By: Justin Lafleur, Lehigh Sports Media Relations
Lacrosse has the ability to unite. It has the ability to empower and the ability to heal.
The word family is a common phrase used within lacrosse teams. The power and impact of lacrosse goes far beyond what happens on the field.
Because of the special connection among teammates, the entire Lehigh women’s lacrosse family was affected when hearing tragic news right before the season got underway. In early February, senior goalie Alexandra Fitzpatrick‘s father, John, suddenly passed away from a heart attack.
Alex’s Lehigh family was there for her the entire time, attended the funeral and has proven to be a huge support system.
“We are a really close-knit family. Lacrosse brought us together and we’ve all bonded. We all connect even though we’re bonded just by lacrosse,” said Fitzpatrick. “We have a built-in family of more than 20 girls who love the sport that you love and have the same academic drive for success. My teammates have been an incredible rock for me.”
“The team truly wanted to help Alex and her family in any way we could because she is the heart of this team and we all know how hard she works to always be there for us,” said junior co-captain Kelly Scott. “In a way, it brought the team closer together and emphasized the importance of supporting one another, on and off the field. Having great friends and teammates is comforting to fall back on, and the positive atmosphere this family has created made it really easy to rally around Alex.”
The Mountain Hawks are honoring Mr. Fitzpatrick this season by adding green tape on their sticks with his initials JF.
Fitzpatrick has made her mark at Lehigh in all areas: on the field, in the classroom and in the community, positively impacting everyone she comes in contact. Fitzpatrick’s happy and bubbly personality always rises to the surface, even in the most difficult of circumstances.
Whether struggles in a lacrosse game, season or most importantly, life, Fitzpatrick’s optimism rubs off onto everyone around her.
“Alex has incredible optimism in the face of many different circumstances,” said Lehigh head coach Jill Redfern. “If people are going to be out, she says don’t worry, other people will get the job done. Even in a negative performance, Alex will find three highlights and make people feel good about themselves.”
That optimism hasn’t changed, and may have even increased this season.
“Alex is really mentally tough back there in the cage,” said Redfern. “I think sometimes when you have the type of tragic event and loss that Alex has seen, it takes some of the pressure off as a goalkeeper because your perspective on life changes.
“At the end of the day, stopping the lacrosse ball isn’t the most important thing.”
Fitzpatrick began playing lacrosse in the seventh grade when her middle school gym teacher introduced her to not only the sport, but also to the position of goalkeeper.
“She came up to me and said I look like a goalie, take this goalie equipment and I’ll see you on Monday morning,” said Fitzpatrick. “The rest is history and I’ve loved every moment.”
Alex seemed destined to be a goalkeeper. She’s always had great hand-eye coordination.
“An important thing for me personally is my hands,” said Fitzpatrick. “They’re actually the quickest part of my body. My hands pretty much drive everything. They get my feet in position and my body behind the ball.”
Fitzpatrick’s siblings, John (23) and Molly (16), also play lacrosse and would shoot on Alex in the backyard. Her father would (try to) shoot on Alex, even though he was just learning the sport himself.
“My dad would joke around saying he’d go out and shoot on me,” said Fitzpatrick. “I told him he has no idea what he’s doing. He said he would help me out. He got a lot of enjoyment out of it and grew to love the game.”
Lacrosse has always been a way to bond, a connection between Fitzpatrick’s immediate family and her second family, Lehigh women’s lacrosse.
“Both my dad and mom would take turns being at every game,” said Alex. “It was always great because I knew I could always look in the stands and one of them would be there.”
Fitzpatrick’s decision to come to Lehigh was extra special for her dad.
“My father didn’t go to college so he really cherished the fact that my brother, sister and I wanted to go to college,” said Alex. “When I chose Lehigh, known for its academics, he was so proud that he could have walked around with a medal that said ‘my daughter is going to Lehigh.'”
Fitzpatrick has certainly made her mark in the Brown and White. As a freshman, she was the first team All-Patriot League goalie, posting an 8.66 GAA and 50.6 save percentage. Fitzpatrick helped lead the Mountain Hawks to a 9-7 record and the Patriot League Tournament, which included a big late-season win at Navy on national television.
