Justin Krisak learned a valuable lesson over this past year: hard work really does lead to good things.
At the beginning of last fall, the Lawrence High junior suffered a broken foot. After going through surgery and a lot of rehab, he was able to return to the Cardinals lacrosse team for the start of this season at full strength.
And all he did was lead the Colonial Valley Conference in goals with 70 and points with 104. He collected 34 assists and 46 ground balls, and helped the Cardinals to a 10-9 record and a second straight CVC Valley Division title.
“I can’t complain at all about him,” coach Dan Brennan said coyly. “He’s been playing since he was a freshman, essentially a starter since he was a freshman. He has aspirations of playing at the next level. He just got some confidence in his skills. He put up great numbers but in all honestly he likes to do whatever he can to help his team.”
And Krisak was justifiably proud of his season, finishing just three goals shy of tying the school single-season record.
“Yeah, I definitely did feel good about it,” he said. “The work paid off. It felt good after knowing all the stuff I did last year. I put a lot of work in before the season with my (private) trainer, I was at the gym. I never wanted to give up.”
It all started in a pick-up basketball game last September, when he came down wrong and hurt the bottom of his right foot. Krisak had surgery during which a screw was inserted, and he spent the next two months on crutches.
Just prior to the end of the fall club season, he was cleared by the doctors and decided to play in his Team Turnpike’s final tournament of the year.
“I got cleared on the Friday right before a tournament in Delaware,” Krisak said. “It was kind of a crazy thing, but I wanted to do it so I did it. At first it felt terrible, I had no strength, so it worried me a little bit but after that it was OK. We talked to my trainer and we started working out my whole body and got it up to where I needed to be by the start of the season.”
But it wasn’t easy. Krisak spent four days a week in the gym just trying to get his strength back.
“I was there working on things, strengthening my core,” he said. “I had no leg muscles. It was pretty much all gone from not being able to do anything. After the surgery I couldn’t use my foot and it was starting from square one. I just kept pushing and pushing until I got back to full strength. “
Krisak was already a proven commodity as a scorer. He had 25 goals and 13 assists as a freshman and 28 goals and 21 assists as a sophomore. He exploded from the gate this year with 18 goals and 12 assists in his first four games, and continued to put up big numbers throughout the season. He had two 12-point games against Ewing (6 goals, 6 assists) and North Brunswick (7, 5) and had his highest goal-scoring game with eight in the division-clinching win over Steinert.
Krisak was pleasantly surprised to learn he was the CVC’s scoring leader.
“Really? That’s pretty awesome actually, it’s pretty cool,” he said when informed. “There was nothing much more I could ask for. It was a great season, actually. I surprised myself a little bit but after I realized what I could do I just kept on going and going.”
Krisak’s athletic career started with baseball, but he found that too slow and joined the Lawrence recreation lacrosse league. He moved on to Tri-State club lacrosse and switched to Turnpike this past season. He also played soccer up to his sophomore year before deciding to focus on lacrosse year-round.
One of his teammates coming up through the ranks has always been classmate Alex Everman, who had 56 goals and a team-high 40 assists and 49 ground balls this season.
“Alex and Justin especially are good at finding each other,” Brennan said. “They have an idea of where the other one is and they have that connection with each other. Justin’s a little more power, Alex is a little more finesse, he’s more fluid with both hands.”
Krisak agreed, adding, “I probably have the best chemistry on the team with him. We’ve played together since we were real young and played in the summer together. After that we just always know each other around the field, we know each other’s playing style, we work well together.”
Aside from Everman, one of the big benefits Krisak has is being a lefthander, which is rare on the attack. As a freshman, once Brennan saw Justin was a lefty who could score, his spot was sealed on varsity.
“Goalies usually don’t see that as a shooting spot,” Krisak said. “Most kids are righties. That’s one of my best advantages.”
Along with the fact he is strong and tenacious.
“He’s just tough and determined,” Brennan said. “It can be a weakness sometimes when he tries to run through too many guys, but he just wants to do whatever he can to get the ball in the back of the net. He did an awesome job of that this year. He’s a spot shooter. The way our team is set up he also has to carry the ball a little bit and take it to the rack. But he can do that. He really doesn’t get the ball stripped too much in a one-on-one situation.”
The coach will be looking for Krisak to step up his role as a leader next year, noting that he mostly led by example this season.
“He’s a really aggressive kid, he’s good at riding,” Brennan said. “And he goes hard.”
That was fairly apparent this off-season, when he was a man on a mission.