PHOTO BY NCAA DIGITAL MEDIA

Georgetown's Jake Carraway entered the NCAA quarterfinals with the longest active goal-scoring streak in Division I. Virginia defenseman Cole Kastner rendered it extinct.

Cole Kastner Turning into Blockbuster Addition to UVA Defense


Blake Kim couldn’t believe his eyes. When he checked in at the San Francisco International Airport one day back in the summer of 2017, he noticed Cole Kastner and his club lacrosse team were on the same flight. Kim did a double take. 
 
“There’s no way that’s Cole,” he thought, despite Kastner’s curly blonde hair.  
 
Kastner was always the tallest kid on the field when Kim and his fraternal twin brother, Cort, coached him in the seventh and eighth grade with the Firehawks Lacrosse Club. It’s why they suggested he shift from midfield to defense in the first place. But the soon-to-be sophomore at Menlo School in Atherton (Calif.) looked like something else entirely after sprouting from 5-foot-11 to close to 6-foot-7 in less than a year. 
 
“You almost look like an Avatar,” Blake Kim jokingly told Kastner at the time. 
 
Four years later, Kastner and fourth-seeded Virginia’s defense drew comparisons to another Blockbuster after they shut down No. 5 Georgetown in a 14-3 NCAA quarterfinal win last Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y.
 
“I feel like I’m in Jurassic Park with a bunch of velociraptors running around in front of the goal,” Hoyas coach Kevin Warne noted after the loss to the Cavaliers. “They’re long, they’re athletic, they get to your hands and I thought they did a great job.”
 
“Cole being out there kind of puts us into the dinosaur category,” Virginia senior defenseman Kyle Kology said earlier this week on a call with reporters. 


“I wish he had come at me a little more. I didn’t have to do a whole lot.” — Kastner in a text to his high school coaches Blake and Cort Kim after his encounter with Carraway  


As Virginia’s “Dean of Defense,” Kology (6-foot-4) helps organize a unit that features redshirt sophomore Cade Saustad (6-foot-5) and fifth-year long-stick midfielder Jared Conners (6-foot-5). Kastner still stands out and makes passing lanes for opponents look even smaller. 

His postseason arc also sounds like something out of a movie. In only his second career start, the freshman from Palo Alto nicknamed “Project 39” by Lars Tiffany got the top cover assignment of Jake Carraway. A Tewaaraton Award finalist who was selected 10th overall in the Premier Lacrosse League draft earlier this spring, Carraway entered the game with the longest active goal streak (44 games) in Division I. 

It went extinct last weekend. 
 
“Unbelievable win,” Kastner texted the Kims after the game. “Excited for next weekend. I wish he had come at me a little more. I didn’t have to do a whole lot.” 








Blake Kim described the letter he wrote for Kastner’s counselor application for the Decathlon Summer Sports Camp in Mountain View (Calif.) as “seriously the easiest letter of recommendation I ever had to write.” He also called Kastner a “once-in-a-generation athlete” and a “coach’s dream.” He watched his development up close over the past three years after he took over as Menlo’s program director of upper and middle school lacrosse in 2017. Kastner balanced and excelled in both lacrosse and basketball at Menlo and drew interest on the hardwood from Ivy League schools.

While most kids go through a lanky awkward stage, Kastner’s handles and footwork from when he was more than half a foot shorter remained. He played forward and led all players in the Bay Area with 17 double-doubles as a junior. His greatest attribute, though, was his ability to cover anybody. “He's a great lacrosse defenseman because of basketball and vice versa,” Kim said. “He would not be the lacrosse player that he is without basketball. One doesn't happen without the other.”

Kastner got more exposure on the lacrosse recruiting scene when he started playing for West Coast Starz the summer after his sophomore year, but Tiffany said watching Kastner on the court clinched it for him. Kastner committed to Virginia in July 2019, a couple months after the Cavaliers claimed the national championship in Philadelphia.

“I was really split down the middle,” Kastner said of his twin passions. “I was pursuing them both. ... As they made that run, Virginia just became more and more ideal a place for me to end up.”

On March 3, 2020, Kastner drove to the paint on Menlo’s first possession in a state playoff game against Oakland Tech. As he leapt in the air to dish the ball to an open shooter, he got his feet taken out from underneath him and fell hard onto his right elbow. “To see this sort of invincible figure rolling around on the floor clutching his right arm was shocking,” Kim said.

Kastner dislocated his right shoulder and tore his labrum. He checked back into the game three minutes later. He shot and blocked with his left hand. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists and helped erase a 12-point fourth quarter deficit. Kastner even scored the tying basket to send the game to overtime, where the Knights fell short.

“He gave it everything that he could with one arm,” Kim said.




PHOTO COURTESY OF BLAKE KIM

Kastner, playing basketball for Menlo (Calif.), dunks over youth lacrosse teammate Everett Banks in a rivalry game against Sacred Heart Prep (Calif.). There's "mutual interest" in Kastner joining UVA's basketball team as a walk-on next season.


The injury that required surgery prevented Kastner from playing lacrosse last spring on a team that promised to be Menlo’s best in years. The Knights’ only got in one game before the season was canceled in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the recording of the game against Sacred Heart Cathedral, Kim said the loudest voice you hear is Kastner encouraging his teammates from the sideline.

In the fall, Kastner wowed his new teammates with a couple windmill dunks while playing pickup hoops. His adjustment to D-I lacrosse took a bit longer. “Playing against those guys the first couple of months, I would be lost out there in all honesty,” Kastner said. He noted that trying to guard senior attackman Ian Laviano on the crease was “impossible” at first.

Kastner’s confidence grew throughout the fall as he got back to full speed and received encouragement from his teammates. “You can literally say anything out here,” 6-foot-3 defenseman Scott Bower told him.

That belief and confidence helped build the factor Kastner and the rest of the unit cited as the primary reason why they seem to be clicking at the perfect time: “Trust.”

“His progression from the fall into the spring now has been amazing,” Kology said. “It reminds me a lot of Cade [Saustad]. Cade came in as a freshman being incredibly raw and you knew he would be an insane cover defenseman for us. It was just a matter of when he would take on that responsibility, not necessarily if he could. Cole has finally gotten to that point. He was there a lot longer before you guys saw him on the field. … In practice, it's so hard for attackmen to get away from him because he has that six-foot stick and he has such a long reach. He's just always in guys' hands, however far away he is from them.”

Kastner made his first career start two weeks ago in a first-round win against Bryant. Along with Quentin Matsui, he helped hold Marc O’Rourke to one goal on 13 shots.

Since he’s been on Grounds, Kastner has drawn the attention of another program that’s synonymous with lockdown defense.

“There is mutual interest in Cole joining our program as a walk-on, but further discussions will take place after the season to see if it makes sense for our program and Cole to join the team,” a spokesperson for Virginia men’s basketball told USA Lacrosse Magazine.

“It’s really unique,” Kastner said of the opportunity after noting his focus right now was on lacrosse. “I’m in a great place.”

As much as he and his brother knew Kastner was capable of playing with some of the game’s best, Kim noted it still felt a little surreal watching his growth on a national stage. The next big step comes Saturday against top-seeded North Carolina and the nation’s No. 1 scoring offense.

“He’s always been a superstar in the making,” Kim said. “We didn’t know when it was going to happen, but I don’t think I’m too off the mark saying it’s a little sooner than we even expected.”