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Pace Academy boys’ lacrosse goalkeeper Kirk Spinelli makes a play in a match against St. Pius X earlier this season. / Special-Pace Academy Athletics

The Pace Academy boys’ lacrosse team has won seven of its first eight contests in its 2019 campaign, led by the efforts of goalkeeper Kirk Spinelli.

The senior had 14 saves, including four in the fourth quarter during the Knights’ 7-6 win at McIntosh. Spinelli also notched 12 saves in Pace’s 7-6 home victory over Decatur March 13.

“Kirk has been a strong vocal leader on the field for us the whole season,” Knights’ head coach Grady Stevens said. “As the pressure was raised in each game, Kirk kept getting better and made some really big saves. We don’t win those games without his performances.”

Pace also has an undefeated mark in Area 2 play, including a 20-2 victory at Jackson (Atlanta) March 19.

“We worked hard this offseason in the weight room and with our summer teams,” Spinelli said of the Knights’ early success. “We played in a fall league held at Lassiter High School, which helped. Our defense has been strong. The upperclassmen are doing a great job integrating the freshmen and sophomores into the team. The senior class has grown together. Everyone is finding their role.”

Spinelli credits a veteran group of defenders for helping his individual success this season.

“We have a group of guys who know what they’re doing and are experienced,” he said. “A goalie is nothing without his long sticks because if he’s facing shots from point-blank range, he’ll be in trouble. To have defenders who can force outside shots makes my job a lot easier.”

Spinelli is also on the school’s debate team with skills that become useful on the lacrosse field.

“Some kids may be afraid to use their voice and speak loudly, but I’ve never had that problem,” he said. “I’m direct with my verbal communication.”

Said Stevens, “What makes Kirk special is that he always puts school first and is a top-flight debater for us at Pace. I have been hugely impressed by his ability to always have the right perspective and be pulled in so many directions all the time and still show up and perform on game day.”

Spinelli began attending Pace in the second grade and starting playing lacrosse in the eighth grade after previously being a tennis player.

“One of my friends suggested that I try lacrosse as a goalie,” he said. “He said it would be fun since I was a good athlete. My father also wanted me to play a team sport. The lacrosse team has good guys, too. I put on the equipment, hopped into the cage and took some shots for the first time, never seeing the sport before. I was terrified at first but started practicing with other guys, and it came together. I got to know the guys more and that’s now my friend group so that made the transition easier.”

Spinelli still uses his tennis skills on the lacrosse field.

“I’ve always taken pride in my hand-eye coordination,” he said. “You have to read the ball and get into a good position as a goalie, which is similar to receiving a serve in tennis. The drills and footwork are similar in both sports.”

Kirk, the son of Joe Spinelli and Maury Smith, lists history, English, geometry and math, particularly calculus and algebra, as his favorite subjects and has a 93 grade average. in addition to the debate team, he’s also a member of the school’s technical staff for play productions, its investment club and a group that sells baked goods for breast cancer awareness. Spinelli also lettered in wrestling as a freshman.

Spinelli will attend Boston University this fall with potentially joining the school’s lacrosse team as a walk-on.

“I was born in Boston and lived there until 3 years old, when we moved to Atlanta,” he said. “I’ve always wondered what my life would have been like up there. Boston University is a great school, and I plan to major in business and finance. That’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

The Knights are back in contention for an area title, a spot in the postseason and a push towards an elusive state championship.

“I think we can make a run in the playoffs,” Spinelli said. “Last year we lost to Blessed Trinity, (which) eventually won state. We can hang with anyone this year because we’re better than we have been in past years. I think we’ve grown steadily through the years.”

Pace returns to action March 29 at North Atlanta.

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