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Thousand Oaks HS Lacrosse

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Nov, 2020

From Nine to Fine

My name is Ryan Kaufman and I am currently the varsity starting goalie for Thousand Oaks High school. Recently, I just signed a letter of intent to play NAIA lacrosse for Westcliff University. Westcliff is a pretty new university in Irvine, California, that just recently started an athletics program, and is adding lacrosse to their repertoire, making it the second of three varsity college lacrosse programs in california, being the only one to offer athletic scholarships for the sport. The University recently hired Coach Kevin Arabejo to kickstart the Lacrosse program, where he has recruited many talented high school players from around the states, me being one of them. Now if you told me 4 years ago I would be playing lacrosse at one of its highest levels, and getting a scholarship to do it, I would tell you to get some more sleep cause obviously you’re dreams were spilling out into the real world, but 4 years later here I am. Honestly it's still pretty hard to believe that this is happening to lil ol me, I mean, if you look at how I run and my mile times, you’d hurt your vocal chords from abnormal amounts of laughter. Then again, if you saw how I could do the splits in order to make a save off of a worm burner, you’d realize I'm a solid contender for all-marmonte. But in all seriousness, it definitely takes a second look to understand where I am and how I got there.I started playing sports at a very young age just like many other athletes, but unlike many athletes who eventually go on to play in college, I never excelled at any of them. I started tee ball at 4, and soccer and basketball at five, but I never really excelled at any of them. It wasn't until I was 11 that I started playing lacrosse. I started lacrosse after I had lost interest in soccer and a friend of mine told me about his lacrosse team. I started with a short stick and as with the many other sports I had played I wasn't very good, but also as with other sports i always chose to wear the number 9 if I could. 9 had always been my favorite number, and to me, wearing that number always made me feel like the best. The true fact of the matter was that I was never the best. I always struggled because I wasn't fast, I wasn't strong, and I definitely did not have my stick skills down. My second year playing started pretty rough. I was put with the first year players even though I was a second year player because I just wasn't good. One day during practice, a defender needed a break, and they asked someone to play long pole. Before my coach said “no don't let him do it!”, I had already picked up the stick and began to play. Now the interesting part about what happened was that, surprisingly, I wasn't terrible at defense. From then on I was starting to figure out athletically what I was good at. I continued to play defense and got increasingly better. I still wasn't great, which still prompted doubts of my abilities from both my teammates and coaches, which came out in a multitude of ways. Still i had finally found something i had talent in and i was gonna pursue that. 3 seasons, one club team later, i was done with youth lacrosse and it looked as if i would continue on to high school. Fast forward to freshman year and lacrosse was the last thing on my mind. A lot had happened, lacrosse was the least of my worries, and it looked as if the sports, competition and athletics part of my life was coming to an end, possibly more. I was just about to go back to school for second semester when I picked up my lacrosse stick, which by the way, I probably paid way more than I needed to for just saying, and I contacted my buddy to throw the ball a bit at the local middle school. It just so happened that a friend happened to be the same one who had introduced me to lacrosse 3 years prior. After a couple hours of wall ball and passing, it had finally started to get dark, so it would soon be time to get going. The thing was though, I really didn't want to. After all I had been through, just focusing on the flow of the ball through the air and exerting my arms in the catapult like motion had really been an outlet. Then of course, a crazy idea ensued. How about I join the high school lacrosse team after they have had a whole off season of practice and conditioning when I had literally done nothing remotely athletic for the past year besides one month of marching band. Smart idea right, well it just so happened that i had an open spot on my schedule for 7th period, so a few chats with my counselor later, my name was on the 7th period lacrosse roster. As you would guess, that first month of lacrosse was rough. My stick skills were the absolute worst on the entire team, I couldn't keep up in any of the runs, and the JV lacrosse team already had a couple defenders way better than I was. At best I would have been an LSM, and as previously mentioned, I do not fare well when it comes to cardio. We’re about 2 weeks from the start of the season and as luck would have it, our backup JV goalie was ineligible to play, and we would need a new backup. It was valentines day, and after multiple days of the coach asking for a volunteer, still no dice. I was feeling the emotions of being a single teenager on a holiday that celebrates the not single, so i was already in a pretty weird mood. To make matters even more interesting, February 4th also happened to be meme day, so I walked into H-11 (the lacrosse room) wearing a printed picture of Lionel Richie safety pinned to my t-shirt with the caption “Hello, is it me you’re looking for”, so i really had nothing else to lose. When our defensemen, Andrew, brought up the idea of me playing goalie to my coach, he asked me if i was up for it and i just thought “what could I possibly lose”. The answer to that question, as we would soon find out, was multiple hours of my life dedicated to training, watching way too many goalie videos online, browsing goalie equipment on my computer, and hundreds of dollars dedicated to gear, lessons and camps. My goalie journey officially started when I walked onto the field with the bulky pads, throat guarded helmet and most importantly, my cup. The first shot I ever saved was blocked with my legs in the completely wrong position and my hands holding the stick as if i was an offensive player, however, things would only get better from there. I took more shots, saved more goals and played more games, and