ANDREW KATSAMPES/ISI PHOTOS

Kylie Ohlmiller is a professional lacrosse player. A Long Island Native, Ohlmiller was a 4x All-American, 2x Tewaaraton Finalist, and 2x America East Conference Offensive Player of the Year at Stony Brook. She is the NCAA record holder for both single-season and career points and assists. She now plays for the NY Fight of the WPLL. Below, Ohlmiller talked to Just Women’s Sports about what led her to Stony Brook, how she developed her behind-the-back prowess, and how her eye-black became a signature style. 

Before you played at Stony Brook, it was not a dominant lacrosse school. How did you decide to go there to play? 

It’s interesting to look back because Stony Brook now has such a dominant program. They are always on the cusp of the Final Four and they are always in the top-10. The team was nowhere close to being a national contender at the D1 level when I committed. Joe Spallina [Stony Brook head coach] had come over from Adelphi a couple of years prior, where he won a ton of Division II National Championships, and was trying to build a program based on Long Island values with a blue collar mentality. Long Island is such a hotbed for lacrosse, but at the time, young players didn’t have a hometown team they could grow up idolizing. Spallina wanted to create that.

When he was recruiting me at Stony Brook and explaining his vision to me — what we could do and the potential of the team — it was so contagious. I remember him saying that he wanted to transform the team from one that no one knows about to the number one program at the Division I level — which we ended up doing by my senior year. His vision early on was to make the team a national contender every single year and he wanted me to lead that charge. He painted all of my dreams out in front of me, even when I was just a 15 year-old girl. How do you say no to that? Now that I can look back on it, that’s what made me buy-in, and I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity to grow with this program.

Was staying in Long Island for college a priority for you?

I’ve always been a homegrown type of person. I love Long Island — I love everything that we’re about. Outside of Coach Spallina’s vision of Stony Brook becoming the Long Island lacrosse team, I wasn’t necessarily getting looks from other major Division I schools that were powerhouses at the time. My Long Island mentality played a big role in my decision because I wanted to prove others wrong. I realized that I wanted to play on a team where the coach believed in what I could do on and off the lacrosse field, in the community and for women’s sports. So I bought into Stony Brook, and my Long Island mentality fueled the fire.

What was your most memorable game or experience during your time at Stony Brook?

Two moments really stick out in my head. The first was during my freshman year. We were unranked and we were going down to play Florida. They were in the top-5 at the time. Odds were definitely stacked against us, but we ended up coming out and winning on their home turf. That was when people first started paying attention to us. It put our team on the map. Flash forward to my junior year, in 2017, we made the Elite 8 for the first time in program history. It was something that we struggled to do in the years before despite winning against top-10 schools during the regular season. That time around, though, we beat Northwestern on our home turf on Mother’s Day, and we were so fired up. It was proof that the years of hard work, sweat and tears could pay off — that the belief was there for a reason. That was a really special day.

In college, you were a 4x All-American, a 2x Tewaarton Finalist, and you broke multiple NCAA records. Did you imagine, as that 15 year-old girl buying into the Stony Brook vision, that you would be that successful?

I really never saw any of that happening for me. It was a byproduct of fully investing myself in the vision and the dream of it all. Obviously, none of those things would have happened without the teammates that I had on the field. I wouldn’t have the assist record without my teammates finishing the plays.

I had the opportunity to play with unreal players, my sister included. One of the accolades that stands out to me, though, is the Tewaaraton Finalist nomination because that was a first for both the Stony Brook program and for the America East Conference. It was special to be able to represent my school and our conference at that level — to be able to say, “Stony Brook is here. We might be a mid-major school but we’re here.”

You are known as the queen of behind-the-back shots. Can you speak to your playing style and where you learned it?

My playing style definitely evolved as I was growing up. My sister and I liked to have fun with it. We would always have sticks in our hands at the beach with our families, in the backyard, in the front yard, when we were riding bikes down the street. We were always trying different things and the more we did them, the more comfortable we became.

That’s something that I try to instill in the next generation now. You’re supposed to have fun with the game, so think outside the box when you’re practicing and try new things. Ultimately, if you can throw a pass between your legs or around the back, then you’re going to be able to throw a regular pass in a game. Not only that, but there are going to be opportunities to use those trick passes in real games, too. So many players — women and men — use tricks in college games now and coaches are starting to encourage that type of finesse. If you have that tool in your toolbox, why not use it?

Was it a no-brainer for your younger sister to also play at Stony Brook? How many years did you two overlap?

We played together for my last two years. She was verbally committed to another school before I went to Stony Brook. During my freshman year, since we were so close to home, she came to all of the games. She would come and hang out at the dorms with me and my friends. She got an inside look at how much I loved the program and how much success we could have there. She ended up de-committing to the other school and committing to Stony Brook. It was great. I got to have two years without her and then two years with her. Now, she gets three years without me since she’s headed back for a fifth year next season.

