Less than one month into his freshman season, and Kaden Keller already has people in the Loyola lacrosse program talking about his game.
After all, Keller scored three goals 166 seconds into his varsity career.
“He’s incredible,” said Loyola senior Billy Jardeleza, who made varsity as a freshman and will play at St. Joseph’s University. “I was not nearly as good as Kaden my first year. What he’s done so far is amazing.”
Added Loyola head coach Rob Snyder, “He has a very good chance of being special.”
After scoring three goals in the opener, Keller enters this week with 11 through seven games. He had scored in every game until Saturday’s 13-1 win over Lake Forest. Nevertheless, Keller, who said he was feeling under the weather against the Scouts, had an assist on junior John Gierut’s goal in the second quarter.
“I remember being a little nervous before that first game,” Keller said. “After I scored that first goal, I got all of the nerves out. I was just playing again.”
Like most talented lacrosse players, Keller started at a young age, honing his skills in youth leagues in Lake Zurich. After fourth grade, he stopped playing football to focus on lacrosse.
“At first, it was hard,” he said. “You pick up a stick, and you are not able to do stuff you’ve seen others do. It was discouraging. But I kept at it and got better.”
Keller got involved with Loyola lacrosse in sixth grade. Prior to that, he had no ties to Loyola and was attending Lake Zurich Middle School South. Even though he continued with the program, run by Loyola head coach Rob Snyder, the following year, Keller said he wasn’t sure if he was going to be a Rambler.
“I really didn’t even think about attending Loyola until seventh grade,” he said. “Then, in eighth grade, I took the entrance exam to be safe, but I still wasn’t sure. I really didn’t think I was going there. But some of the kids I grew up who were freshmen there said I would love it.”
Snyder was first introduced to Keller before he joined the Loyola youth program, and he said Keller is advanced for his age. Snyder trusted Keller’s talent so much, he started him on attack in the season opener.
“He has a great stick,” Snyder said. “The way he throws the ball, he has such a quick release. He came in with great vision and knowing how to shoot. Some Midwest guys dodge a lot and aren’t looking, scanning the field. Kaden does that. He sees where the defense is and makes reads. His lacrosse IQ is up there.”
Keller has scored at least two goals in three games, finishing with three against both St. Laurence and St. Rita. Snyder said it will be natural if Keller has ups and downs in his first season.
“He is still growing in the game, and he will make mistakes, but that is OK,” Snyder said. “We are fortunate that defense is our strength. We have guys who will help him out along the way. He is in a good position.”
One of three freshmen on varsity, Keller said upperclassmen such as senior Billy Jardeleza, senior Quinn Roddy, senior Kyle Koch and junior Luca Lazzaretto have been instrumental in his assimilation. He often carpools with Lazzaretto to and from school.
Sophomores Mike Feuer, Johnny Hill and Connor Koch also have assisted in Keller’s transition to varsity. Feuer’s father, Mike Feuer, coached Keller when he was younger.
“Having older players like we do has made everything much easier on me,” Keller said. “Everybody is super supportive of everybody. We are all close to one another. One of our mottos is to keep the sideline bumping. It’s motivating, especially if you’re having a bad game, to know your teammates want you to do good things.”
After the defending state champion Ramblers graduated their starting attack, Keller figured there was a chance he could play as a freshman. It became a reality when he was listed as a starter four weeks before the first game.
“When I found that out, I knew I had to keep working hard,” Keller said about preseason standing. “But I was really excited at the time.”
Freshman Branden Tait also has been a contributor on offense in the early part of the season. He scored two goals in the opener. Defenseman Spencer Hensley is the third freshman on varsity.
Although five of the eight attackers are underclassmen, Keller said he believes the offense eventually will become a strength of the Ramblers. Loyola is averaging 11.9 goals through seven games, including 17.3 in four games against in-state opponents.
“I think some people were worried about us at the beginning of the season because we are so young,” he said. “But we’ve put up a ton of goals, and we are only going to get better.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola