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How an aspiring young basketball player transformed into one of the top lacrosse players in the country

Junior defender Cole Kastner grew up as a promising basketball player, but in high school, Kastner’s path changed from basketball to lacrosse

<p>Since coming to Virginia, junior defender Cole Kastner has blossomed into one of the best at his position in the country, earning ACC Defender of the Year honors in his sophomore season.</p>

Since coming to Virginia, junior defender Cole Kastner has blossomed into one of the best at his position in the country, earning ACC Defender of the Year honors in his sophomore season.

The Menlo School outside of Palo Alto, Calif. was set to play a basketball state playoff game led by senior Cole Kastner against Oakland Tech the night of March 3, 2020.

Early in the game, Kastner dribbled towards the basket and went up for a layup. As he propelled himself in the air, he was met by a defender beneath him who sent Kaster tumbling to the ground. He hit the ground and heard two jolts from his shoulder. Kastner suffered from a dislocated shoulder and torn labrum. For Kastner, it was set to sideline him in his final high school basketball game, but he had other ideas.

Miraculously, Kastner checked back into the game, playing with only his left hand and helping send the game into overtime before Menlo eventually lost. Kastner, the second team all-state center, left it all out on the court for his final basketball game. It was a full display of Kastner’s love for basketball, but despite his passion and talent for the sport, he was set to attend Virginia in the fall to play for Coach Lars Tiffany as a lacrosse defender. 

“Rare combination of high-end speed, exceptional lateral footwork, height and savvy game sense,” Tiffany said of Kastner following his freshman season at Virginia. “Cole carries the most generous of spirits, sharing his genuine care and concern for others.”

Fast forward to 2022 and Kastner is currently a junior, a tenacious defender standing at an intimidating 6-foot-7 and is known for his turnover-causing abilities. As a sophomore, Kastner was sixth in the nation in caused turnovers with 32. In addition, Kastner scooped up 29 ground balls on his way to being named ACC Defender of the Year and USILA Second Team All-American. Before all of the accolades and a successful college career, Kastner grew up with aspirations to be a basketball player and played lacrosse simply for fun. 

Kastner immersed himself in basketball at a young age and quickly rose to become a talent in the sport. Growing up, he played Amateur Athletic Union basketball. This setting not only allowed for Kastner to improve his craft, but also put him directly in front of the eyes of many college coaches. 

“You go out there and you’re playing guys who are five-star recruits who are getting recruited by Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] and Coach Calipari,” Kastner said. “You go out there and you might freak out a little bit guarding these guys on defense. The pressure of guarding five-star recruits was intimidating on the court, but on the lacrosse field it was a completely different mindset.”

On the lacrosse field, due to not playing in premier camps and leagues, he wasn't aware of who was being recruited. This allowed him to center his attention more on the game and have fun. Kastner began playing in sixth grade as a midfielder but converted to a defender right before high school. 

At the beginning of his junior year in high school, Kastner’s mentality about lacrosse changed. As of Sept. 1 his junior year, college coaches were eligible to begin communicating with and recruiting prospects. Kastner was unsure if he would receive any offers and had plans to attend a basketball prospect camp that day. The day rolled around and Kastner’s phone was flooded with calls. At first, he was unsure who these coaches were until he discovered they were lacrosse coaches rather than the basketball coaches he initially expected. 

“That was a pretty cool, humbling moment for me,” Kastner said. 

Many college lacrosse coaches envisioned his potential on their rosters. In response, he joined the club team West Coast Starz and began to shift his focus towards lacrosse. Soon after, Tiffany reached out to him. Tiffany was competing against other coaches who were scrambling to bring Kastner to their schools. Despite all of the recruiting, Kastner still had not ruled basketball out of the question. 

“You could be a guy who's, you know, just looking tall at the end of the bench, or you can actually go make an impact,” Kastner said one coach told him during the recruiting process. 

As Kastner became heavily pursued by college lacrosse coaches, he began to realize he had more potential and prowess on the lacrosse field rather than the basketball court. 

Later that year, Kastner watched the Cavaliers lift the lacrosse national championship title in May 2019. With a little more effort and a spring season that saw Kastner receive All-American honors, he received an offer from Virginia and took it immediately as he entered senior year. 

Kastner arrived on Grounds in the fall 2020 and finished his freshman year with a national championship. He broke into the starting lineup at the end of the season, starting in all four NCAA tournament games and made an impact on their tournament run, creating seven turnovers and scooping up 14 ground balls. 

In the fall of his sophomore year, Kastner was invited to meet with a few of the men’s basketball coaches. They offered him an opportunity to join the team, as they were fielding a small roster that year and could use an extra guy on the bench. Unfortunately, the overlap between basketball and lacrosse was too much for it to work out. 

“If it did work out, I would have loved to,” Kastner said.

As an example of a college lacrosse player who successfully made the transition to basketball, in 2019, attacker Pat Spencer of Loyola Maryland won the Tewaaraton award, given to the most outstanding lacrosse player in the nation. Spencer then transferred to Northwestern to play basketball, and in July 2022, he signed a contract with the Golden State Warriors. 

“It would be a dream come true,” Kastner said. “Just the fact that [Spencer] made that dream into a reality is so inspiring to me … I would love to try and do fifth-year in basketball like what Pat Spencer did and play at the Division I level.” 

Time will only tell for Kastner, but for now he will continue to focus on lacrosse with the hope of bringing another national championship home to Virginia. This season he looks to lead by example and make sure to continue to set the standard for what it takes to be a champion once again. 

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