Having your little sister out there to celebrate with you and go through hardships with you is really special. And knowing that Mom and Dad are up in the stands watching two daughters is a good feeling. Some of my best moments out on the field were spent with her and she’s a kick ass All-American player too, so that definitely helps.

The Ohlmiller name is definitely known at Stony Brook and beyond now. Can we talk a little bit about your eye-black? What made you start doing that and how do you feel about it blowing up and becoming your trademark?

I always liked wearing eye-black in high school and I would play around with different styles. One day, I did eye-black triangles under my cheeks, and my friend commented that it looked like Batman. So I thought, what if I turned the triangles on their sides and tried to make them look even more like the Batman wings? I look back at pictures from high school and it’s a version of the style I wear now. As I went to college, I tweaked it into my own style and now it has become something that I’m known for. It has become my brand logo, a Halloween costume, a t-shirt design — it’s wild. I never could have imagined this but I’m grateful.

For me, the eye-black is a way to express myself on the field, which can be hard especially in women’s sports where a lot of people try to look pretty out there. I love seeing younger girls mimicking the style today — it makes me cry every time.

After Stony Brook, you were drafted first in the WPLL’s inaugural season. What was that experience like?

Unbelievable. It was amazing to be a part of the inaugural season and all of the hype surrounding it. The best part is that you end up playing both with and against some of the people you were rivals with in college. They used to be on the other side wearing opposing uniforms and now they’re your teammates. You make friendships that you never thought could have happened. And it’s amazing to be surrounded by all time greats of the sport — people that I had watched growing up are now marking me.

You are sponsored by New Balance, which owns Brine Lacrosse. What does it mean for you to have a sponsorship like that and what opportunities has it opened up? 

When I graduated from Stony Brook, I had a lot of incredible opportunities and this was one of them. I signed with New Balance right after graduation. They opened up so many doors for me in the lacrosse world. I have had the chance to design my own lacrosse stick and my own pocket — things that I didn’t even know were possible. They’ve provided me with an opportunity to see what goes on behind the scenes with lacrosse equipment and they’ve taught me how important it is to sell your brand. They’ve also been incredibly supportive in allowing me to be authentic to myself as an athlete as I’m creating my own KO17 Lacrosse brand on social media. That support is definitely something that I look for in brand deals. We were able to put together a KO17 logo that’s actually on the KO Brine stick, which is pretty cool.

Can you talk a little bit more about the KO17 Lacrosse brand? What’s the backstory? 

I was a business minor in college and that’s where I started to develop the idea of what later became my KO17 brand. After college, KO17 Lacrosse started with just a basic plan of providing a structured system of training to lacrosse players on Long Island. To this day, I still do weekly group sessions and training with Long Islanders. But as my brand has grown, I have been able to travel the country, bringing lacrosse and my brand to people on both coasts. Last year was my first full summer tour. I hit close to 30 different cities over the year with my clinics and camps.

You also recently launched the KO17 app. First off, congratulations. Can you tell us about your vision for the app and what it does? 

Thank you, it is huge for us. I have loved being able to travel the country, meeting girls from different locations and learning that we all have the same passion for the sport of lacrosse. With my app, I wanted to provide a platform where I could work with these girls on a more regular basis and help develop them into the players that they want to be, regardless of location. I’m more than excited that the KO17 Lacrosse App is now allowing me to do so! Especially in a time where virtual training is the new norm. Every week, I upload new drills for shooting, dodging and offensive work, and my subscribers have the ability to submit film of their skills for live feedback from me.

There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 and sports. How have you stayed positive about the future of lacrosse? How are you staying in shape during a time when workouts are limited?

As a professional athlete, my day-to-day sights are set on the next time I get to play and that is continuously being pushed back right now. That vision is still there, though. We are training as if we are playing tomorrow. In a year from now, I’m hoping that I will be training for the 2021 World Cup. I’m hoping that I’ll be on the brink of another packed summer with KO17 clinics all over the world. Over the next couple of years, I want to expand to Australia and get back over to Japan and Europe. I want to travel and see what lacrosse is like in different places. Ultimately, I hope to meet as many young girls as possible and show them that they can be professional women’s lacrosse players, too.

Lacrosse is aiming to be included in the 2028 Olympics. Is your goal to continue playing until that becomes a reality?

Absolutely. I think all of us players want that. If my body lets me, that would be amazing. I think, no matter what, our ultimate goal is to get the sport to the Olympics. We’re going to do everything that we can in order to accomplish that. Whether we are in the stands or on the field, we’re going to be proud of the sport and of all the different countries representing lacrosse. It’s amazing to see that opportunity right there on the horizon.