Adelphi's Kyle Stark faces off against Saint Anselm in the...

Adelphi's Kyle Stark faces off against Saint Anselm in the NCAA semifinals. Credit: Adelphi Athletics/Frank Demonte

During practices and games this season, particularly toward the end of the season, Adelphi men’s lacrosse coaches would sometimes ask a simple question amongst themselves:

What would you give up to win a national championship?

The answers, as you may imagine, had a very wide range. But there was one day when injured sophomore Kyle Stark overheard the question. And it got him thinking. Unlike the rhetorical and hypothetical natures of those other sacrifices, Stark quickly realized he had a chance to actually strike such a bargain.

So last weekend, seven months after suffering what was supposed to be a season-ending torn ACL, Stark made his career debut for Adelphi in a national semifinal against Saint Anselm, eschewing the medical redshirt he would have otherwise been granted for 2024 the moment he stepped onto the field and foregoing an entire season of college eligibility to try and help the Panthers.

His wins on seven of the 16 faceoffs he took — in a game in which Adelphi won just one of the other nine — wound up being a huge difference in the 12-9 victory and one of the main reasons Adelphi will face Lenoir-Rhyne with a chance to win its first Division II national title since 2011 on Sunday in Philadelphia.

Adelphi is the No. 1 seed in this tournament. Stark provided the No. 1 cede of their season, maybe the biggest one in the nation.

“He was truly selfless in that he gave up the opportunity to play a whole year of lacrosse,” Adelphi coach Gordon Purdie said. “He’s given up so much and he’s truly shown what a teammate is and what it should mean. I’ve been around this game a long time. There are not many people who would do what he did.”

Adelphi's Kyle Stark faces off against Saint Anselm in the...

Adelphi's Kyle Stark faces off against Saint Anselm in the NCAA semifinals. Credit: Adelphi Athletics/Cosmic Fox Media

Purdie and the staff thought long and hard about even proposing the scenario to Stark knowing what the consequences would be. But they also knew how badly they needed Stark, who had played at Seaford High School and spent his freshman season winning 57.1% of his faceoffs at Frostburg State before coming home to Long Island in the fall.

If there is one thing Adelphi lacrosse is known for, it is faceoffs, but this season without Stark and their two other best options at the position, Michael Zecchini and Hugh Keenan, both of whom had shoulder surgery early in the spring, the Panthers won just 34.3% of their chances and ranked 69th out of 79 teams in Division II. Only three teams in the nation lost more faceoffs than the Panthers.

“Losing three guys to injury is a bit crazy,” Purdie said. “You look around and say to yourself ‘What are we going to go to next?’ We had to train guys to be faceoff guys who are not faceoff guys … We’ve spent more time on faceoffs this year than we ever have and yet we probably have more All-Americans at the faceoff than any other team in Division II.”

That deficiency didn’t keep Adelphi from posting a 16-2 record and getting as far as it did. They even beat Saint Anselm in the Northeast-10 conference championship in early May, 10-9, without winning any of the game's 21 faceoffs. Purdie joked that the last time he’d seen that happen was when he was playing midfield on Adelphi’s 1979 NCAA championship squad. “And that’s only because there were no faceoffs in 1979,” Purdie said of the one-year tinkering with the rules.

The odds of them doing that again were slim.

For Stark, there was never any question about suiting up. Even as Purdie told Stark he might take only three or four faceoffs if he was losing them — essentially a minute or less of action that would account for his entire blown 2024 season — Stark shouldered that pressure and was all in on the plan.

“Once I was cleared, I knew I had to play because of how hard everyone else was working,” Stark said, noting that he’d been attending practices and games, watching the team all season. “I wouldn’t be able to look my teammates in the face knowing that I was able to play and just decided to sit out.”

The result?

“It was awesome,” Stark said. “Pretty much everything I could have asked for. I missed the entire season, but I come back in the biggest game of the season and I was able to help the team get a win. And now we’re going to Philly.”

More importantly, Stark came out of his first lacrosse action since October without any setbacks to his knee and will be on the field Sunday against No. 2 Lenoir-Rhyne (17-1).

He’s one of several key members of the current team who were not part of the 7-3 loss to Lenoir-Rhyne in North Carolina in February. Midfielder Kyle Steinback, a graduate student from Garden City, was hurt for that game (and the first six) but has returned to score 16 goals with five assists in 11 games. And freshman Braden Donnellan (Massapequa, Plainedge HS) didn’t have a big role in the offense at the start of the season but has emerged to become Adelphi’s third-leading scorer with 29 goals and 28 assists.

“We’re very much a different team than we were back then, both on offense and defense,” Purdie said.

And at the faceoff? Stark-ly different, one might say.

“There are only so many times where you are going to get a chance to play in a national championship game,” Stark said. “After I had my surgery [in November], I went right on my calendar on my phone and counted six months and it was right in the middle of May, perfect timing for the NCAA Tournament. I always kept it in the back of my mind that, wow, it would be pretty cool if I was able to come back and make a run in the NCAA Tournament. And then time flew by and here we are.”

No matter how things go on Sunday, Stark already has made a deep impact on the Adelphi program and its longtime coach in his brief time playing for them. And he’s undoubtedly provided the best answer possible to that conversation-piquing question the coaches used to bounce off each other about what they’d offer in exchange for a title.

“I’m so grateful for what he has given up for this little bit of opportunity,” Purdie said of Stark. “His selflessness to put his hand up and say I want to do anything I can to help this team win is something that will remain with me forever.”


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