with all the action i received, I started developing a knack for fighting off the ball between the pipes. My sophomore year, I became the primary goalie for the JV lacrosse team, and I ended up finishing the season with multiple double digit save games, an above 50% save average, and a JV defensive MVP under my belt, while also being able to serve as varsity backup for a couple regular season games and the playoffs. I never thought that after all the bruises, bullying and bleeding i had taken from sports, i would receive more out of it than I had given, but that's before the kid who had never excelled at anything physical became a varsity athlete. I of course started my Junior year as the varsity backup due to the fact that our varsity starter was the stellar senior goalie Sam Snow, who was an extremely gifted goaltender. That's how it started. Being the backup meant absolutely nothing to me. I still went to every goalie lesson, camp and prospect day I could possibly attend to be the very best I could possibly be. I still trained every single day as if i would be the one starting every single game in the crease. And weirdly enough, as fate would have it, that's exactly what happened. Sam got injured, which meant I was suddenly forced into a role where i would be the primary net-minder my first year on a varsity team. I started off the season splitting halves with another goalie, but that changed after I put up remarkable performances in the first two games I played and had shown myself to be a legitimate goaltender. My ultimate performance in that shortened 5 game season would be a 15-11 victory over Notre Dame, where I put up somewhere around 25 saves. I ended the season with a .62 save percentage and about 70 total saves, an extraordinary feat for any goalie, let alone me, but the ultimate takeaway I would receive from that season would be from my teammates. After 12 years of being the laughing stock of whatever team I was on, I had finally earned respect from my teammates as an athlete who they could count on, and who they could trust to always give em a chance to win. I won't say everything was pretty, but by the end of that season, I had gotten praise and gratitude from every player on that varsity team, which i would have previously thought to be impossible. I was proud of myself, because after all the struggles and pain I had been through, I had finally found success and progress wearing that same 9 I had previously failed in. That special number finally had a new special meaning. So even after my season had ended, the work didn't stop. After putting up the stats and numbers I had that year, I realized I had a solid chance to play lacrosse at an even higher level. I began signing up for every recruiting website I could, exploiting every free feature they had to offer while also emailing every NAIA, DII and DII school I was possibly interested in. I also put together a highlight tape, combining all the best clips taken from the games we had played. Immediately I saw results, as I started receiving emails and showcase invitations from a wide variety of schools. I began engaging and putting myself out there to more and more programs, but sadly, more unfortunate events, including covid, struck my life, seemingly putting a stop to this dream before it had even begun. Without going into too much detail, I will say that these events definitely once again dropped lacrosse from the priority list and back to the “If only things were better cabinet”. After being home for a while, I once again sat down on my computer, and went through my extremely cluttered email that probably had not been checked in 3 months. Most of it just seemed like junk, ads, and more recruitment showcases I would be unable to attend, until I came across one email that had caught my eye. It was a goalie prospect email for a university in Irvine that was starting up a brand new NAIA program in California. Wanna take any lucky guesses as to which university that was. Fast Forward through multiple negotiations between Coach Arabejo, My parents, other parties, and a look from a DII school in Buffalo, you have me laying on my couch at approximately 1:30 on a Tuesday afternoon. This wouldn't sound very weird if you knew me, due to the fact that i usually sleep and nap on my couch, but something was different about this moment. In front of me was an online document that upon signing, would make me the first ever Goalie signed by Westcliff for their team of the future. I have a very weird looking signature that consists of a scribble that slightly makes out an R and a K, but this scribble cemented something that I thought would never be possible for me. I had made it into a University and had committed to said university primarily due to my athletic talents and abilities, but I realize now that was never what truly mattered. It was the hours of hard work I put in that nobody else had. It was the hours of phone calls that I had made. It was my motivation and drive to succeed where I never previously had that brought me to that moment. It was the fact that I was willing to dedicate myself towards something and fuel all my pain, suffering and loss into that goal that made it possible for me to achieve this. It wasn't luck or talent that made me succeed where others hadn’t, it was a little bit of both. At the end of the day, it truly is a bit of a miracle that I got here, but hey, i'm not complaining. It was this entire journey, that made this 9, pretty darn fine. Anyways, I still have a whole senior year to play before i'm off to college, so before I fantasize about how much faster college shots will be, I have to first face what's in front of me. I now realize that pretty much anything can happen. I have the possibility of being benched, I could be injured, or unfortunate events could transpire once again. I still have a lot more work to put in before I'm finished, and in order to prevent those things from happening. The point is, that i now have the motivation, and know that it is possible for me to put this work in. I’ve already done so to get this far, and I am more than willing to do it again to keep it that way. So we may have a global pandemic that makes it pretty darn hard for us to focus on better things, but the 2020/2021 lacrosse team does have a season planned. It may happen and it also may not, but i'm telling you, if it does, make sure to be available, because we have a lot of fight in us. And not to mention, this 9, is pretty darn fine.

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