April 28, 2011

Dykstra Says Feats Would Be Meaningless Minus Patriot League Title

by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com

Lehigh senior Lauren Dykstra has been named the Patriot League's rookie, offensive player, defensive player and midfielder of the year during her decorated career. She's the conference's all-time leading scorer and ranks seventh in NCAA history with 253 career goals.

© Brent Hugo/Lehigh Athletics

Then an assistant coach, Jill Redfern remembers the day that Lauren Dykstra committed to play for the Lehigh women's lacrosse team.

"It was a really big deal," said Redfern, who is in her third year as head coach. "We had a total party. We were really excited."

Dykstra has amounted to even more than they could have imagined. On April 9, she broke Jill Altshuler's 15-year-old school and Patriot League career goals record with her 243rd goal. The senior midfielder hasn't stopped there, as her 253 goals through 68 career games going into Thursday's Patriot League tournament semifinal against Navy rank seventh all-time in NCAA history.

"For all of the attention and how outstanding a goal scorer she is, it's all the other things in a game that I appreciate," Redfern said. "She's a real well-rounded player. She's just a gifted goal scorer on top of that.

"She's up there in draw control and caused turnovers, all the middle of the field action. It's more of her making the right play at the absolute right time."

Dykstra's 81 points are a career best. She's also among team leaders in ground balls (32), draw controls (31) and caused turnovers (20). Dykstra may not be a household name outside of the Patriot League, but she's arguably the most decorated player in league history.

She won the Rookie of the Year as a freshman when she scored 64 goals. She was named the Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year as a sophomore when she had 67 goals and led the country with 82 ground balls. As a junior, the Patriot League honored her as Defensive Player of the Year. And this year, she won the conference's first Midfielder of the Year honor while amassing 68 goals on a .553 shooting percentage, both career bests.

"I really do try my best not to think about it," Dykstra said. "In the end, all those accolades won't mean as much without the championship. Ten years down the road, I'll remember the championship."

The Mountain Hawks came as close as ever when they reached their first Patriot League final last year. Navy, however, ended that bid despite Dykstra's two goals and assist. Dykstra scored four goals in Lehigh's 15-13 win over Navy on Saturday to secure the No. 2 seed for the Patriot League tournament.

"I definitely would love to leave with a win in the Patriot tournament," Dykstra said. "It's something I've been wanting to do since freshman year. We got so close last year. I'd love to close with that."

Dykstra said she doesn't feel pressure to be the leading scorer for the Mountain Hawks, who have six other double-digit goal scorers and are 14th in the nation in scoring offense.

Dykstra has scored a goal in all but one of her 68 career games, and her 48-game goal streak is second in the nation behind Loyola's Grace Gavin. Dykstra has 48 career hat tricks, including 13 this season. Though she opened her college career with a hat trick, she's become a much more polished scorer during her collegiate career.

"Repetition of shooting," Redfern explained. "Hours and hours of practice. She has a different level of determination to get to the cage too.

"She's the hardest worker I've ever had, for sure. I think she would have been good even without the extra. I think it was the difference maker in her career. It's in the weight room. She has a very electric first step, but her endurance has improved over the last four years too."

"I really do try my best not to think about it," Dykstra said. "In the end, all those accolades won't mean as much without the championship. Ten years down the road, I'll remember the championship."

Dykstra was highly sought out of West Morris Mendham in New Jersey, though she had gotten a late start in the recruiting game.

She played soccer and basketball before taking up lacrosse.

"I only started lacrosse my freshman year, because my high school soccer coach told me to try out," Dykstra said. She played on the freshman team that first year, but there was something special about her. She led the team in scoring, and late in the season was pulled up for the varsity team's state tournament ride.

"She was the leading scorer without ever picking up a stick before," said Mendham head coach Jessica Shoulberg. "She played summer lacrosse then, and I saw her a lot. By the time sophomore year started, I had high expectations."

Dykstra, though, received college attention for all three sports.

"The beginning of junior year, I was all soccer," she said. "I thought I'd be playing soccer in college. Then I had a season-ending injury junior year. that changed my mind and focus."

Dykstra had been a big goal scorer in soccer as well, and the offensive side of things came easily to her in lacrosse. Dykstra absorbed every lesson she could, and as a senior, she was named a high school All-American after scoring 91 goals.

"When she stepped on the field, she meant business," Shoulberg said. "She had a nose for the goal. No one could ever stop her.

"We had a very good team with two or three good goal scorers. She always drew the top one or two defenders. It never seemed to stop her. She's a competitor. You can't really coach that."

The big-time scorer was sought by some more established programs, but she felt an instant connection to Lehigh.

"I pretty much chose Lehigh from the start," Dykstra said. "I felt something different for Lehigh. My uncle went there and a friend went there. Academically, it was a stretch for me, and it was great to get into such a great academic school."

The management major has done fine in juggling her studies with developing into one of the most dynamic goal scorers that the country has ever seen.

"I would call it a cross between toughness and drive," Redfern said. "She's incredibly competitive."

"When she stepped on the field, she meant business," [Mendham coach Jessica] Shoulberg said. "She had a nose for the goal. No one could ever stop her."

When the Lehigh coaches told her that she was easy to cover as a freshman because she couldn't use her left hand, Dykstra worked to develop it. She worked for hours with Redfern to hone her left hand.

"I tried to make an effort to change," Dykstra said. "I shot as many left as right. In high school, I never used my left hand. Now, I'm very comfortable passing and shooting. I started to get comfortable sophomore year."

The improvements through the years have made Dykstra even tougher to stop.

"It's not for lack of trying," Redfern said. "She gets doubled and tripled and face-guarded. With her senior experience and just confidence, it goes a long way. I think her teammates have figured out how to get her the ball at the right time. That's been key too.

"She didn't have the skill set she does now," she added. "She's an outstanding athlete, but has gotten so much better as a lacrosse player."

The extra attention would bother Dykstra when she was younger. But she's learned to move better without the ball and how to counter every possible look she gets. And when Dykstra gets the chance to shoot, she usually connects, and more than 250 times she has.

"When I came in, I had no ambition of scoring that many goals," Dykstra said. "I would never have thought I'd score 250 goals. No one thinks that. It's a great honor. I have to thank my coaches and teammates for that."

All those goals blend together. Not one of the 253 stands out for Dykstra.

"I don't remember any major game-winning goal," she said. "I know I've had a couple game-winning goals, but they haven't been in the last second or anything like that. I don't remember one."

All that could change in the Patriot League tournament, which concludes with the championship Saturday at Colgate. If Lauren Dykstra can find the chance to supply the championship-winner, she'd be giving Lehigh another reason to party.

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