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Connor Kruse of Orange (N.C.) High School

Connor Kruse Ties National High School Record with 16-Assist Game

March 29, 2024
Justin Feil
Martin Reynoso

Orange (N.C.) High School senior Connor Kruse posted big numbers over a five-day stretch that culminated in a national record.

Kruse delivered his 200th career assist in the Panthers’ 14-1 win over Northwood (N.C.) on March 21. Despite rainy conditions the next day, he registered his 400th career point in a 17-5 win over Western Alamance (N.C.). On Monday, Kruse tied the national record with 16 assists, according to Mike Loveday of, in an 18-5 win over Southern Alamance (N.C.).

“It’s pretty cool,” said Kruse, who also scored a goal in the record-setting game. “I’ve gone through some of the North Carolina records with my dad, just being curious and looking at it, and there’s some guys that have gone on to do some pretty big things, so it’s cool to be similar to those guys in some way. And looking forward, I hope to replicate some of the success they’ve had.”

Kruse’s 16 assists tied the mark set by Ryan Stadelmaier of the Midland-Dow (Mich.) co-op boys’ team in their 22-1 win over Linden (Mich.) on May 21, 2021, in a first-round regional playoff game. Stadelmaier is a sophomore at Air Force.

“Eventually, it’ll be broken,” Stadelmaier said. “Records are made to be broken. I’m super pumped for the kid that tied it. It’s exciting. It goes to show you he loves to share the ball with his teammates.”

The previous record (14) was established by Bruce Corbridge of Garden City (N.Y.) in 1963. Jeff Benson of Towson (Md.) tied it in 1993, as did Eric Malever of Woodward Academy (Ga.) in 2019. Michael Sowers, the U.S. national team attackman who has the national high school career record of 402 assists, had a personal-record 13 in a 2014 game for Upper Dublin (Pa.).

Stadelmaier was just a junior when he broke the record and didn’t even know he had set the national mark until months later.

Orange coach Chandler Zirkle can appreciate as much as any coach Kruse’s passing prowess. Zirkle was a record-holding facilitator when he played for his father, Franklin Zirkle, at East Chapel Hill (N.C.). He graduated in 2011 with the state’s then single-season record of 85 assists before continuing his career at Guilford College.

“He’s told me about that, and I’ve seen his name on the list,” Kruse said. “So that’s definitely cool. He’s helped me a lot getting to the point where I’m at. I owe him a lot for helping me get there.”

Zirkle’s state record has since been passed. And he’s positive that Kruse has more career assists already.

“Connor is far and away a more superior lacrosse player than I ever was,” Zirkle said. “I just get to tell him what to do now for 10 more games or whatever it is.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic when teams could not practice, Zirkle would shoot and pass in a local park with Kruse, who was in eighth grade. He appreciates how important passing is to Kruse.

“I think it’s really just making the right play at the right time,” Kruse said. “To me, a goal is no better than an assist. If you can make the right play and get the guy a better open look, that’s really going to pay off better than if you go out on your own and try to take crazy shots and try to play hero ball. That’s really not something I like to do when there are better shots to be had.”

Kruse’s distribution of his 400 points reflect his attitude. He’s split nearly evenly with 195 goals and 205 assists.

“I really appreciate it, but I also appreciate how much he cares about throwing a good pass,” Zirkle said. “I remember spending a lot of time working on the fundamentals with him, getting his elbow up and coming right over the top and snapping it. There were days we’d stand out like 50 yards apart and try to rip balls from one side of the field to another on a line.”

Kruse’s father, Travis Kruse, played at Johns Hopkins and North Carolina and has coached in the Carolina Hilltopper Select Lacrosse club program run by the Zirkle family. Connor Kruse’s younger sisters are multi-sport athletes, and his cousin is a state champion swimmer who will compete next year for the University of Georgia.

Kruse will continue his lacrosse career at defending Division II national champion Lenoir-Rhyne. He is another college-bound player that the Panthers have produced following in the footsteps of Mercer’s Wyatt Jones, Catawba College’s Nick Cardone and Tigh Metheny and Methodist University’s Josia Tisdale.

Kruse is the most complete player that Zirkle has coached.

“He can obviously get to the goal himself, but he enjoys setting up other people,” Zirkle said. “It’s cool to have somebody like that who’s able to see the game well and create things for others. The best part about it is you look back as we’re leaving, and he’s the kid with the water bottles carrying stuff off. He’s a great teammate and three-time captain for us, and not necessarily because he was a great player. He’s a captain because he has great leadership qualities.”

Orange High also has a senior going Division I next year. Katie Wolter is in her third straight year starting in goal, and the senior is bound for Elon next year. The Panthers don’t have a girls’ lacrosse team, and Wolter is one of four girls on the roster.

“She’s been with us the whole time, even a couple games at the end of eighth grade in middle school,” Kruse said. “Especially for my class, we’ve all grown together, been through the same experiences, and she’s been there since day one. She was playing freshman year all the way up until now. We’ve all gone through it together.”

Orange is 10-0 thus far going into its April 4 meeting with a 4A school, Holly Springs (N.C.). The Panthers have already topped 4A North Carolina schools Apex, Jordan and Pinecrest.

The Panthers have reached the 3A East Regional final two years in a row, one step from the state final. They came up short both times, and Kruse tore his hamstring in the fourth quarter last year to add injury to insult. He’s looking forward to doing all that he can to get the Panthers over the hump in his final season.

“As a player, I see myself as a guy who is looking to do as much for the team as I possibly can, whether that’s scoring goals, assisting, riding, whatever I need to do,” Kruse said. “The big thing is I want to win a state championship this year.”