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Austin Kaut and Blaze Riorden after the Chaos' season-opening win.

Whatever the Role, Austin Kaut Ready to Help the Team

June 7, 2024
Phil Shore
Premier Lacrosse League

Reigning goalie of the year Blaze Riorden was off to a hot start. He made eight saves on 11 shots and even added an assist as the Carolina Chaos held the lead over the Denver Outlaws.

On the eighth save, however, Riorden hobbled out of the crease as he began the clear. After passing the ball, he held his left knee and motioned to the sideline. He needed help off the field.

A lot has changed for Austin Kaut since he was an All-Star with Major League Lacrosse in 2018. He’s gone from the blue and yellow of the Florida Launch to the red and black of the Chaos. He got married in 2023. According to Chaos defender Jarrod Neumann, who was a teammate of Kaut’s on the Launch and now on the Chaos, he no longer has the six-pack abs he had in Florida. He’s also no longer a starting goalie in professional lacrosse.

One thing that hasn’t changed about him is how he prepares and the type of teammate he is. So, when Riorden left the game, Kaut — who had played in only two games in 2022 and 2023 combined — was ready to step between the pipes and have a team rely on his play on the field once again.

“I embrace this role,” Kaut said. “As a backup goalie, you have to be ready to go in at a moment’s notice, so why would there be any sort of different way you look at going into games? I prepare for each game the same way as if I’m starting, or if I’m Blaze’s backup.”

Kaut’s experience and accolades are impressive — for a backup or a starter. He was a four-year starter at Penn State, graduating second in program history on the career saves list. He was a four-time first-team All-CAA selection, two-time CAA Defensive Player of the Year and four time USILA All-American selection. In 2013, he was the Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award recipient as the best goalie in the nation.

He was drafted by the Boston Cannons in the third round as the first goalie selected in the 2014 MLL Draft. After his rookie season, he played four years for the Launch before joining the New York Lizards in 2019 and 2020. He earned a spot in the All-Star Game in 2018.

“He’s authentically himself 100 percent of the time,” Neumann said. “He’s a great guy, great teammate."

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When the PLL and MLL merged before the 2021 season, many rejoiced because, once again, the top talent would all be in the same league. On the other hand, it reduced the number of professional field lacrosse teams from 13 to eight, and the goalies felt the biggest impact.

Kaut was not selected in the 2021 PLL Entry Draft. Only two goalies, Nick Marrocco and Sean Sconone, were taken out of 24 possible selections. It seemed as if every team had the starter they were ready to move forward with.

“It was always a worry,” Kaut said. “Just waiting to hear if my name was going to be called or someone was going to give me a call. I reached out to a couple teams. I always have faith as a goalie. You have to have that quiet confidence in yourself that you know you can still be a starter on any team. I do believe that, to this day, that I can be a starter in the PLL.

“But, as my wiser, older years have come, you understand it’s not always about just being the starter. Being a good teammate and being in a support role is also very important to a team.”

One of those teams was the Chaos. They already had Riorden, who, at that point, was a two-time PLL Goalie of the Year and first-team All-Pro, but he needed a backup.

Head coach Andy Towers called his friend Brian Dougherty. “Who is the best goalie not in the PLL?” he asked the Hall of Famer.

Without hesitation, Dougherty recommended Kaut. The two Philadelphia-area goalies had formed a friendship over the years.

With that recommendation, Towers brought up the idea to Riorden. The team’s starting goalie knew Kaut from his college recruiting phase. As a freshman, Kaut hosted Riorden on a recruiting visit to Penn State. Riorden also plays box lacrosse for the Philadelphia Wings and lived in Philadelphia, and the bond between the two grew over the years. He was on board.

He also texted Neumann. He knew the two teamed in Florida, and he wanted input from the team captain. It was an easy endorsement.

“I told Towers, ‘The guy’s a heck of a competitor,’” he recalled. “’He’s real fierce. He wants to play. He wants to win. He’s a great field general. If he’s coming in as Blaze’s backup, I’ve never seen him in a backup role, but if he approaches it the same way he approaches playing, I’m sure he’ll be excellent.’”

Towers called Kaut with the intention of picking him up from the player pool. He was firm with Kaut on what his role would be.

“I told him that Blaze was our starter, and that Blaze was going to be our starter,” he said. “I wouldn’t be bringing him in if I didn’t think he could start and help us win games in the event Blaze wasn’t available.”

Kaut said it was hard to hear the words, but he embraced the opportunity without hesitation. Working full-time as a mortgage loan originator, Kaut’s highlight each year is when PLL training camp rolls around. He said he loved getting to travel for games with teammates. He understood that few people get to have the experience, so to still be one of the lucky few was not something he would trade for anything. Doing it with Riorden, a close friend who was invited to his wedding, makes it even more special.

