JACKSON TWP.  The jump came quickly for Adam Kelly.

Last spring, the Jackson lacrosse goalkeeper entered the preseason expecting to play junior varsity as a freshman, working on his game with an eye to the future. Instead, a combination of opportunity and ability led to him being elevated to the varsity roster and within a few days, he’d claimed a starting spot in goal.

It’s one he hasn’t relinquished and as his sophomore season winds down, Kelly looks set between the pipes for a long time to come.

“That experience from last year definitely helped coming into this season, but it was really intimidating going in there and playing after going from JV to varsity in basically two days,” Kelly said of his experience last season versus the current one. “I just went out there and give it all my effort, played my hardest  and trusted that the guys would have my back.”

For a freshman playing at the varsity level of any sport, the challenges are steep. Upperclassmen have more experience and tend to be a bit bigger, faster and stronger, all of which come into play even more in a physical sport such as lacrosse.

Kelly credited Charlie Costin, a senior on last season’s team, with taking him under his wing and helping him adjust to the varsity game. With the help of a veteran player like Costin, Kelly was able to do what he needed to do as a goalie tasked with coordinating the defense on the field.

His growth has continued this season for a team that is off to an 8-4 start and has held nine of its 12 opponents to single-digit scoring. With an average of 7.2 goals allowed per game, Kelly and the defense have been a big part of that winning start.

Second-year head coach Bobby Lyle credits Kelly’s willingness to speak up and overall field awareness with fueling his success through his first two seasons of varsity competition.

“Despite being a sophomore, Adam is a leader on the team and defense,” Lyle said. “He has great knowledge for the game and understands the slide packages.  He is not afraid to speak his mind and take charge of the defense.”

Lyle noted that with senior defenders Chase Altier, Ian Gelal and Ted Stuhldreher forming the core of the defense in front of Kelly, the unit has been solid throughout the season and has done a good job of holding themselves and one another accountable no matter what happens on the field.

For Kelly, this season has been a much more comfortable one in goal, but he traces his elevated comfort level back to the end of last season, when the team played well on the defensive end in its final two games, defeating Rocky River and losing in overtime to Hoover.

Playing well in those games and in a first-round tournament win over Solon proved to be a turning point for the young goalie and that confidence has carried over to this season. Having a full season playing alongside Altier, Gelal and Stuhldreher has created a good chemistry for the defense and for Kelly, that has led to better communication.

“When I go out there, the defense and me, we all communicate on the same level,” Kelly said. “We play as one instead of six separate guys.”

Three big tests await Jackson to end the regular season as Mentor, Rocky River and Hoover loom prior to the start of the postseason. This will be the first year of an Ohio High School Athletic Association-sponsored state tournament, so it should be a unique incentive for teams across the state in the push for the title. Kelly has another potential incentive in front of him, one that will take a bit longer to accomplish.

Having started as both a freshman and sophomore, he has the unique chance to become one of the few players in program history to start all four seasons of his high school career in one of the most demanding positions on the field. While he’s trying not to look too far ahead, Kelly admitted that the chance to be a four-year starter in goal for a program with the long tradition Jackson lacrosse has developed is exciting.

“It's incredible really and I’m thankful for all of the opportunities I've had and for coach Lyle teaching me everything he has on the field,” Kelly said. 

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