Change is a natural part of life. Whether on the lacrosse field, in the classroom or in the professional workplace, how people respond to change separates the good from the average and the great from the good.
Lehigh women’s lacrosse senior Lauren Willcox embraces new challenges and she’s also a quick learner. That combination has led to success at Lehigh, setting her up for continued success after graduation.
“Coming to Lehigh was a completely new experience. I found that the best way to deal with change was to embrace it,” said Willcox.
Willcox’s father played lacrosse in high school, so it was a natural sport for her to play. She started playing in the sixth grade for her middle school team.
“In seventh grade, I ended up trying out for a club team, PA Express,” said Willcox. “I made the team and it took off from there. I continued through high school and then my junior year, I decided to come to Lehigh.”
As a freshman, Lauren was asked to change positions from her position of midfield/attack to defense and the rest is history…
“In February of my freshman year, I wasn’t getting much playing time and the coaches decided to change my position,” said Willcox. “So I learned college defense in basically a month. I’ve been a defender ever since.”
Lehigh head coach Jill Redfern saw the potential of Willcox at defense. The move has paid off.
“Lauren has an explosive first step, but was not a natural dodger,” said Redfern. “We recruit and develop our defenders to take risks for all balls on the ground to earn extra possessions. Lauren showed excellent potential in this area as well an exceptional speed for our transition game.”
Willcox hasn’t just developed into a good defender, but rather a two-time All-Patriot League defender. She owns 64 groundballs and 55 caused turnovers for her career, but her impact has gone far beyond any statistics.
“As a defender, it’s harder to measure success,” said Willcox. “Attackers measure success in goals and assists, but as a defender, you have to shift your mindset and evaluate performance based on skills like successfully holding an attacker or clearing the ball. These things are not always reflected on the stat sheet.”
The difference between attack and defense is substantial, requiring very different skill sets.
“Defense requires more extensive knowledge about field and body positioning and is reliant on direct communication with teammates,” said Willcox. “Attack is more about moving the ball quickly and seeing opportunities as they unfold.
“Obviously I’m comfortable now and I embrace my role,” she continued. “I love being a defender.”
“Lauren is a shut-down defender,” said Redfern. “She plays the fastest and most threatening attacker nearly every game. She’s transitioned beautifully to this position because she trusted it would work out and committed herself to excelling in this role for the sake of our team.”
If Willcox’s position never changed, a dynamic defensive trio would have never formed. Lauren’s senior teammates Michelle Abramczyk and Kelly Scott have been alongside Willcox from day one.
“Lauren is always willing to do whatever it takes to help the team be successful,” said Scott. “She is a natural athlete and it didn’t take long for her to catch onto the defensive side of the game. Over the past four years, we have supported each other and gone through the experience together.”
The trio has enjoyed individual success, which has led to team success. Last season, the Mountain Hawks finished second in the Patriot League in scoring defense and are third this year. The team has allowed eight or fewer goals on eight occasions this season, including last time out at Rutgers of the Big Ten.
Quiet by nature, Willcox never envisioned herself as a captain, which she is now. Lauren has been a quick learner in the Lehigh Athletics Leadership Academy as well.
“Lauren is one of the most intense and disciplined athletes I have met, and I think these qualities directly influence her ability to learn quickly,” said Julie Ammary who oversees the Leadership Academy. “Because she is so focused, she can easily translate feedback into action, and she expects herself to do it quickly.”
“Slowly but surely through Julie’s help and the Leadership Academy, I realized that I have what it takes to be a leader,” said Willcox. “I started out just leading by example. I don’t like speaking in front of crowds, so that was a skill I’ve had to develop throughout my time as a student-athlete.”
Willcox doesn’t only learn quickly to better herself, but she also uses her natural strengths to her advantage.
“I’ve learned that leadership isn’t necessarily about speaking to a large group. It can be about one-on-one help, sitting down with teammates and just talking with them,” said Willcox. “A lot of people think of leaders as addressing the team as a whole, but it’s not always the case.”
“Lauren’s consistency and demeanor earned her the respect and trust of her teammates and coaches early on, which provided a platform for her to grow into a bit more of a vocal leadership role,” said Ammary. “Lauren doesn’t have to be the person that speaks up often, but when she does, people seem to listen.”
Scott is Lehigh’s other captain and someone who takes more of a vocal leadership role.
“Lauren and I complement each other very well,” said Scott. “Lauren is a very effective leader by example and is a powerful communicator. We share the same values and have the same goals.”
More important than any lacrosse awards or accolades, Willcox’s ability to learn quickly, and her approach towards change, should do her well in the professional world. Someone who always wanted to be involved in the medical profession, the Biology major and double minor in Psychology and Health Medicine and Society owns a 3.74 cumulative GPA.
Lauren got her feet wet in the professional world two summers ago, completing a fulfilling internship experience.
“The summer after my sophomore year, I did an internship at The University of Pennsylvania in the Laboratory of Innovative and Translational Nursing Research,” said Willcox. “I conducted the data analysis for a project focusing on stem cell infusion therapies in the heart post injury.”
Last spring, Willcox took part in the St. Luke’s biomedical externship program where she completed 60 hours of volunteer observation. She rotated among different areas like pediatrics and internal medicine, and was able to observe several different disciplines.
With all her experiences stemming from her Lehigh experience, opportunities are endless after Willcox graduates in May.
“My ultimate goal is to go to medical school,” she said. “For the more immediate future, I am in the process of applying to jobs in the pharmaceutical industry and post-baccalaureate programs in the Philadelphia area.”
Willcox looks to end her Lehigh career on a high note, both on and off the field. People who handle change well enjoy success and Lauren is the perfect example. She’s an integral reason for the Mountain Hawks’ surge as a program.
“These last four years have been a lot of work,” said Willcox. “As a team we have so much potential this year and I truly believe we can turn it into something great. It would be unbelievable to make it to the Patriot League Championship and win. We have made great strides since my freshman year, it would be incredible to come full circle and finish with a huge win.”
Flash back to February of 2012. Willcox could have been upset when she was asked to change positions. Instead, she embraced the opportunity and the rest is history…