ST. CHARLES – Casual lacrosse watchers try to make sense of what Pat Killeen does and often find it to be whack.
Seeing someone indiscriminately bopping opponents on their sticks or shoulders leads to the assumption that that’s all there is to it.
Plenty more precision comes with playing long stick midfielder for the St. Charles club team, including three kinds of checks. The difference between poke, lift and slap will be on display when St. Charles travels to New Trier for a state semifinal at 5:30 p.m. today, and there certainly is one.
“It takes a lot more skill than you think,” Killeen said. “You’ve got a six-foot pole instead of a three-foot pole, and you’ve got to protect it well.”
Killeen has aimed to keep the other team’s midfielders in line and out of the attack zone for three seasons, standing by as the first two ended in eerily similar ways.
St. Charles lost a state semifinal at New Trier, 16-7, in 2007, then fell, 6-2, in the same game last year. New Trier won the state championship both times and enters today with four straight titles and a potentially intimidating aura.
“When a lot of people play strong teams, they kind of freeze up and don’t know what to do,” Killeen said. “We’ve got to stay relaxed.”
Teammates have that experience when it comes to Killeen, whose role within the midfield differs from all others.
He carries a long stick like other defenders but does not clamp down on attackmen like they do. He’ll lead an offensive rush upfield if he scoops a ground ball in transition, but he substitutes for a short-stick midfielder upon whipping the ball away.
If St. Charles wins a faceoff, Killeen shuttles from the wing to the bench and back again. If it loses, he drops back to defense.
“He brings a lot because he really knows what he’s doing,” said attackman Chad Ellis, a fellow junior. “We can trust him on defending a guy, making him drop the ball and making the right decision.”
Killeen – a second-team all-state and first-team all conference selection this season – began playing lacrosse in eighth grade and remembers watching former St. Charles player Mike Swartz for inspiration.
A fellow LSM, Swartz “just did everything” in Killeen’s eyes. Well, everything except score. That honor goes to the short-stick midfielders, who only share a position with Killeen by name.
“Everything that we do is pretty much together with each other and just making sure that we all know what we’re doing,” junior defender Dom Imbordino said. “The slide packages and where everybody is supposed to be.”
St. Charles knows its present position too well. Two months ago, the team lost to New Trier 14-9 at Norris Stadium, gradually falling into a hole as the game progressed.
St. Charles – “We don’t really have a nickname, it’s weird,” Imbordino says – led, 4-1, after one quarter and was tied at 6 at halftime as New Trier surged ahead with fast break and transition goals.
“We’ll be ready this time,” Killeen said. “We’ve just got to stay relaxed.”
IHSLA Final Four
No. 5 St. Charles (15-1) at No. 1 New Trier (14-1), 5:30 p.m.
No. 3 Loyola (11-3) at No. 2 Lake Forest (13-1), 6 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 11:30 a.m. at Toyota Park, Bridgeview
• Despite the recent outcomes, St. Charles enjoys playing on New Trier’s well-kept grass field, which long stick midfielder Pat Killeen compares to an artificial surface.
“It’s nice and quick and you know how the ball is going to roll and bounce every time,” Killeen said. “Sometimes we’ll play on divots and you’ve got to figure it out.”
• St. Charles coach Andy Thompson, a 1999 St. Charles graduate and former attackman, has helped the team to state semifinal appearances in each of his three seasons as head coach.
“I’d like to think I had something to do with it,” Thompson said, “but I’ve also heard a saying that great players make great coaches, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of great players.”
• All-American attackman Chad Ellis has scored nine of St. Charles’ 15 postseason goals.