When boys lacrosse teams play against Hollister High, attackmen should think twice about getting too close to Haybalers goalie Kohen Nelson.
That’s because Nelson has been known to flatten attackers who are involved in a one-on-one situation with the Hollister senior. Nelson prides himself on being able to play the position outside the crease, which isn’t a common occurrence in the high school game.
That’s because coming out of the crease is a risky play and a goalie must have great instincts to pull off the maneuver successfully. The situation usually occurs when an opposing team has a breakaway or odd-man rush, creating a chance where a long pass gets to an attacker anywhere from five to 15 yards from the crease.
Not only does the goalie have to get to the ball before or at the same time it arrives to the attacker, but he has to deliver a clean hit or risk a penalty or in a worst case scenario allowing a score. If a goalie leaves the crease, he has to be all in on the decision and go 100%.
Appropriately enough, that’s how Nelson and others would describe himself.
“Kohen is our biggest leader and just an animal,” Balers coach Chris Branon said earlier in the season. “He’s got one throttle and there’s no gears on that man. It’s full on all the time. When you see a goalie stand on his head save after save and shot after shot, he’s a leader who gets it done by example.”
A four-year starter at goalie—which is an incredible feat in itself—the 6-foot, 195-pound Nelson is enjoying this season for a variety of reasons. One, it’s his final year of playing competitive lacrosse as he plans on enlisting in the Coast Guard post high school.
Second, Hollister has bounced back nicely after going winless in the Pacific Coast Athletic League’s Gabilan Division last year. The Balers entered the week with a 5-3 record in the lower-tier Mission Division. Though they won’t meet their goal of winning a league championship, much was accomplished.
The returning players continued to hone their game and several first-year players came out and caught on fast. More than anything, Nelson’s highlight was seeing the growth of the team coming off last year’s rough season.
“This year most of the team has the fundamentals and we got a chance to work and come together and transfer those friendships into the game perfectly,” he said. “Almost everybody has played the game before unlike other years.”
Nelson said with an improved supporting cast he’s able to trust his teammates more unlike last year where he felt like he had to do it all.
“This year I’ve taken a step back knowing I can throw to my guys, they can catch the ball and then make some amazing plays,” he said.
The Nelson family is quite entrenched in Hollister boys lacrosse history. Kohen’s older sister, Bailey, a 2015 HHS graduate, was the first girl to make the boys varsity team and she did it in the first year of the program’s existence. She’s also the reason why Kohen decided to take up the sport.
The two have been close for a while even though Kohen said Bailey—who is older by eight years—played the role of the sibling bully in their formative years. Kohen vividly remembers playing sports with Bailey growing up and let’s just say big sis didn’t take it easy on him—which he was thankful for.
“My sister has been 6-foot since she was 16 and with an eight-year age difference, it was more of a chance for her to beat up on me,” Kohen said. “It was big sister bullying me man, but she would say, ‘Hey, I’m just making you tough.’ I love my sister and it was good, though. She used to practice on me, I’d have this little baseball glove and she would have a stick and we’d play catch for hours. It was more of an excuse for her to throw the ball with me and it was great times. I started playing lacrosse because she got me started on it.”
Kohen, Bailey and their dad are avid gym-goers, and Kohen said he’s developed a strong mindset and discipline from his dad in regards to all things fitness and body work. That mental toughness has helped Kohen in lacrosse because as a goalie he can play well and still allow double-digit goals in a given match.
“Last year I had games where I probably faced 60 shots on goal,” he said. “You look up at the scoreboard and think, ‘God, it’s 15-something. Then you look at your stat sheet and I stopped 45 of those shots, but the scoreboard is always unforgiving. It always hurts giving up a goal, it still hurts. Every time you think I could’ve done this better, but the great thing is you always get a chance to learn from it.
“Everyone says don’t repeat mistakes, but you’re going to repeat those mistakes. You just repeat them enough where [ideally] they don’t happen [as frequently]. I couldn’t tell you the shots I saved or the good things I’ve done, but I can tell you the bad ones I gave up which are the ones you need to remember because those are the ones you need to improve.”
Nelson said his propensity to come out of the crease and check attackers resulted in breaking three sticks last year.
“I play with my own sticks now because I’ve broken too many shafts,” Nelson said. “Coach told me he came up to my dad after a game last year and said he couldn’t afford to have me playing with his sticks anymore because I had broken three sticks in a row at one point. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big smile on my dad’s face then at that moment there.”
Nelson has enjoyed seeing the team’s overall abilities improve, and pointed to the play of Carson Brown, Theo Meredith, Gaven Homen and Isaac Barragan as some of the key reasons why the team has rebounded nicely this season.