When many of us think of some of the best long stick take away defenders to ever play the game we immediately think of the Usual Suspects – Hopkins’ Dave Pietramala; and Pat McCabe and Ric Beardsley from Syracuse. They all deserve to be there for sure but, you can’t have this conversation without mentioning Steve Kisslinger.
In his playing prime, Steve Kisslinger, aka “Kiss” had great speed and an arsenal of checks he could throw at offensive players. He was very versatile AND could play close Defense or run Long Stick Middie. He could even faceoff with his long pole knowing even if he did lose the draw, he could take it away from you before you made it into the restraining box. Kiss was a ground ball machine and could run the break as well as any short stick middie. He could stalk an offensive player anywhere on the field whether it was at the X or up at the top of the box.
Steve played for Herkimer, Adelphi (earning All-American recognition), and Towson State. Since his college days, he’s played on numerous club teams, and played professional box lacrosse from 1992-2001. Steve played in 51 games professionally, scoring 16 goals and handing out 27 assists, not bad for one of the best players to ever carry a long pole. He also collected 219 ground balls, won 79 faceoffs, and accumulated 117 penalty minutes during his indoor career.
Steve took some time to catch up with us here at Capital District Lax.
MT: You played your high school lacrosse at Lakeland (Shrub Oak, New York). What age did you first pick up a lacrosse stick and really get serious about the game? Did you start out as short stick and transition into long pole?
SK: I started in 6th grade at Copper Beech Middle School in Yorktown Heights, New York. Frank Vitolo ran a morning (before school) box league so short stick, playing midfield and attack.
MT: I’ve heard Ric Beardsley say he modeled some of his game after yours (you preceded him at Lakeland). Who was it you tried to emulate or looked up to when you were young? Who are some of your favorite long-poles to have played with, or that you’ve watched play the game?
SK: Of course I tried to emulate Petro and Gary Gait, but then there was Tom Hickman who played at West Point who graduated from Yorktown high school and Billy Ralph another Yorktown guy who played at Maryland. Steve Paleta from Cornell and Todd Francis LSM at Cornell taking the face off, but at the same time I’m always trying to keep up with Ric Beardsley.
MT: In 1988 you went on to play at Herkimer helping them win their first National Championship under Coach Paul Wehrum. That team had a lot of amazing players including Eric Ungleich, Mike Lacrosse, Mike Motowski, Mike McGrane just to name a few. What was it like being a part of that first title experience with your teammates?
SK: Herkimer is where I really learned how to play hard core lacrosse. Those guys are the ones you want to be in the trenches with. Combine that with great coaching and a fun town and you have got a great college experience.
MT: After Herkimer you went on to play at Adelphi where you were an All-American defenseman in 1990, but decided to transfer out to Towson State. What was it that made you make the move to Towson?
SK: I had a meeting with Doc Doherty at Adelphi and he asked me if I wanted to transfer anywhere and if he could help me. He called up a lot of coaches and I got a couple of phone calls the next morning in my dorm room. I decided on Towson because I knew they had a great returning class as well as some great transfers coming in including Rich Betcher and Doug Sharrets.
MT: Making the move to Towson State paid off in a big way. Towson played Cinderella in 1991 making an amazing run (as the #11 seed out of 12 teams) all the way to the National Championship game versus North Carolina before eventually falling to the unbeaten Tar Heels 18-13. Along that run Towson was a true road warrior knocking off #6 seed Virginia in the opening round, then took out the #3 seed Princeton in Triple OT before beating #7 Maryland in the semifinals. For you what was the most memorable moments of that run that you still think of today?
SK: There were so many runs in the Virginia game that were amazing Coast to Coast goals as well as in the Princeton game taking face-offs. I won one and went down and scored on Batch to tie the game up in the 4th quarter. I could think of a few I’d like to take back too.
MT: You were one of the best takeaway defenders of your time. In today’s game it is rare that you see a long pole throwing take away checks as we were so accustomed to back in our era. Playing good fundamental defense is a must no one will argue that, but there are times and places for defenders to properly throw a takeaway check. As you watch college lacrosse today does it bother you that part of the game is nowhere near existent as it was when you played?
SK: Yeah it upsets me that I’ll see more guys not throwing checks, but when you see the guys that do throw checks and are allowed to play offense with the long stick that makes me smile.
MT: In 1992 you made the transition from collegiate lacrosse to the Major Indoor Lacrosse League ( MILL) now known as the National Lacrosse League (NLL). You started your career playing for the Baltimore Thunder. For someone who had been so used to carrying a long pole what was your transition to short stick like that first season of box lacrosse? How did you adapt to the different indoor game that first season?
SK: Well when I was younger I was always a midfielder and an attackman and I played a lot of short stick growing up I wish I had gone north of the Border earlier to play Box Lacrosse
MT: You went on to play for five seasons for the New York Saints, then single seasons for the Buffalo Bandits, Syracuse Smash and finally the Long Island Lizards before hanging them up in 2001. What do you think is the biggest difference in the league as it was then Versus how it is now?
SK: Well now the league is all televised and these guys are well taken care of you could thank us for bringing in the PLPA in the early 90s getting a union. I love the NLL and the direction it’s gone it needs to be in more venues across the country.
In 2016, Steve Kisslinger was recognized by the United States Box Lacrosse Association (USBOXLA) in its list of Top 30 Indoor Lacrosse players born in the United States: American Made: The All-Time NLL Top 30
MT: When you did not have a lacrosse stick in your hand you were usually on a bike. Sometimes mountain bike but was usually BMX style and competing especially when you were younger. Did the freestyle and improvisation of BMX kind of lend it’s hand in your playing style of lacrosse?
SK: I think BMX and Lacrosse complement one another to the point of the power and the strength as well as the Ingenuity and skill and smoothness.
MT: Lastly, are you making the trip to Lake Placid this summer? If so who are you playing with?
SK: Living in Florida still not sure I will be there, I am hoping to make it up to Lake Placid though.
Steve Kisslinger Dodges to the Goal with a Long Pole at Vail: