Carter Kempney, third from right, signs with Syracuse University flanked by family members, from left, brother Tyler, sister Kailah, mother Rebecca, father Scott and sister Braelie on Wednesday at Zero Dock Street Restaurant in Carthage. Chris Fitz Gerald/Watertown Daily Times

CARTHAGE — There was never really any doubt in Carter Kempney’s mind where he aspired to play college lacrosse — at Syracuse University.

After all, his older sisters have competed in the sport there, and growing up in the north country, playing for the Orange is a natural choice.

Flanked by his family, Kempney made it official Wednesday night by signing his national letter of intent to attend the university.

“It’s great having my whole family here,” Kempney said. “I don’t see my brother much or my sisters, so it’s amazing to have them here supporting me.”

The signing, held at Zero Dock Street Restaurant in Carthage, was also a celebration, as many well-wishers, including much of the school’s lacrosse community and beyond were on hand.

“It’s amazing,” Kempney said of the turnout. “That’s great, I love the support that our community gives you, it’s amazing.”

“First of all, our community is so broad and supportive,” Carthage boys lacrosse coach Jason Coffman said. “The Kempneys are a very well-known family and a very well-liked family. Carter’s just a great kid and it’s a great family as well.”

Kempney’s sisters were in attendance, including Kailah, who set several school records at Syracuse, and Braelie, who is a senior at Syracuse and played with the team last season.

“Cuse was always on my mind because of Braelie and Kailah and all the other amazing kids who came out of Carthage and went on to Cuse,” Kempney said. “They’ve always just been on my mind and everything.”

He continued about his sisters: “It’s so amazing to be able to follow in their footsteps because I’ve looked up to them ever since I was a little kid and now to get a chance to play where they played, it’s a great feeling.”

Carter Kempney has played lacrosse for Carthage at the varsity level ever since he was in seventh grade and in eighth grade in 2018 he played for longtime Comets coach Kirk Ventiquattro during the coach’s final season at the school.

“Kirk Ventiquattro had a huge influence on me ever since when I first picked up a stick, he was always telling me ‘practice with your left (hand), practice with your left,’” Kempney said. “I always remember him saying that and I definitely took that to start. He just motivated me probably more than anyone. I was lucky enough to play on his teams.”

Kempney continued about Coffman: “And Jason’s definitely been a big influence for me. He’s not only a great coach, but a great guy, I look up to him more than anyone, he’s taught me everything I know about lacrosse since I was a little kid.”

Fittingly, Carter Kempney is looking forward to playing under new Syracuse men’s lacrosse coach Gary Gait — who replaced Hall of Fame coach John Desko — and coached the Orange women’s team for 14 seasons.

“I was going to the Dome ever since probably before I even knew I was going to the Dome, I was that young,” he said. “I’ve been going there my entire life getting to watch my sisters play and watch all the boys teams that played there from Carthage, it was just a great experience.”

Kempney verbally committed to attend Syracuse in September of last year.

“The program’s great, everyone there are the most hard-working kids I’ve ever met, they go hard every day of the week,” Kempney said. “And now that we’ve got the new coaching staff, I think they’ll go even harder and they’re just hungry for a national championship. And I think it’s time that they get one.”

Primarily a midfielder throughout his scholastic career, Kempney thus far has totaled 110 goals and 25 assists in four varsity seasons with Carthage, which doesn’t include his sophomore season in 2020 in which spring sports across the state were canceled because of the pandemic.

“One of the things about Carter, is he’s always a goal scorer and he’s always pretty fast,” Coffman said. “But his strength is a big thing, he was always naturally strong, but now he’s become such a powerful kid that he has no problem running around you or running through you if he has to.”

Last year as a junior, Kempney totaled 78 points, including 64 goals and 14 assists, for Carthage.

“It will be great to have a season before I go onto Syracuse, because this season is kind of like setting a bar for me for what I have to get better at,” Kempney said. “I can’t wait to put on the Carthage uniform for one last season and just give it my all.”

“His evolution in the game, I think he’s become a better passer,” Coffman said. “So being able to score is something that he can do very well and I think he’s also become somebody that’s able to get other people more involved, so that’s going to be exciting to see.”

Kempney has taken his game beyond the north country as he made the United States under-18 national development team after trying out for the team in the summer in Maryland. He helped guide the team to a tournament title in October as it won two games each against Team Iroquois and Team Canada.

“It’s definitely a different experience because there’s kids from all over the U.S. on that team, so you’re going to meet all new kids and make so many new friends,” Kempney said.

He also continued to excel in football this fall as he totaled 925 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in five games for Carthage as well as passing for a score.

One of the first to congratulate Kempney was Rowan Marsell, a senior at Indian River, who will also compete in the Division I level in lacrosse as he’s verbally committed to attend the University of Delaware.

“He’s definitely one of my best friends,” Kempney said of Marsell.

Carter’s older brother Tyler, an accomplished rock and ice climber who played lacrosse at Houghton College in western New York, traveled from Colorado to join the festivities on Wednesday, and their dad Scott Kempney was also present.

Carter’s mother, Roxanne Kempney, shared a story about Carter which seems to sum up his life long dedication to the sport of lacrosse.

“I’d like to thank coach Coffman who has actually been around Carter since he was born,” she said. “He actually found Carter one time wandering around the turf when he was about two years old and I was about halfway home and I got a phone call asking if I had forgot anything? I was like ‘I don’t think so,’ but he was like ‘I have Carter right here next to me on the turf.’

“So he’s kind of been looking out for Carter ever since he was little and we greatly appreciate everything he’s done.”

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