June 23, 2011

Ringmaster: Kyle Hartzell Wins at Every Level

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

(Note: This article originally appeared in the June print edition of Lacrosse Magazine. Lacrosse Magazine is a benefit of membership in US Lacrosse, the sport's national governing body. Join the more than 350,000 members of US Lacrosse and receive Lacrosse Magazine delivered right to your mailbox.)

Kyle Hartzell has won championships at the MLL, NLL, NCAA and NJCAA levels. The defending champ Bayhawks host Boston in a key MLL game on Saturday night.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Deb Hartzell had no idea back then that her son, now age 25, would be sitting so high on a stage he has pretty much built by himself. But one thing the mother knew very clearly about this eager, driven boy was he wouldn’t waste time after first picking up that stick during his freshman year of high school. He would embrace and explore the possibilities.

Kyle Hartzell immediately took to lacrosse at Archbishop Curley (Md.). He loved its speed and the chances it offered to catch and pass the ball and beat an opposing goalie with a hard, well-placed shot.

“Every moment he could, [Kyle] had that stick in his hand, carrying it around, throwing a ball against a wall for hours,” Deb Hartzell said. “He had this tenacity to work at it. He was going to get really good at it.”

Fast forward a decade to August 2010, and there was Hartzell, no longer the tall, raw, skinny, teenaged attackman from the eastern Baltimore County community of Dundalk. Instead, he was transformed — a ripped, polished, lightning-quick defender for Major League Lacrosse’s Chesapeake Bayhawks. And man, did the 6-feet-2, 180-pound Hartzell put on a show for a team that recovered from a midseason slump to make it to the MLL’s championship weekend.

First, Hartzell draped Boston Cannons superstar midfielder Paul Rabil with suffocating defense, holding him without a point in a 13-9 win that sent the Bayhawks to the title game. The next day, Hartzell held Long Island Lizards star midfielder Stephen Berger pointless in a 13-9 victory that brought the Bayhawks their third league title.

With that, Hartzell became the first long stick ever to be named MLL finals MVP. And with that, the kid who had toiled in relative lacrosse obscurity for years at three collegiate stops, and who had waited until the seventh round of the MLL supplemental draft to hear his name called in 2008, had put the definitive stamp on his year of arrival.

“He’s got a pretty good arsenal of checks he knows how to use,” Rabil said. “What he tends to give up in size, he makes up for in hustle and relentlessness. In pro sports, it comes down to personal drive.”

Hartzell always has driven hard, and the rewards are following as a result.

He capped his third indoor season by leading the Washington Stealth — Rabil is a teammate, as well as a workout partner — to the National Lacrosse League title in May 2010, as a ball-hawking, transition-sparking defender. Last year, Hartzell and Josh Porcell (formerly of the Chicago Machine) started Rogue Lacrosse, a company that will operate summer instructional camps in Herndon, Va., and Wilton, N.Y.

Hartzell will miss the first few weeks of the 2011 MLL schedule, since he was set to join the U.S. team at the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Indoor Championships in Prague, Czech Republic, last month.

“I’m privileged to play against and practice with the guys around me,” Hartzell said. “It’s such a fun game, fast-paced, up-and-down. I love the work that goes into preparing. Any day, [playing lacrosse] could be taken from me.”

Going back to the days when he competed against his older brother, Timothy, and other bigger boys in the neighborhood, Hartzell has been a scrapper. That trait fed his urge to explore lacrosse further after Curley.

Off Hartzell went off to Villa Julie College — now Stevenson University — before Paul Cantabene had arrived to turn it into an elite program. After one unsatisfying semester, Hartzell moved on to CCBC-Essex, where he played midfield then long-stick midfield and helped Essex win the NJCAA championship in 2004 in his first of two seasons.

From there, it was on to Salisbury University, where Hartzell would pursue a degree in marketing and communications and try to land a spot with the powerhouse coached by Jim Berkman.

His emergence was vintage Hartzell. A great athlete who lacked savvy and technical polish, he had no defined position as a junior and hardly played. By the fall of his senior year, Berkman thought it might be a good idea to move Hartzell to close defense. After all, the kid was a workout animal, and he might combine nicely on a killer unit that included proven studs such as Chris Heier and Matt Hittinger.

“[Hartzell] was a great athlete,” Berkman said. “He didn’t quite get [the game] when he got here. But he kept plugging away, kept getting better. And guys kept coming up to me in the fall [of 2006] saying Hartzell needs to be a captain, because he works so hard. By the end of his senior year, Heier was the [Division III] defensive player of the year, but Hartzell was our best defenseman.”

And by the end of the 2007 season, the Sea Gulls were arguably the greatest team in school history as they rolled to the school’s seventh of eight NCAA titles with a 23-0 record. Salisbury averaged 18.1 goals per game, largely due to an aggressive, airtight defense that allowed an amazing five goals per game.

Still, the achievement didn’t translate quickly for Hartzell, who was not picked in the MLL draft that year.

“I was pretty disgusted by the draft. I had kind of given up on lacrosse,” said Hartzell, who was finishing up school that summer and thinking about taking a job with his mother’s graphics design company. “But I decided I might as well give indoor a try. I still had that chip on my shoulder.”

Finally, Hartzell got his chance outdoors, when the San Francisco Dragons selected him with the 62nd overall pick in the 2008 supplemental draft. The Dragons later folded, and the Bayhawks claimed Hartzell in 2009.

“[Hartzell] came in here with his back to the wall. He had to work to get into the lineup,” said Spencer Ford, the Bayhawks general manager. “He wants to cover the best. He’s hungry to be the best. It comes down to heart. His heart is what sets him apart.”

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