One of the consistent themes in the state tournament runs by boys soccer, basketball, and lacrosse this year was Jake Kelly's ’22 defense.
Five minutes left on the clock. The gym pulsating with energy. The deafening noise of two hundred students stomping and cheering in the stands. All eyes on the basketball and the players moving it up and down the court. It was a one possession game: the next basket could not only mean the difference between victory and defeat but could all but secure a spot in the state or leave the team having to sweat it out.
Sanford gains possession and sprints down the court on a breakaway. St. Andrew’s #24 quickly turns and keeps pace. He halts at the end line and quickly faces the Sanford player, arms in an X. The Sanford player jumps for the layup, and slams into the stoic #24 who goes flying to the ground. The gym erupts in cheer thinking there has been an offensive foul, but the piercing whistle of the ref forces #24 off the court on a blocking call. In his last home game, Jake Kelly ’22 had fouled out of the game and had to watch the rest of the game from the bench.
Reflecting on the play, Jake has no regrets. While it may have been a foul for the referee, for Jake, a member of varsity soccer, basketball, and lacrosse, it was “just playing.” He says, “I was just super in the moment. I don’t necessarily regret it. It was definitely a painful moment fouling out on senior night, but I had a lot of faith and a lot of trust in my team to finish the job, which they did!”
Jake’s competitive drive has been his identity since his days stepping on campus as a freshman at St. Andrew’s. As a freshman with little playing time, he says, “I always had high hopes for myself as an athlete, whether it was in lacrosse, soccer, or basketball. When I wasn’t a starter in soccer and basketball, I worked all season and off-season to crack the starting lineup. I would set goals for myself to constantly improve. Saying it makes it sound easy looking back on it, but I was always pretty nervous, but I think it was a way to work towards something.”
His work ethic does not go unnoticed by his coaches. Lacrosse assistant coach Jay Hutchinson describes Jake as the following, “I have been coaching lacrosse for 38 years, and Jake is one of the most coachable players and best leaders that I have ever had the privilege to work with and I am not exaggerating. Jake came out for lacrosse last year (Jake’s junior year) having never played the sport before. He picked up the game very quickly and became one of our starting short stick midfield defenders. This year he has only improved but he is our best communicator on the defense, keeping us organized and well matched up. Not only that but Jake got his first goal this year and spent extra time on his stickwork and shooting so he could become a more complete player.”
As a short-stick d-middie, Jake plays man-on-man defense, gets ground balls, and clears the ball before the opposing team has a chance to score. It seems impossible that Jake has only played lacrosse since his junior year. He explains, “The lacrosse season has been excellent. Part of it is that there are a bunch of people who have played lacrosse all their life who are super passionate about the sport. For someone like me who hasn’t been playing for a long time, it’s nice to be surrounded by people like that. When you have that type of energy on the team, you want to do great things. It’s been a really fun time with the guys.”
Jake’s confidence in the team and their success is admirable, but his dedication also means that he is not immune to the game day jitters. It may be surprising to most that Jake gets nervous before games. However, he says, “I used to think it was a bad thing, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the only reason I’m nervous is because I’m passionate about the sport and I want to go out and do well and win.” He continues, “As a competitor, if you’re going out there and you’re not excited or nervous about playing, you’ve lost some part of your love for the game.”
In his senior year, Jake has been irreplaceable on the varsity soccer, basketball, and lacrosse teams. His defensive prowess did not begin or end at the Sanford basketball game. In soccer in the fall, he played as a center back. Working with Ned Read ’22, Talan Esposito ’24, and Crawford Seeley ’22, Jake held up the back line, enabling the Saints soccer team to make a deep run this year, going all the way to the DIAA State Finals for the first time in 40 years. This spring, the Saints lacrosse team has also had a very successful season. With a back line composed of Brandon Graves ’22, Will Dulaney ’23, Crawford Seeley ’22, Rocco White ’22, Reed Ferguson ’22, Flynn Bowman ’22, and Jake, Saints lacrosse accomplished an impressive overall 11-4 record and made the playoffs after a 5-year dry stretch. In the winter season, St. Andrew’s basketball, as the #18 seed, defeated the #2 and #15 seeds to advance to the quarterfinals of the DIAA State Championship Tournament.
For Jake, playing defense came naturally. He says, “I think one of the best ways to show people up is to just lock them down. I was never the best scorer, like Brandon or Frankie (Koblish ’22), but I thought a lot of my energy came from being a pest on defense.” Although it wasn’t a conscious choice, Jake has found a unique energy in playing defense. He says, “There’s just something about defense...I don’t know if I ever wanted to be a great defender–I think it just happened naturally.” A natural defensive trait is highly valuable to any coach. Combined with his dedication to the game, Jake became, according to assistant soccer coach, Jordan Poarch, an “inspiring leader that led by example,” a “vocal team captain that was the first to finish fitness drills,” and someone who “demanded the best from his teammates.” Head basketball coach Terrell Myers said, “Jake is one of the most tenacious defenders that I have ever coached. He takes pride in guarding the other team's best player. His willingness to take on the other team’s best scorer is one of the reasons the team was so successful.”
This year, Jake has been a part of three states runs. As Jake says, “Part of what makes an excellent team is a well-rounded team.” While there may be more clout around scoring, Jake is not driven by the applause. Although “it can be a lot more difficult and exhausting to play full-court defense,” he does not shy away from the difficult role. He says, “It’s a much more reactive role. You’re reacting to the offensive player. It requires a lot of physicality, a lot of heart, a lot of energy, but when you get a turnover, it’s one of the best feelings in sports.”
Heading off to Brown University in the fall, Jake reflects on his athletic career at St. Andrew’s. While he has not committed to collegiate athletics, he says that “when you’re passionate about sports, any sport, I think there’s always that drive to play at the next level. But you have to be realistic with yourself and find what will make you happy. It’s not about playing at the collegiate level, but more so enjoying the time I have as an athlete, whether that’s intramural or club or rec league or high school level.”
Jake says, “I’m very thankful for the opportunity to play sports, my teammates, and my coaches. I know sports will be in my life for the rest of my life.”
Inspired by the experience of playing lacrosse for the first time, Jake likes the idea of trying new sports. As he transitions into college, he believes he may try tennis. Jake says that the mental aspect of tennis is exciting. He describes, “You’re all by yourself out there. It has to do with how long you’re able to stay locked in mentally.” He also mentioned golf as a potential venture, but concluded, “I’m gonna leave the future open for what sports I’m going to try.” If his three successful seasons this year is any evidence, his tenacious gameplay and defensive prowess is bound to serve him well in any future athletic endeavors.
Speaking to aspiring athletes, Jake says, “Don’t be afraid to fail. I think it’s one of the greatest teachers. I know it might be embarrassing in the moment, but I think failure is the first step to becoming a better athlete, a better person, so do everything you do with 100%, knowing that it’s gonna be fine if you fail.”