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From left, CJ,  Caden, Cole, Colin and Connor Kirst rough house in the family's backyard in Bernardsville, New Jersey.

Weekly Cover: At Home with the Kirsts

February 14, 2024
Matt Hamilton
Steve Boyle
From left, CJ,  Caden, Cole, Colin and Connor Kirst in the family's backyard in Bernardsville, New Jersey.
From left, CJ, Caden, Cole, Colin and Connor Kirst in the family's backyard in Bernardsville, New Jersey.
Steve Boyle


of the silver Morris & Essex Green Line train making another trip to New York City and the cling of metal carts in the ShopRite parking lot, you hear laughter.

This isn’t just any laugh. It’s a full-blown joie-de-vivre-induced Kirst brothers cackle. Connor, Colin, Cole, CJ and Caden Kirst stand in a circle, tossing a lacrosse ball and reminiscing about memories they created together in their Bernardsville, New Jersey yard.

Just eight years separate the oldest (Connor, 26) and youngest (Caden, 18).

Each story begins with the thump of a ball on the brick chimney that cascades onto the freshly cut grass.

“We’d all be sitting in our rooms and we could hear [Connor] railing against the chimney and we’d all just start coming outside,” Colin Kirst says. “It was like a bat signal.”

“It’s just become white noise at this point,” says their mother, Michelle Kirst.

Remember the time they came to blows playing the four-way faceoff game Cole created? Or when Connor nailed the side door of their neighbor’s Can-Am racing Porsche?

“I dragged him over there and made sure he said sorry,” says another neighbor, Chris Trebus. “The guy just let it go. He said ‘None of my friends come over anymore because they get dents in their cars. All I ask is that you aim the goal at the other neighbor’s house from now on.’”

“Mr. Karpinski, if you see this,” Cole Kirst quips, “we were not the best neighbors.”

The yard also reminds them of their father, Kyle, who died of a heart attack in 2015. A former Rutgers goalie, a positive-minded coach and teacher and a bastion of the New Jersey lacrosse community, Kyle Kirst did everything to make sure his boys succeeded in the sport and life.

“They didn’t have goals on the field one day, so he took the goal from the backyard and put it on top of the car,” Michelle Kirst says. “He’s going through the light in town and people are beeping the horn. He’s like, ‘It's all for the game.’ The police pulled up wondering what he was doing. He told them, ‘Pave the way through town so I can get to this field.’”

Eight years later, three of the brothers — Connor, Colin and Cole Kirst — now play professional lacrosse. Maybe the best of them, CJ Kirst is a Tewaaraton Award candidate at Cornell. Caden Kirst is a top goalie recruit for Rutgers.

They're international lacrosse sensations. Cole and CJ Kirst were co-captain and world championship MVP, respectively, for the gold medal-winning 2022 U.S. Men’s U20 National Team in Ireland. Connor Kirst starred for the U.S. Sixes team at The World Games 2022 in Birmingham. The four older brothers remain in the running to represent the U.S. at the 2024 World Lacrosse Men’s Box Championship this summer in Utica.

Their story first gained notoriety during the 2021 NCAA tournament, when Cole Kirst-led Lehigh played Colin and Connor Kirst-led Rutgers in a first-round game on national television. The next year, it was CJ vs. Colin when Cornell played Rutgers in the final four. Michelle Kirst appeared on ESPN networks cheering despite her conflicting loyalties.

“I can hear him,” Michelle Kirst says of her late husband. “He’s beaming with pride. He would have cried. The boys just have made us so, so proud and they share in everything together. That’s all Kyle cared about — giving your best. It doesn’t matter what jersey you’re wearing.”

Plastered on the tan walls of the living room are a family portrait from the early 2000s and a handwritten grade school assignment where Connor Kirst wrote, “My favorite thing to do with my dad is have a lacrosse catch because he helps me practice.”

On the wall to the left where the kitchen floor meets the carpet hangs a photo that appears multiple times throughout the Kirst household. Captured by USA Lacrosse photographer Rich Barnes, it’s the iconic image of CJ Kirst chasing Colin Kirst around the crease during a 2022 NCAA semifinal game in Connecticut, each with toothy grins revealed beneath their facemasks.

“[Colin] picked it up and I just started running at him,” CJ Kirst says, staring at the photo and reminiscing. “You initially laughed. You wouldn’t have expected him to laugh.”

“You don’t know me, bro,” Colin Kirst shoots back.

The photo also appears in the game room next to their college jerseys from Lehigh, Rutgers, Syracuse and Villanova and on the walls of “Chuck’s Pub,” a neighborhood garage that hosts Kirst watch parties.

“Who won that game?” CJ asks.

