Men’s lacrosse has a long history in North Carolina that began on April 7, 1938 when Duke and UNC played the first collegiate lacrosse game ever in the state. In Western North Carolina, it is a much more recent arrival.
The sport came to the Swannanoa Valley in 2015 when Montreat College began both its men’s and women’s programs. Montreat’s current director of lacrosse is Ethan Kamholtz, a former assistant under program founder Will McMinn and now the head coach of the men’s team as well as overall program director. Montreat went 6-11 last year while facing six top-10 teams, including the NAIA’s eventual national champion, the Reinhardt Eagles.
The Black Mountain News caught up with Kamholtz to ask him about this year’s team, which opens its regular season by hosting Brevard at 5 p.m. on Feb. 6 at Pulliam Stadium. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
BMN: Before we start, what’s something that Valley residents might want to know about lacrosse since it doesn’t have a long history here?
Kamholtz: Lacrosse is a very fast-paced game and there’s a lot of action and scoring. It’s as fast as soccer but there’s more scoring so it seems like the game goes faster and you can be into it the whole time. There’s also a lot of body contact out there if you like the physical aspects of football or rugby. It’s a very unique game.
BMN: You lost some people defensively, but return Tristin Terry, Riki Rendon, and John Fox in your end of the field, among others. Offensively, you return an intact attack unit that was one of the best in the entire NAIA last year and was the best in the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC).
Kamholtz: Both John Ferris and Chris Jackson finished in the top five in overall points in the conference last year and they’re returning. (Note: Jackson was the fifth-leading scorer in the nation in 2018 and an All-American). And then Cody Bischoff is just a great addition to that.
Cody is that role player who can finish inside. He has a very calm presence and he’s a big body (6’1”, 215). He’s a leader even though he’s just a sophomore. People look to him for that calm, cool, collected presence.
John gives us that spark on offense. He calls the shots when I’m not calling plays. Guys look to him and respect him and if there’s any point where we’re having trouble scoring and we need a goal, he’s the guy we’re going to the give the ball and he’s going to do his best to take it in.
Then there’s Chris and he’s just lights out. He’s fun to watch – he has quick wrists and he places the ball wherever he wants.
BMN: At midfield, you have one of the best face-off specialists in Josh Brown returning as a sophomore. Talk about that unit.
Kamholtz: Josh isn’t as old as some of the other guys but he’s mature beyond his years athletically, mentally – whatever you want to call it. He’s going to be our anchor and he’s our faceoff guy; he wins the ball for us a lot of the time.
He’s solid defensively and he’s solid offensively and he’s a lefty that faces off, which is weird for opponents. Other guys don’t generally know how to work that. He’s a captain this year as a sophomore so guys already respect him.
Tracer Leonard is leading the midfielders on the defensive side of the ball. Kyndell Overton’s on the second line and he’s a good dodger, a good leader – a good mindset and he can clear the ball well. Riggs Wolf is a guy who was a good athlete and really has developed as a lacrosse player.
BMN: Any general comments on the prospects for 2019?
Kamholtz: We went out and got some NCAA teams on the schedule and we start with a scrimmage against the University of Tennessee’s MCLA team. Then we have five NCAA opponents and roll right into the NAIA – most of our NAIA opponents are top-10.
It’s a matter of getting confidence early and hopefully we can do that. The group of guys that we have right now – I know that they’re confident. I think we have the most solid team we’ve had as far as depth, especially at the midfield.
As far as the level of buy-in to the school, the program and investment in the right things, this is the most solid group we’ve had.