can't say he's on every second of every day, like any goalie — he makes every save that he is supposed to make," Keil said. "He doesn't let in any shots he's not supposed to let in, and then he'll bail you out by making three or four saves that you could never hold your goalie accountable. He makes the defense look good and the defense makes him look good."

Regardless, Kirk is starting to get noticed outside of Misenheimer. He was even named to the Tewaarton Award watch list at the beginning of the season — one of only 10 non-Division I players to make the roll and the only underclassmen among that group. It's an honor that caught Kirk completely off guard.

"I couldn't believe it actually," Kirk said. "Why the hell would they pick me? They had released some other rankings and I was only an honorable mention pick, so I wasn't thinking anything of it. When somebody mentioned it to me in my room, I was like, 'You're lying.'"

Maybe the disbelief was the natural reaction of a player who was caught behind a couple of future All-Americans in high school. Or maybe it was a vestige of the kid who nobody recruited when he finished his prep career. Whatever it's from, Kirk needs to get over it.

He's not playing in anybody's shadow anymore.

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