“Let’s not talk about that,” Colin replies.

Says their mother, “That’s Kyle’s smile.”

That's Kyle's smile.

Michelle Kirst


Cole Kirst rooted for Rutgers during his junior year at Lehigh. He was proud of his two brothers — both of whom had chosen to transfer and play at Rutgers, where their father stopped shots from 1988-1990.

Colin and Connor Kirst watched a lot of Lehigh games that spring too, cheering Cole as he led the Mountain Hawks to the Patriot League championship and eight seed in the NCAA tournament. By Selection Sunday, they knew there was a possibility they could face each other. At about 9:30 p.m., Lehigh’s name appeared next to Rutgers’ on the ESPN bracket.

Cole called Connor right away. “Are you kidding me?!” he exclaimed. “Let’s go. You’re going down.”

“Alright Cole, can I call you back?” Connor answered, laughing. “I have to finish this paper.”

Then Cole called Colin, the former Lehigh goalie still celebrating with his Rutgers teammates.

“Stick-side high! Stick-side high!” the Lehigh guys chirped in the background.

“I’m taking it down low,” Cole said. “I got you.”

The game took place at Virginia. Cole Kirst carried the flag out for Lehigh and ran directly past his two brothers. ESPN’s cameras fixated on Michelle Kirst, who sat anxiously in the Klöckner Stadium stands wearing an embroidered Lehigh sweatshirt with a Rutgers logo on the right side.

“I was always Switzerland when the boys were in high school, so I figured I’d do the same,” Michelle Kirst says now. “People would always say, ‘Where are you going to sit?’ The only neutral spot I could think of was behind the goal.”

Making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003, Rutgers won 12-5. It was their first postseason win since Kyle Kirst patrolled the cage in 1990. “That’s a game I'll never forget,” Cole Kirst says.

the unforgettable image of Rutgers goalie Colin Kirst and Cornell attackman CJ Kirst laughing  as CJ chases his older brother around the goal during the 2022 NCAA semifinals in East Hartford, Conn.
The unforgettable image of Rutgers goalie Colin Kirst and Cornell attackman CJ Kirst laughing as CJ chases his older brother around the goal during the 2022 NCAA semifinals in East Hartford, Conn.
Rich Barnes

MAY 27, 2022: RUTGERS VS. CORNELL (NCAA Semifinal)

A sophomore at Cornell, CJ Kirst was about to play in the biggest game of his life in front of thousands of fans. Like every other Ivy League team, the Big Red were forced to sit out the 2021 season. Led by Kirst, who had 55 goals and 24 assists in his first year playing college lacrosse, the Big Red came back with a vengeance and advanced to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2013.

All Kirst could think about, however, was the goalie he would face in the final four — his brother, Colin.

"We’ve been watching Rutgers all spring,” CJ Kirst said that week. “This weekend, when he makes the save, I’m going to hide those emotions and just look for the next play."

The night before the game, CJ called Colin on FaceTime. They did this before every big game. “What cleats are you going to wear?” Colin asked. “Are you still wearing those black ones?”

“Is that stupid?” CJ replied. “Should I change?”

Michelle Kirst was stuck in the middle again, spending time in both the Cornell and Rutgers fan sections on opposite ends of Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford — sandwiched between Cole and Caden wearing a shirt with Rutgers and Cornell logos and the words “Let’s go RED.”

ESPN’s Paul Carcaterra sat alongside the Kirsts before the opening faceoff, hoping to gauge how Michelle Kirst was handling the moment. She capped the interview with the words that live on within the Kirst family.

“Game on!” she said.

CJ Kirst scored three goals to lead Cornell to a 17-10 victory. He meandered across midfield to embrace his brother. “Hell of a year,” CJ told Colin. “Great game. I love you.”

“If your dad could see you play now,” Carcaterra asked him, “what would he be most proud of?”

“I think he’d be most proud of how happy I am.”

Michelle Kirst cheered and cried at the same time.

“It was a bit overwhelming,” she says today. “I could hear [Kyle] again saying, ‘Ground balls win games, boys,’ and ‘No sidearms shots.’ I could see the boys smiling under their helmets, which was all I wanted.” 

From left, Kyle and Michelle Kirst and their five lacrosse-loving sons, CJ, Caden, Cole, Colin and Connor.
From left, Kyle and Michelle Kirst and their five lacrosse-loving sons, CJ, Caden, Cole, Colin and Connor.
Courtesy of the Kirst Family

THE CHILLY AIR POURS INTO CHUCK’S PUB, a double-door garage bar built by Chuck Meyers. It’s where locals watch their games. Eight men sit on the epoxy floors staring up at one of the two TVs mounted above the kegerator.

