By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
The Lehigh women’s lacrosse team has enjoyed an impressive run near the top of the Patriot League. The Mountain Hawks are growing as a program, thanks in large part to Lauren Dykstra ’11 and the impact she made just a few years ago.
Flash forward two years and Dykstra is playing lacrosse again. Instead of donning the Brown and White, she played for Israel in the World Cup last month and was the team’s second-leading goal scorer for an Israel lacrosse squad that reached the Quarterfinals in the country’s first-ever World Cup appearance.
“It was amazing when I found out I was going to play again,” said Dykstra. “Not just playing in the World Cup, but also the whole experience of going to Israel, understanding more about my heritage and learning more about the history of Judaism.”
Dykstra traveled to Israel in advance of the World Cup to get acclimated with her teammates before heading back to Canada for the tournament.
That’s where Dykstra made her mark, and made Lehigh proud.
“TOUGHEST COMPETITOR I HAD EVER RECRUITED”
Dykstra enjoyed a stellar four-year collegiate career. She eclipsed 54 goals and 62 points every season, finishing with 257 goals and 302 points in 69 career games (all starts). That’s 3.7 goals and 4.4 points per game.
Dykstra not only left as the Patriot League’s all-time leading goal scorer (and among the top 10 in NCAA history for career goals), but she also helped lead the Mountain Hawks to new heights. Lehigh advanced to the Patriot League Tournament every season, won or shared two regular season championships and advanced to the 2010 Title Game.
Head coach Jill Redfern expected success at Lehigh, but couldn’t have predicted the record-breaking career Dykstra enjoyed.
“Lauren was the toughest competitor I had ever recruited,” said Redfern. “I recall driving away believing in her potential to be the Rookie of the Year in the Patriot League. I don’t think anyone could predict the prolific goal scoring. That happened because of her commitment to practice while at Lehigh.”
The New Jersey native was a versatile player, who made an impact at the midfield with her well-rounded game. She won four different Patriot League major awards in as many seasons, winning Rookie of the Year then Offensive Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and Midfield Player of the Year. To say her impact was felt would be an understatement.
Dykstra used hard work at Lehigh to hone her craft, which ultimately led to national attention in several ways. She was named an All-American and was included in Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd. Dykstra made a name for herself and paved the way for other student-athletes, showing you can reach the pinnacle of the sport through Lehigh.
MORE THAN JUST LACROSSE
Before heading to the World Cup, Dykstra and her soon-to-be teammates headed to Israel to practice and get acclimated. It was a worthwhile time of not only practice, but also team bonding which helped camaraderie.
“I was very fortunate to have an amazing team and an amazing coaching staff,” said Dykstra. “Everyone really got together quickly. We had no choice. We had three weeks to get together and play in the World Cup.
“A lot of us didn’t know each other beforehand, so it was a big task. It didn’t hurt that we enjoyed being around each other and became really good friends.”
Dykstra took part in several clinics to help grow lacrosse in Israel.
“We had a charity day when we gave back to the community, whether it was planting trees, picking fruit or teaching little girls how to play,” said Dykstra. “There was a wide range of things.
“It wasn’t just about playing lacrosse and getting our plays down,” she continued. “It was about getting to know each other, which always plays a factor. We did a lot of bonding and tourist activities in Israel together, we made sure we were always together and spent a lot of time together.”
WORLD CUP SUCCESS
Going into Israel’s first World Cup, there were a lot of unknowns. What fans got was an impressive effort from the Israeli National Team, and Dykstra played as large a role as any.
Israel began the World Cup by beating Germany 15-9 with Dykstra scoring five goals to earn Player of the Game honors. She admitted she was nervous, but it certainly didn’t show in her play.
“Having not played for two years, I was definitely wondering what was going to happen,” said Dykstra. “I was really nervous, but after the first minute on the field, it felt right. The nerves calmed down.
“I hadn’t played in a full 60-minute game for two years. I was wondering if I was going to survive and be able to run up and down the field. My stick skills began to click again.”
The squad continued to win, earning a spot in the 12-team playoff following a 13-6 win over Scotland. Israel then beat New Zealand 12-9 to earn a spot in the World Cup Quarterfinals where it met host Canada. Israel hung tough, trailing only 6-4 at the half before Canada pulled away in the second. Regardless, it was an impressive run and the entire team walked away with their heads held high.
“I don’t think people truly realize how much we accomplished,” said Dykstra. “We had really high expectations from the start. You’re talking about getting 20 girls who barely knew each other and expecting them to play at the best level in the world.”
“Israel fielded not only a competitive team, but also one that was fully united on and off the field,” said Redfern. “I think they accomplished their goal of getting this team on the map.”
Dykstra finished the World Cup with 20 goals, second on the team, while adding two assists.
More than any on-field wins or losses, the team made its country proud with the way it represented itself. The team announced that it would not play on Shabbat and therefore forfeit its Saturday game, and also the chance at a World Cup Title.
After its loss to Canada, Israel lost a heartbreaker to Scotland in overtime before forfeiting a chance for a seventh-place finish.
“We accomplished more than just making a name for ourselves in the tournament,” said Dykstra. “I think we represented the country of Israel well. We had gotten letters and emails from people in Israel saying how proud they were for what we were doing. Especially with Shabbat, how proud they were for what we were standing for.
“I had high expectations going into it, but I was amazed by the end of it.”
One of the highlights of the experience for Dykstra was a special visit from Coach Redfern, who made the trip north of the border for Israel’s game against Korea.
“She told me she was going to come and I said really, that’s a long way,” said Dykstra. “She responded that of course she was going to come. It’s not every day you get to see someone you coached in the World Cup.”
Redfern’s visit further showed the family culture that is developed at Lehigh.
“I had two great reasons to attend the World Cup,” she said. “Our first Lehigh player was competing, and it was exciting to watch the U.S. Team (Redfern is an alum).”
“It just showed how much she really cares about the program, about our Lehigh family,” said Dykstra. “When she was there on the sidelines, it felt right. It was nice to have her there to support. It was great to see her and her whole family. I feel really fortunate to have a coach who cares that much to make the trip.”
IT BEGAN WITH LEHIGH
Dykstra currently works with a consulting firm and her client is Estee Lauder. She has been there for a year and a half now. When the World Cup opportunity arose, she knew she’d need to take a month off work, but her employer was very understanding.
“I’m very close with who I work with,” said Dykstra. “I asked if this was okay and they were very supportive. It’s not every day you can say you’re playing in the World Cup.
“Even when I was away, a couple of my managers texted me to ask how it’s going,” Dykstra continued. “They were very supportive throughout the whole process.”
Lehigh has helped Dykstra grow in all areas. Something she learned from Redfern stuck with her right in the first minute of her first World Cup game.
“One thing I learned from Jill at Lehigh was no matter your competition, you can’t take anyone lightly,” said Dykstra. “You never know what’s going to happen or who’s going to be at the top or bottom of their game that day. I took that mentality into every World Cup game.”
“So many cornerstones of a Lehigh experience were evident in Lauren – her commitment to the team, the preparation necessary to succeed at a high level, whether professionally or athletically, and her ability to tough things out on any given day,” said Redfern.
“I never questioned how much Jill cares for the program,” said Dykstra. “I graduated two years ago and she still keeps in touch with us, wants to know what we’re doing and what our careers are like. She doesn’t just support us in lacrosse, but in other ways as well.”
Dykstra plans to stay involved with Israel Lacrosse, between playing and serving as an ambassador to help grow the sport.
“If I feel like I’m in shape in four years when I’m 28, I may try out again,” she said. “How much I want to play personally, I don’t know, but either way, I plan on staying extremely involved. If Scott Neiss (our director) wants me to meet someone who lives in the States but is from Israel, I would help him out any way I can. I plan on visiting Israel and working in youth camps, trying to stay involved as much as I can.”
Lehigh served as a springboard for Dykstra and proves that anything is within reach, even the highest level of the sport.
“A student-athlete can choose Lehigh’s stellar education without sacrificing his or her goal of becoming a world class athlete,” said Redfern.