That’s not to say he is happy being a backup, Kaut is still a competitive, professional athlete. He is bothered by his playing time on a daily basis. He’s just chosen to take those feelings and channel them into making sure he is the best at the role he currently serves in.

“Blaze is the best goalie in the world. My role is to back him up. It’s as simple as that,” he said. “That fire drives me to give it 100 percent in practice, in drills, to make sure our offense is better. To make sure he is fresh, and I’m in there taking extra hots for the team and being there to support him with whatever he needs.”

Kaut takes pride in pushing Riorden and not letting him get comfortable. During warmups, when the offense is working on inside finishing, Kaut wants to be in there to give them a look at what it would be like with a goalie between the pipes. He has a competition with the offensive guys with how many saves he can make. He also mimics the opposing goalie. Although Kaut is lefty, he will play right-handed in warmups.

Austin Kaut of the Carolina Chaos.
Austin Kaut during a June 7 practice in Charlotte, N.C.
Premier Lacrosse League

When he doesn’t have the pads on, Kaut is active on the sidelines. He didn’t want to be like other backup goalies, standing at the end of the bench just waiting for something to happen. He said his role isn’t just to be the backup goalie; it’s to be fully supportive of the coaches and the team, doing whatever it is he can to help.

“The only thing he cares about is winning. He wants his team to win. He wants us to win the championship,” Towers said. “Whether he’s the starter or the backup, that’s in fine print. What’s in bold print is anything that helps the team win, Kauter is on board with it.”

Kaut stands at the top of the box, helping the coaches keep the substitution box organized. He keeps an eagle eye on offsides. He’s consistently reviewing film. Towers said 5-10 times a game he points out something about the defense the staff might not have noticed.

Neumann said there isn’t anybody in the league that does more for their team than Kaut.

“I’m pretty shocked he hasn’t won the Teammate of the Year Award. It’s a little ridiculous,” Neumann said. “There are very few players that can be great players and great teammates when they don’t play. Austin is one of those guys.

“I’ve seen this kid take care of Blaze. I’ve seen this kid take care of every other teammate, invite us to his house, have us for team dinners, buy everyone meals with his own money. I don’t think you see another teammate run this box, run the sideline, run film, run review of plays, tell coaches when they should challenge and when they shouldn’t. The whole point being, his relationship, although he knows he deserves playing time, has never wavered with his teammates.”

Part of staying so active on the sideline is to help him stay in the moment and stay prepared. He’s watching the flow of the game, analyzing what the opposing offense is doing.

When Riorden was helped off the field in the second quarter, Kaut quickly flipped the switch from extra coach to All-Star goalie.

“Where’s my gloves and helmet?” Kaut recalled as his first thought in the moment. “Grabbing an offensive shooter on our team to get me out there warmed up. My first thing thought of is, ‘I’ve got to get ready.’ And then the second thing is, ‘Hey, Blaze, are you alright? How you doing?’”

Kaut made eight saves in the two and a half quarters he played, posting a 53.3 save percentage, fourth-best in the league after one week. His fourth save of the game helped him become just the eighth goalie in professional field lacrosse history to reach 1,000 saves. His eighth save pushed him to seventh all time, one ahead of his friend Dougherty.

Even after a rough third quarter during which Denver took the lead thanks to a six-goal period, Kaut stood in the huddle before the fourth, told the team he wasn’t playing up to the standard he held for himself but for everyone to keep doing what they were doing, and he would pick up the slack. Carolina then outscored Denver 7-1 in the fourth quarter to win the game.

After the game, Towers — from a suggestion by Jack Rowlett — awarded Kaut the game ball.

“I don’t think there wasn’t a single guy who wasn’t clapping cheering, or excited — genuinely excited, too — about him getting in there, getting reps, and honestly, getting us the win,” Neumann said. “Kauter has been a guy who has taken care of a lot of us for multiple years, anything we’ve ever needed.”

On SportsCenter, PLL president and co-founder Paul Rabil said Riorden’s knee injury was a kneecap subluxation. Towers said he did not expect it to be a season-ending injury. In fact, Riorden was on the active roster for both of Carolina’s homecoming games in week two, although Towers anticipates Kaut starting both contests.

For however long the team needs him to be the starter, Kaut will be ready. And whenever Riorden is ready to come back, Kaut will be ready to return to his role supporting him.

It’s a lesson he hopes younger players of any position can learn.                                        

“Somebody always thinks, ‘I’m better than him. I should be starting.’ It doesn’t matter if it’s the goalie position or other positions,” Kaut said. “I think it goes by the wayside of being a good teammate and understanding your role on the team. If the other person is better than you, either work harder to beat them out, or if you can’t get there, you can’t be that guy, then you need to be the best person in the role you’re in.

“Until you can get that role, and keep it and be the guy, you have to be the support staff to the best of your ability to earn that right to get in there on gameday and be the starter.”