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The Last Line of Defense: MLL Champion Kyle Bernlohr Joins Team STX
The town of Akron, OH doesn’t usually come to mind when you think of lacrosse hubs around the world, but Team STX’s newest member Kyle Bernlohr is out to change that. With a save percentage of .567 and an MLL championship already under his belt, Bernlohr is making sure no one sleeps on his sport in the Buckeye state.
The Terps alum, Ohio Machine All-Star, and Akron native is passionate about guarding the net and growing the sport in other developing lacrosse communities. We recently caught up with the 2017 MLL champion to talk about how he got his start in the sport, his transition from college to the pros, and his top tips for young goalies. Check it out:
Tell us a little about yourself – how long have you been playing lacrosse and what got you into the sport?
I was born and raised in Akron – an area that’s pretty foreign to the sport of lacrosse. Lucky for me, my older brother Blake started playing with some of his friends and naturally, as the younger brother, I wanted to do what my older brother was doing…
The first time I picked up a stick, I immediately fell in love with the game. That was in second grade and I haven’t lost the feeling since! Shout-out to my brother for letting me tag along and introducing me to it in the first place!
Goalie is a unique position with a big responsibility – how did you land on that position and how have you made it your own?
You could say becoming a goalie was just a result of being the younger brother – but I fell in love with it anyway!
Growing up, we had a net in our backyard and, as the younger brother, I was often tasked with hopping in the goal. My brother would throw some hockey pads on me and start trying to put the ball in the back of the net.
Eventually, it grew into him inviting all of his friends over every day after school to practice their shots. I always loved jumping in and trying to make the saves. From then on, I never played any other position!
Congrats on bringing home the 2017 MLL Championship! How did it feel to win the title in your second pro season?
The 2017 season was really unforgettable. As a team, we had a certain identity, culture and swagger that made us play with confidence every single time we hit the field – and it paid off on the biggest stage. Winning is tough and hard-earned – all the guys we’re playing against are fantastic. Being able to knock that monkey off my shoulder so early in my career was a truly special memory.
Speaking of the 2017 season, you ended up leading the league in save percentage – what tips can you give to younger goalies to help them keep the ball out of the net?
I have to start by crediting those numbers to my defense that did all of the hard work. It makes your job easy when you have the best defensemen in the world in front of you, so definitely a big shout-out to them. I guess tip No. 1 is know the guys on your line-up – being goalie is by no means a one-man show.
For younger goalies, I’d encourage them to play with an extremely high level of confidence. If you don’t think you can make every save, then you won’t. Obviously you can’t make every save, but if you play with the mentality that you can, I guarantee you’ll walk off the field having robbed a few really solid shots.
Also, don’t put too much pressure on yourself! At the end of the day, it’s a game, so make sure to relax and have fun – I guarantee you’ll see more improvements to your game.
What has the transition from college to pro been like?
The transition from college to the pros is a funny one, especially as a goalie. It can either really hurt your confidence or make you feel like you’re the best goalie ever. Every game, there are so many shots that come at you. If you can make a couple saves early on, you’ll gain the confidence and momentum you need to keep it up through the full 60 minutes.
On the flip side, there are other games where you feel like the goal is actually the size of a soccer goal and there’s nothing you can do to keep the ball out of the net. Because of that, I try my best to break the game into short mental segments. I remind myself that games are long and there are going to be huge momentum swings, but that no game is over until the whistle blows. I’ve played three years in the pros and I’ve noticed it’s usually when I tell myself to relax and have fun that I end up playing my best.
What techniques should younger goalies focus on to help them up their game?
For the younger goalies working to hone their technique, I recommend buying a good short stick and taking it everywhere you go. Rather than worrying about specific drills and always using a goalie stick, consistent practice with the smaller stick will allow you to develop your overall stick-handling skills, improve your ability to pass and catch with a smaller surface area, and perfect your cradling and throwing form – all things that will directly translate to your goalie game.
Too many times I’ve seen kids grab a goalie stick first and never understand the feel of a normal lacrosse stick. This can hurt your ability to develop your stick-handling skills because you started from the get-go with a heavy, oddly-shaped goalie stick.
Not sure which stick to use as you hone your stick-handling technique? Check out all our available handles here.
When you aren’t protecting the net or coaching on the field, what do you like to do in your free time?
I make it a priority to have balance in my life – I never let lacrosse dominate everything I do. Whether it’s getting out on the golf course, playing pick-up soccer or basketball, or just hanging out with friends, I do what I can to clear my mind before it’s time to hit the field. Too much reflecting on a bad goal or a bad coaching decision will just mess you up for the next time.
For more pro lacrosse athlete stories and playing tips, meet Jake & Jesse Bernhardt, the Manning brothers of the lacrosse world.