Face Off: Donahue, Celtics prepare for senior season

Kyler Donahue coming off a teammates hip during a drill in Monday, Feb. 28 practice at McNary High School.

The face-off position is a tough one in lacrosse. Possession of the ball is decided between the two athletes who meet at midfield, placed in between two lacrosse sticks, waiting for the whistle for them to go to battle for it.

Win and you charge down field with your offense while the other squad runs back on defense. It’s a specialty position, like goalie. Not everyone is cut out to be a face-off player or a goalie in this sport. But for those who are cut out for it, it’s tough, nonetheless.

“I had to put on at least 30, 40 pounds since I got to high school just to compete and make these national teams. It’s a hard position to play, it’s like goalie,” describes Kyler Donahue. “It’s one-on-one. You got to have quick hands, strong forearms.”

Lacrosse is a chaotic sport, but for Donahue, it’s life. The junior started the sport in the second grade when a few friends and family talked him into joining the Salem-Keizer Youth Lacrosse League (SKYLL, pronounced Skill). Donahue later joined MadLax, a travel and All-Star team, his freshman year of high school before moving on to Team Oregon just recently.

Lacrosse is more popular in the Midwest and East Coast, but it’s been steadily gaining popularity out West. Donahue’s head coach at McNary, Sean Litrakis, played a year of college lacrosse at Rutgers as a defender. His division included Syracuse, John Hopkins, and Virginia, which have a combined 26 Division-1 lacrosse titles and 19 second-place finishes since the inaugural season of the sport in 1971. Maryland had 12 second-place finishes to three titles.

“The sport is taxing with the body shots from opposing player’s sticks,” said Donahue. “It’s a mental game, as well – and it’s played in rain, shine, cold or hot – you’re out on the turf playing and practicing, running, and just the hours you put in to make the most of the opportunity to get better at the craft.”

“It’s everything to me honestly,” he said. “It’s like a job, but I love the job. It makes me feel really good, it clears my mind every time I go out and step out on the field.” 

This path that Donahue has chosen has slowly paid off as his junior year kicked off on Feb. He was invited and accepted to two national-level all-star teams: Advanced Nationals, where he’ll get to play against kids from the East Coast; and Nike National, which will be joining the Pacific Northwest team for games happening over the Summer.  

“A blessing for sure to have a great opportunity like this,” said Donahue.

“I’ve never really thought of making the team until I heard of a goalie in West Albany (Ashton Cavender) that got it,” he explained. “I never heard of the Nike National team until he made it and the Jesuit coach, Bill Gleason, he texted me about it: ‘Hey, we got this National team and I think you got a chance at making it’,” Donahue said as described the opportunity to try-out. “I gave it to him because he told me about it. I sent him film. He knew some guys who coached the team and said I got a chance and I made it.”

Not bad for a kid who still has two seasons left of high school lacrosse with aspirations for an opportunity to the next level. For now, as they went out for their six-lap-in-ten minute conditioning challenge to start their first practice of the season, Donahue is excited about what is to come with the Celtics lacrosse team this Spring.  

McNary has an upperclassmen-heavy, senior-driven team entering this year. Donahue is excited to see if they can grab the North Valley League title and make some noise in the playoffs. Coach Litrakis already embedded the idea of wanting to beat one of the Portland-area teams, where lacrosse is “king” in Oregon.

“For us, right now, we’re making the most out of it,” said Donahue. “We started in July with senior practices and getting on a GroupMe App, texting every day and saying ‘hey, let’s go hit the wall. Let’s go have a senior practice and let’s just go hangout, team bond. It’s going to help us this year.”

The term “let’s hit the wall” refers to working on your game using a wall. Focusing on hand-eye coordination, read-and-react time and stick work – similar to a soccer player that may use a wall to work on shot angles and selection.

McNary opens the season Mar.15 at home against Thurston for a 6:30 p.m. game at Flesher Field.

Kyler Donahue (white shirt, gray hat) running with teammates.