Kyle Keenan’s Empire State Games Destiny

As the son of two coaches, Kyle Keenan emerged from the womb with the DNA of an athlete and the mentoring to make it happen. The rising senior at Smithtown West High School is considered one of the nation’s top boys lacrosse players.

It comes as little wonder considering his father, Sean Keenan, is the Smithtown West boys lacrosse coach. He played for Long Island legend Joe Cuozzo at Ward Melville and was an All-American at Adelphi University.

“He put a stick in my hand when I was 2 years old,” Kyle Keenan said. “We were always having a catch before dinner. He taught me to love lacrosse.”

The 5-11, 160-pound attack capped this third varsity season with a Long Island-best 53 assists in the regular season and a run to the Suffolk Class A semifinals. He committed last fall to reigning national champion Duke.

And yet Keenan has another sports destiny just as deeply embedded.

Bridget Keenan played for the Long Island open women’s soccer team at the 1992 Empire State Games in Albany. Twelve years after her first Empire experience, the ‘92 Games marked her final trip as a player. Unknown to her at the time, Keenan – an Adelphi grad who met her husband in college – was pregnant with her first child.

The Long Island women’s soccer team earned a silver medal that summer. Kyle Keenan was born eight months later. Bridget Keenen coached the open women for three more summers then gave it up to focus on her growing family.

“She was a big soccer player at the Empire State Games and she won a lot of medals,’’ Kyle Keenan said, proud of the family legacy.

All these years later, Kyle Keenan battled through a tryout process unlike anything in high school sports – he was among 712 teenagers to try out for the Long Island scholastic boys lacrosse team – for the right to play at the 2010 Empire State Games.

It was clearly important to him. He had heard the story of his mother playing pregnant at Empires too many times for it not to have an impact. So Keenan arrived early and was third in line to register for tryouts at Bay Shore High School. Yet the first day left him frazzled.

“A lot more kids. The games were short. I wasn’t getting the ball. I didn’t think I was on a good team,’’ Keenan ticked off the issues. “So I didn’t have a great first tryout.”

Even still, Keenan’s ability shone through and he made an impression. He made it through four rounds of tryouts to earn a spot on the final 20-man roster and fulfill his destiny. Keenan was so anxious, he stayed up past 2 a.m. waiting for an email, checking his iPod Touch letting him know if he made the cut.

He’d chugged up and down the soccer field in his mother’s belly, competing at the Empire State Games. The five-day, Olympic-style festival has been going strong since 1978. Now he’s an Empire player himself, transforming the Games into a multigenerational celebration.

“I’ve heard about Empires since I was a little kid,” Keenan said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to be an Empire player. This is awesome. This is what I’ve wanted since I was a little kid.”

The Long Island scholastic boys lacrosse team has already played nine games to prepare for the Empire State Games, which are in Buffalo from July 21-25. At the Tri-State Tournament in Princeton, N.J. on Saturday, Keenan scored twice against the Dukes – a travel team consisting of the best athletes from the Delaware Valley (Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania) – to help Long Island finish the day 4-0.

The Dukes featured several future Division I players, including fellow Blue Devils commitment Tanner Scott (Conestoga High School, Berwyn, Penn.). Two duo shared an embrace and some conversation afterward.

At this elite level, Keenan proved he belonged.

“I go to the cage hard, see the slide and there’s always someone open,’’ said Keenan, who looks to pass first. “That’s my game. It’s instinct.”

No doubt. It’s in the DNA.

NOTE: Follow the Long Island boys lacrosse team’s quest for a fifth straight gold medal at: http://empirestatelacrosse.com

jason molinet

Jason Molinet spent three years at Patch.com as regional editor and was a reporter at Newsday for a decade. He is a four-time Press Club of Long Island award winner. Molinet celebrates his Cuban heritage, reads Ernest Hemingway and roots for the Miami Heat.