Alex was dealt a blow early in her sophomore year against Temple, tearing her ACL on an innocent play near the crease. She was off to a great start, owning a 7.74 GAA and 52.9 save percentage through three games. That ended her season and began the long road back.
Fitzpatrick was up and down as a junior, but started all 16 games and finished second in the league with 7.69 saves per game.
This year, Alex is back and better than ever.
“It was a long road back, mentally and physically,” said Redfern. “We saw spurts and strong moments last year. Then there were weaker moments. This year, she’s found her consistency.”
Fitzpatrick has been the backbone of Lehigh’s success this season. She’s among the nation’s leaders in save percentage and goals against average, leading the Mountain Hawks back to the Patriot League Tournament for the first time since her freshman year. Fitzpatrick made a career-high 17 saves in the league-opening win against Bucknell to set the tone for a successful Patriot League slate.
In early April, Fitzpatrick made 11 saves in a thrilling 12-11 double overtime win at Boston University, handing the Terriers their first-ever Patriot League loss and snapping their five-game winning streak overall. The Mountain Hawks followed by holding Navy, who was 12-1 and averaging almost 14 goals per game, to just nine goals in a heartbreaking 9-8 overtime loss. No matter how the Patriot League Tournament plays out, Lehigh has made huge strides this season and has raised its level of play, due in large part to Alex’s presence.
Fitzpatrick has made her mark off the field as well. A Marketing major, she’s been named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll and has been on multiple Dean’s Lists for semester GPAs over 3.6. She is heavily involved in Student-Athlete Council, which is a group of 20 to 25 student-athletes who focus on the student-athlete experience such as community service and career outreach.
“This year, we really focused on uniting student-athletes,” said Fitzpatrick. “We coordinated a lot of events, like pregame and postgame tailgates after soccer or basketball games. My role is pretty much the facilitator in order to make an event successful.”
Fitzpatrick has also played a significant role in C.O.A.C.H. (Community Outreach For Athletes Who Care about Helping), which is a branch of the Student-Athlete Council. She’s been on the board which reaches out to local Bethlehem elementary schools and the community in general.
“We have events such as Reading Rocks where we’ll go to Donegan Elementary School. For an hour once per week, we’ll sit down with the students and we’ll help them complete their homework or read a book and then we’ll spend 15 minutes talking about nutrition or the importance of school,” said Fitzpatrick. “We also work with the community for Adopt-A-Family where each athletic team adopts a local Bethlehem family and provides them with necessities they may not necessarily be able to afford. It’s extremely rewarding.”
A team captain (with Scott), Fitzpatrick is the definition of a Lehigh student-athlete.
“Alex is a tremendous representative of our Lehigh lacrosse program and our entire athletic department,” said Redfern. “The Lehigh business school is very demanding, yet Alex has managed to contribute in such meaningful ways to so many different causes while always prioritizing her lacrosse performance.”
The fact that Alex lost her father before the season makes her story even more uplifting. Attitude is everything and she has made the best of her current situation. Fitzpatrick’s resiliency and resolve to excel through tough circumstances has been inspirational to everyone around her.
“Alex takes on life with a positive attitude and never lets anything bring her down,” said Scott. “All lacrosse aside, I really think that she’s the type of person everyone aspires to be. Alex is the first to help anybody and truly cares about each and every player on the team. She is the least selfish and most heartwarming person I’ve ever had the chance to play with.”
For as much as Fitzpatrick has played for her dad this season, she is playing for her mom as well.
“My mom, like my dad, has pushed me to be the best I can be,” said Alex. “She’s always the first person I call after a game if she can’t come. She just sets things straight, like my dad did. She reminds me that I’m a goalie and can’t score the ball, only stop it. She puts our family’s needs ahead of her own, which has allowed me the opportunity to be where I am today.”
Both Fitzpatrick and Redfern recalled one instance that embodies who John was as a person. During Alex’s freshman year, the Mountain Hawks traveled to Florida to play the Gators. Instead of forcing the team to walk in the heat, John took turns shuttling the young women, making five or six trips.
“My dad was one of the hardest workers that I’ve ever met. He was always helping other people,” said Fitzpatrick. “He had the biggest heart. He would do whatever he could for anybody.”
Despite not physically being with us anymore, it’s clear that John still lives on through Alex.
“For John, to have a legacy in Alex as a daughter is really impressive,” said Redfern.