Next to tools, the garage displays 15 helmets ranging from Cole Kirst’s orange chrome Syracuse lid that he “borrowed” from the team and CJ Kirst’s white USA U20 helmet. There’s the Colin-CJ photo with a personalized note that read, “To the Pub, Maybe just 1 more,” next to cardboard cutouts of Cole playing at Lehigh and Connor scoring a game-winner for Villanova against Yale.

The five brothers sit down at a white plastic table inked with betting lines from the 2023 college season. Meyers, Trebus and Tim Farrell join them to mark the occasion. They watch YouTube highlights from a 1989 game between Rutgers and Syracuse at the Carrier Dome with Kyle Kirst staring down shots from the Gait twins and Tom Marechek.

“Anybody he knew, he knew what high school or college he went to and that’s what he called them,” Trebus says as a frame of the Rutgers goalie appears on the 55-inch TV screen. “‘Hey Golden Rams, West Chester State.’ If you didn’t go to college or high school, he’d figure out your middle school.”

“He’d never get upset,” Farrell says. “If he did, he’d call a kid over. ‘Yo, jelly donut! Use your left!’ and he’d go down the field doing the sprinkler.”

Kyle Kirst served many roles for the people of this North Jersey enclave — a high school coach at Summit High School (among other coaching stops), a history teacher at Hanover Park, a passionate Chuck’s Pub patron, a neighbor who’d help at the drop of a hat and a father of five future lacrosse stars.

He made an impact on just about everyone. His personality was infectious.

“He was always there,” Connor Kirst says. “We would go to Jets games. Walking in the stadium he’d find someone he knew and talk to them.”

Kyle Kirst’s death at such a young age sent his family into a whirlwind. How would they go on without him?  The community he helped build made sure they didn’t have to face it alone.

Trebus and Farrell took the Kirsts on road trips to tournaments and showcases. Marc Lebovitz, a friend Kyle Kirst met while getting bagels every Sunday, delivered a dozen bagels to the house every week. Rich Burton, Kyle’s former Rutgers teammate and best friend, helped put up the Christmas tree and change the tires on the family’s car. The New Jersey Lacrosse Tournament of Champions, which Connor Kirst won against his father’s Summit team while playing for Delbarton, was renamed the Kirst Cup.

“Kyle was the brother I never had,” Burton says. “We were there to help Michelle. It was a Kyle thing — coming together and helping each other.”

Kyle Kirst
Courtesy of the Kirst Family
Kyle Kirst
Courtesy of the Kirst Family
Kyle Kirst
Steve Boyle
Kyle Kirst
Steve Boyle
Kirst helmet
Steve Boyle
Kyle Kirst
Steve Boyle
Kirst brothers
Steve Boyle
Kirst brothers
Courtesy of the Kirst Family
Kirst brothers
Ady Kerry
Kirst brothers
Rich Barnes
Kirst brothers
Courtesy of the Kirst Family
Kyle Kirst
Courtesy of the Kirst Family
Michelle Kirst interviewed by ESPN's Paul Carcaterra
CJ Kirst in Chuck's Pub
Steve Boyle
Cole Kirst in Chuck's Pub
Steve Boyle
CJ Kirst sharing a laugh with his brothers in Chuck's Pub
Steve Boyle
The Kirst brothers in Chuck's Pub
Steve Boyle

When the Kirst brothers started playing college lacrosse, Meyers opened Chuck’s Pub to the community. What started as a small gathering turned into packed houses for games.

“Everyone would come here and watch you guys,” Caden Kirst says. “It was the place to be.”

“It was like an extended family event every time one of us would play,” Connor Kirst says. “You know the game’s going to be on the big screen at Chuck’s and you have to put your best foot forward. You could feel their unconditional love and support.”

Their mother, however, was always their rock. It’s still that way. Each Kirst brother has a favorite saying from her.

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

“Take out the garbage.”

“Get a job.”

Michelle Kirst reminds her sons how proud their father would be to see what they’ve accomplished in the sport. Connor and Colin Kirst will reunite with the Premier Lacrosse League’s Boston Cannons this summer. Both also compete for the National Lacrosse League’s Las Vegas Desert Dogs. Cole Kirst plays for the California Redwoods and Halifax Thunderbirds.

“Every time I suit up, I think of him,” Connor Kirst says. “It's a super motivator.”

Michelle Kirst can only think of her husband when she watches any of them play lacrosse. In Connor, Colin, Cole, CJ and Caden, she sees Kyle.

“He's high-fiving everyone, looking down,” she says. “They all hear him, especially when you're on the field. There are five little Kyles that this community helped become young men.”