When JMU lacrosse’s first win of the season came to a close, the Dukes held a comfortable 13-8 lead with under two minutes to play. A win would seemingly remove the sour taste in the players’ mouths from an 18-7 loss at UNC just four days prior and would be the first of six straight victories for the defending national champs.
That winning streak, still in place, wasn’t the only streak to begin that day. With the game out of reach, freshman midfielder Lizzy Fox took a pass from sophomore attacker Katie Checkosky at the top of the key, pushed down the right side and ripped a goal that rattled in off the left post — the first score of her young career.
She’d score again in the following game against UConn, and then again against High Point on Feb. 23. The 5-foot-4 athlete also fed senior attacker Hanna Haven for her first career assist against the Panthers.
“She’s an incredible dodger,” head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe said. “She makes dodging look easy, she understands space and how to attack it. She can feed out of her dodge, and she’s got a great shot selection. I’m just really impressed with how strong her skill sets are despite the fact that she’s a freshman.”
Slowly improving game by game, Fox would have her coming out party in a rainy contest against Canisius. Fox led the Dukes with four points off two goals and two assists — all of which were career highs — and was named CAA Player of the Week just days later. More important than the accolade, Fox had found her role — in short time, too.
“I just wanted to work hard and push others when I got here,” Fox said. “Obviously as a freshman, you don’t think you’re going to make an impact, so just helping my teammates was the goal from the start.”
Fox isn’t simply better than the other midfielders or getting lucky to start the season, rather, she’s taken advantage of the open opportunities and made the most of them efficiently. Three midfielders graduated after the 2018 season, including 2017 CAA Player of the Year Haley Warden and 2018 NCAA Elite 90 winner Elena Romesburg. The two combined for 287 points over their careers, leaving a gaping hole in the middle of the field.
Instead of handing out the vacant starting jobs to the upperclassmen waiting in the wings, Klaes-Bawcombe and her staff paid close attention to the new talent during the fall season. After leaving an early impression, Fox was starting at middie by the end of preseason play.
“Overall, just her work ethic and attitude was noticeable right off the bat,” junior midfielder Halle Duenkel said. “You see it every day on the field, you see it in the weight room, you see it even in the classroom. She works hard in everything she does and I think it’s starting to pay off for her.”
Fox’s tenacious and successful effort has been in place since her days as a high-school phenom. Attending North Rockland High School, Fox was an all-league selection from eighth grade through senior year, a team captain on both her field hockey and basketball teams, and she made Principal’s List every quarter of high school. She also has lacrosse in her bloodlines, as her father, Brian, played collegiately at St. John’s and her sister, Jenna, plays at Dominican College in New York.
“Lizzy is one of those players who I admire as a junior,” Duenkel said. “She’s an underclassman, but a force to be reckoned with. It’s her first year, but she’s playing as a seasoned veteran. I think being able to play alongside her has been a privilege.”
While Fox didn’t attempt a shot in the Dukes’ 11-9 win over Penn State — ending her scoring streak at four — she earned her way to her first career start Sunday against Rutgers. She resumed her scoring marks yet again, finding the back of the net for her sixth goal of the season. Her 10 points rank fifth on the team, and the starting nod suggests expanded opportunities for the young talent.
“I just think that we have a really competitive pool in the midfield and we want to keeping pushing each individual to continue to be the best version of themselves,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “I’m excited for this team that we have a freshman coming in who’s willing to push the starters before her and shake it up a little bit.”
With a start under her belt and a new scoring streak underway, Fox is ready to expand on her already impressive debut season. While it wasn’t the role she expected to have in Year 1, it’s hard to say she has any qualms with turning her multifaceted skill set into wins for the Dukes.
Contact Blake Pace at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more lacrosse coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.