At a recent Washington Catholic Athletic Conference matinee, Bishop Ireton head coach Joey Kesterman was fire-breathing mad. Upset at the officials, his team was in the midst of squandering a two-goal, fourth-quarter lead at home to middle-of-the-road conference foe Paul VI.
Part-justified, part-fiery and even possibly part-motivational tactic, the Ireton grad and former lacrosse standout knew the season was at a crossroads. Having been blown out by eight goals a day earlier, the 27-year-old coach desperately needed a win heading into the ladder portion of the season.
It didn’t happen.
Instead, the Cardinals lost by a single goal, went on an eight-game skid and have now dropped nine of 10 heading into the WCAC playoffs, which start on Thursday. It was the kind of singular moment that hinged a whole season, the kind where you work towards during off-season workouts and conditioning.
For Ireton, and its tight-knit campus tucked in an Alexandria neighborhood, when things go awry, as they seem to do far too often for athletic director Bill Simmons amid one of the nation’s toughest conference, the Cardinal community comes even closer.
<b>ALMOST LIKE A FAMILY</b>. That’s the theme in the boys lacrosse program, as the Kesterman clan roam the Ireton halls like a sports-induced version of the Brady Bunch.
First there is Joey, the oldest. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound team captain was an All-Met honorable mention in 1999. He later starred at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where he was an All-Conference player during his junior season. He also played in the World Championships as a member of the German national lacrosse team and last year joined the Washington Bayhawks, a Major League Lacrosse team based in Fairfax.
But when his collegiate career was coming to a close, the eldest Kesterman felt the coaching itch. With brother Andy Kesterman following in his lacrosse footsteps at Ireton, it was only natural that Joey Kesterman joined as an assistant.
That was three years ago. When the former head coach resigned, school officials saw a young, tireless assistant who understood the program.
“They offered me the job right away,” Joey Kesterman said. “Having already played in the program, it was kind of a no-brainer.”
Though former athletic director Mark Heiser actually hired him, the new athletic director knew having an alum as head coach was a natural move.
“He was clearly the best coach that was available at the time,” Simmons said. “He’s as good an on-the-field coach as we have in our entire program. He really does well with the boys. He gets them.”
For the head coach, who also has 1998 Ireton grad Tim Blaine as his junior varsity coach and lead assistant, coaching his alma mater has been a special opportunity, though teetering on the coach-player, brother-brother relationship can be tricky.
“My brothers are my brothers,” Joey Kesterman said. “I’ve always been supportive of them. They were also at my football and lacrosse games so being a coach, it’s been a great opportunity for all of us. I think for the most part, they enjoy it too.”
<b>SOON THEREAFTER</b>, the only girl, the former Katie Kesterman — now Katie Larrabee — joined the Ireton ranks as a sophomore English teacher. Already having two brothers in the building at the time, it reinforced the same camaraderie the children got from the family-owned Kesterman Foreign Car Service, located in Old Town, where Joey Kesterman still works during the day.
“We have a pretty good idea where the kids are coming from,” Joey Kesterman. “We’ve been down the same hallways as they have. We’ve even had the same teachers. We know the community very well and that helps a lot.”
That, however, hasn’t morphed into wins, given Ireton’s frustrating 6-12 record.
After finishing one game above .500 last season, the Cardinals were looking for 16 seniors to bolster an already thin roster,
It, however, has had trouble replacing departed goalkeeper Andy Kesterman, the third sibling, as well as Pat Hill and Keenan Muschoney, all of whom have graduated.
But stepping into his brother’s shoes has been yet another brother, this time Tommy Kesterman, a sophomore goalkeeper, who broke his femur last season. In the season opener, Ireton only gave up two goals, but has allowed at least five goals every game since, including a season-high 17 to St. Mary's Ryken midway through the year.
“We’re still in the middle of the pack,” Joey Kesterman said earlier in the season. “We’re right there with [the top four teams]. We need to knock off one of the bigger teams to prove it.”
The Cardinals are on the bubble to make the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association tournament. They host Archbishop Carroll in the first round of the WCAC playoffs at 4 p.m. on Thursday.
For the coach, it could be the last opportunity to lead a slew of seniors, though there’s one specifically that he’ll always have to
“I think [the family atmosphere is] really important,” Simmons said. “It kind of starts there and builds out. In some ways, we hope to have a little more success in wins and losses than we’ve had, but they’re all teammates and close with each other. They’ll be lifelong friends.”
After all, the season may depend on it.