You'd be hard-pressed to find a better support system to go through the recruiting process than the one that CJ Kirst had to fall back on.
One of the best players in the class of 2020, the Leading Edge 2020 and Delbarton standout had no shortage of suitors, and while that sounds awesome, it can be a little bit overwhelming at times. For Kirst, though, having three brothers - all Leading Edge alums - who'd gone through the process before Cole and Colin ended up at Lehigh and Connor at Villanova, was the perfect sounding board for any issues or questions.
"Having them go through the process already really helped, especially with telling me about 6 a.m. workouts and what life is like as a Division I lacrosse player," Kirst said. "I couldn't be happier to have them as a source, and having them be one phone call away helped a lot. They told me that every time you step on the field for a practice or a game, you're playing against the best, and every other kid on the field was a high school All-American, so you have to bring your best."
Kirst's brothers helped him identify what he wanted in his collegiate home, but as soon as Sept. 1 hit last year, there was one school that was always in the mix. There were times where he wasn't sure what he was looking for, but he never allowed Cornell to stray far from his thoughts.
"Cornell stood out from the beginning," Kirst said. "I talked to them on Sept. 1, and I always thought that I could be a part of Cornell since Day 1. I had a great connection to the coaching staff, and after I talked to a bunch of players and alums from the school and got the inside scoop, I just really thought that I could end up there."
Ultimately, the call from the Ivy League school was too much for Kirst to pass up, and he opted to commit to the Big Red after a standout summer that followed up an All-American year for the Green Wave. Kirst was a standout at every event that he played in, routinely quarterbacking the offense, and that came after he popped 66 goals and 28 assists for a Delbarton team that reached the Tournament of Champions final.
No. 61 junior CJ Kirst, A/M, Delbarton (N.J.) / @LeadingEDGEHS committed to @CornellLacrosse. Blowing up for 66G/28A this season, the polished lefty playmaker is a strong candidate to reach five-star status.
It's rare for a player of Kirst's caliber to stay uncommitted for so long, but he was intent on making the right choice for himself and not adhering to anyone else's timeline. By waiting, he ensured that he'd be comfortable at Cornell, and there's no doubt that the Big Red are thrilled to have him.
"Having that extra time helped me a lot," Kirst said. "When you're looking at a school, you're looking at different things like distance and the people that you're going to be around. Cornell does a great job of surrounding you with great people, and it's definitely amazing to have an Ivy opportunity while also competing for a national championship. I couldn't be happier with my decision."
Like his brothers, Kirst plays in much the same fashion that you'd expect from a former coach's son. Their father, Kyle, was a Leading Edge coach and the former defensive coordinator at Summit before his passing in 2015. It's clear that he passed on a certain style to his children, one that's obvious every time you watch any of them play, particularly CJ. He's an attackman who can score, feed, ride and lead the offense. Put him at midfield and not only can he beat up on short-stick midfielders, he can also lock up the opponent's best middie, chase down ground balls, take faceoff wings and do whatever is needed for the team. There's a reason for that.
"Ever since a young age, having my dad as a coach helped me so much, and he taught me to make the players around me better," Kirst said. "I always tried to be the guy who can contribute in any way, whether it's picking up a ground ball, making the extra pass or whatever's needed. I couldn't be happier if we get the win."
Along with Evan Barr (Somerville/Duke) and Reid Colwell (Westfield/Villanova), Kirst has been with the Leading Edge '20 team since it first came together, and in that time, he's been a mainstay.
"Once I started playing Leading Edge, I was playing against the best competition every weekend and in practice, too, and it definitely gave me the realization that I could play at the Division I level," Kirst said. "Coaches (Chris) Roy and (Marc)Moreau, along with (Delbarton coach) Coach (Matt) Kovachik, taught me how to play the game the right way and made me into the type of player that I am today."
Roy has watched Kirst morph into one of the top players in the country, and he couldn't be happier to see Kirst land at a prestigious school like Cornell.
"CJ is the epitome of what you want a great player to be," Roy said. "He does whatever is asked of him and he does it as well as anybody else in the country. He's combined an unbelievable lacrosse IQ passed down from his father with a next-level work ethic and elite skills, and it's a big reason why Cornell wanted him so badly. You can't ask for a better kid than CJ. He has been the model of consistency and effort, and it's great to see him be rewarded for it. I'm so excited to watch him suit up for the Big Red and I have no doubt that he'll do amazing things on and off the field there."
Judging by the Kirst bloodlines, that's a very safe bet.