WESLEY CHAPEL — Over the last six years, lacrosse player Kyle Rolfe has created friendships, found mentors and gone from average athlete to a polished and crafty defensive player capable of keeping up with the best.
He begins his final season at the Wesley Chapel Athletic Association with bittersweet anticipation.
"It feels good and bad to face my last year," said Rolfe, 18. "I've been playing for years here, and I've gotten close with all the coaches, so it's going to be sad for me. I've found my role within this team so that's going to be hard to leave behind.
"This is my last year, but I'm looking forward as always to playing in the tournaments against the best players in the nation to see how I stack up against them," he added. "Playing this last season with all my friends is going to be special."
But he has no intention of hanging up his lacrosse stick.
Rolfe, a Wiregrass Ranch High School senior with a 4.6 GPA, is applying to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He hopes to play for MIT's Division III lacrosse team while studying to become an engineer.
"I feel like I can play there, and they have one of the best engineering programs in the country, so there is really no better place for me to go," Rolfe said. "If I can get in I'd love to make the team. I love the action of lacrosse. It has all the action of football without the 40-second breaks in between plays."
Rolfe was one of the leading figures in the formation of a lacrosse team at Wiregrass Ranch after a rule was created preventing club teams, such as the Wesley Chapel Warriors or Tribe, from playing against school teams.
"We started the club team at Wiregrass so we could still play against other schools," Rolfe said. "It was tough at first with all the fundraising but I think it has paid off. We went 8-7 last year and we were one of the best new teams in the state. Overall, it's been great to see that be successful."
For the coaches who have come to know Rolfe, his success in the future is beyond doubt.
Joe Palermo worked with Rolfe directly in the past as a defensive coach for the Tampa Tribe, the high school age club team based in Wesley Chapel. He has seen Rolfe grow from a quiet young kid into an intelligent leader and solid defender.
"He's the type of kid who doesn't say much and he absorbs everything," Palermo said. "He's able to juggle lacrosse and his grades and he's an all around good athlete. He's really an impressive kid because he's so astute and wants to learn. I find him to be a great leader on the field. I consider myself fortunate to have coached him."
Tom Fitzsimons watched him develop for an even longer period of time. Fitzsimons was one of Rolfe's coaches all along at Wesley Chapel and served as a mentor.
"He's not the fastest or the most athletic kid on the field," Fitzsimons said. "He's super intelligent so he migrated to defense very easily. He's always been one of those kids you can depend on when you need something done. He knows his limitations and plays well within them, which is something all good athletes can do. He's really mastered his craft."
And his teammates will miss him after this season.
Matt Knight, 16, plays alongside Rolfe for the Tribe. The two have been close since joining the Warriors club team as kids. For Knight, a new challenge awaits as he becomes senior man on defense.
"He's always that guy in the background with a joke," Knight said. "I'll miss him because as a player he's always keeping everyone organized on defense and we know we can depend on him. Now one of the younger guys will come up and I have to learn how to play with someone new, so it'll be kind of tough."