Hampton resident looks ahead after lost season with Central Catholic lacrosse

Saturday, May 18, 2024 | 11:01 AM

Central Catholic senior defender Mike Kistler “felt a pop” in his right leg at preseason lacrosse practice in February.

In that split second, the Hampton resident would go from looking forward to his senior season in high school to working toward his freshman year in college.

“I got an MRI and learned I tore my hamstring,” he said. “It felt like a really bad cramp that wouldn’t go away. At first, it was very difficult. I could hardly walk for the first couple of weeks.”

After missing the entire 2024 season with a second-degree hamstring tear, Kistler has turned his focus toward his debut at Division II Florida Southern.

A three-year starter for the Vikings, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Kistler is continuing to work on his rehabilitation. He still attends physical therapy twice a week and hopes to be 100% when he leaves for the Lakeland, Fla., school in mid-August.

“I’ve gotten my strength back,” said Kistler, who was named second-team all-Section 1-3A as a junior. “I still can’t sprint, but I’m nearly back to full strength.”

Without its defensive captain, Central Catholic (13-5) reached the WPIAL Class 3A playoffs as a No. 8 seed, defeating No. 9 Butler, 14-10, on May 14 in the opening round. The Vikings were scheduled to play top-seeded Shady Side Academy on May 16 in the quarterfinals.

Kistler, who attended Hampton Middle School before enrolling at Central Catholic, tried to make the best of the injury by attending Vikings games and practices when he could. But it was agonizing to accept a wiped-out senior season.

“It was very tough because coming into this year, this is the most talent we’ve had as a team,” he said. “This was the year, so it’s pretty difficult, and knowing that they were relying on me.”

Said Central Catholic coach Anthony Abbondanza: “It was a blow to the defense. I definitely thought he was going to have a breakout year. … I was fully expecting him to get first-team (all-section) this year, if not first-team all-WPIAL. I was expecting a big year out of him. That makes it hurt that much more.”

Kistler hopes to do big things at Florida Southern, which went 10-7 this season and was ranked in the NCAA Division II top 20. The Moccasins’ coaches spotted Kistler while he was playing for a Maryland-based travel team in December 2022. They invited him to a prospect camp later that winter and he performed well enough to land a scholarship offer.

“They said they liked what they saw,” said Kistler, who also considered Merchant Marine Academy, Coast Guard Academy, Salisbury (Md.) State and Tampa, among others.

Abbondanza, a former all-conference player at Saint Vincent, said Kistler has the tools to succeed at the D-II level after he shakes off the rust from the hamstring injury.

“I think it will be a big challenge for him because he’s coming off almost a year of not playing,” Abbondanza said. “That will be his biggest challenge. But once he gets back up to speed, I think he will fit in well.”

Kistler, who owns a 3.4 GPA and already has an associate degree from taking remote classes at CCAC, started playing lacrosse in fourth grade. He did football, volleyball, rowing and lacrosse as a freshman at Central Catholic, but over the years dropped the other sports to focus on lacrosse.

“I really didn’t know too much about the sport, but I was always a bigger and taller kid, so that set me a little bit ahead of everyone else despite not having the most experience or the most skill,” he said. “As I got a little better and kept playing, it just kind of clicked with me and the rest is history.”


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