Mikaela Rix’s grin couldn’t be wider. Thousands of fans for North America’s oldest sport applaud in awe of an amazing performance. Although the Screaming Eagles Marching Band has dispersed for the summer, the Boston College faithful sing and clap along to “For Boston” in proud support of their girls. She stands on a small podium at PPL Park in Philadelphia, screaming out in elation as she lifts the 2015 NCAA National Championship Trophy over her head.
That’s how the senior captain of BC women’s lacrosse plans to spend her summer break. It’s a dream painted up by the two-time Tewaaraton Award nominee—given to the best NCAA women’s lacrosse player—after three years of disappointment. In her freshman season, Rix and the Eagles finished with a winning record, but were not granted a tournament bid. The following year, the first under head coach Acacia Walker, BC made the big dance, but a weak defense plagued the team in an opening round loss to Dartmouth.
Walker’s Eagles finally broke out in 2014, solidifying themselves on the national lacrosse spotlight with a program best 15-6 season. Once again, BC dominated on the backs of Rix and acclaimed attacker Covie Stanwick. They finished first and second on the team in both goals and assists, combining for 165 total points. Although the team struggled in ACC play, BC still earned a No. 7 berth in the NCAA Tournament, eventually falling in a tough 11-9 loss to No. 2 Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
And so another year passed without Rix winning it all.
It’s an odd situation for a player who has been winning her entire life. The senior midfielder captured four state titles playing for her local high school in Garden City, N.Y., a Long Island town where winning championships in lacrosse is an expectation, not a dream.
“I think it’s a really big privilege,” said Rix’s former teammate and Vanderbilt senior lacrosse player Gabby Nesi. “You go through Garden City and you may not be playing all the time and you may have a really hard practice. But if you think about it, yes, you could be starting anywhere else, but to be a part of this team that has such history and is so good at what we do, it’s honestly an honor.”
Rix showed the same outstanding skill-set in high school that she possess now. It’s a package that Walker, who unsuccessfully attempted to recruit her as the assistant coach of UMass-Amherst in 2011, has long admired.
“She’s just bigger, stronger, faster, smarter than every player out there,” Walker said.
Rix falls in a long line of successful Garden City lacrosse players to make it big in Division I, highlighted by her mentor, Becky Lynch, Tewaaraton finalist for the University of North Carolina in 2012. Her drive to win knows no bounds—Rix once called out a player on the opposing team for wearing an illegal bracelet during a state championship game.
But Rix’s Eagles haven’t garnered that same success she had in high school. Despite the team’s incredible talent, the Eagles lacked that one last plug to the national title puzzle. Until now, that is.
Enter the missing piece of BC lacrosse: freshman sensation Kenzie Kent.
Save for men’s basketball and hockey, rarely can a true freshman bring a team over the edge and into legitimate national contention. She finished her prep school career as a two-time finalist for the Heather Leigh Albert Award for the nation’s top high school women’s lacrosse player as well as a three-time U.S. Lacrosse High School All-American. And that’s just in lacrosse—Kent, a star midfielder, also played varsity soccer and hockey, the latter of which she continues to play at BC.
Walker has seen Kent as a one-of-a-kind talent for years. Her informal recruiting started around the age of 10, when Walker would constantly tease Kent that one day, regardless of where she coached, Kent would play for her.
“I’ve always dreamt of coaching her,” Walker said, calling Kent “the best kid in every sport she played.”
Kent, like Rix, brings a championship pedigree to BC, having won the 2012 New England Independent School League Championship while playing for Thayer Academy. Kent’s drive to win and improve her play goes past family allegiances. Kent played with her sister Callahan in high school, a sophomore goalie at Vanderbilt, before transferring in her junior year to Thayer’s rival, the Noble and Greenough School. Callahan’s best high school moment came in the annual rivalry game against Nobles, when, for the first time, she squared up in goal against her sister. The younger Kent came out on top, scoring a plethora of goals and leading Nobles to a victory.
Haley Mullins—Harvard freshman lacrosse player, Kent’s best friend and high school teammate—describes Kent’s play as very creative, the same word Kent used herself. When the ball is in her stick, Kent controls the field as she maps out how she’ll attack the net. The game moves slowly enough for Kent that she can envision her goals well before she makes her final strike.
While Rix’s collected personality brings a calm aura that she imparts on her fellow Eagles, Kent’s vibe is different. She’s more of a free spirit, choosing to have fun instead of getting overly competitive and serious before a game. She’ll generally fool around a lot during practice, too. Mullins and Kent would constantly challenge each other to develop innovative scoring plays. They were even bold enough to attempt switching sticks in the middle of an attack before one of them eventually fired on the net.
“It just never worked,” Mullins said, “but we’d always end up laughing.”
Given her role as a freshman, Kent feels her only option is to lead by example, not just in her actual play but with her attitude. She rarely gets down and never blames her teammates on a botched play.
“She’s not a hardo,” Mullins said with a chuckle.
Kent shares her passion for lacrosse with her sisters. When Callahan switched to goalie in high school, Kent and her mother helped her adjust by constantly taking shots on her. Everything Callahan taught Kent she relayed to her younger sister Addison. Kent loves playing with and teaching Addison all the skills she has learned. But the matriarch of the Kents, Jen, fuels the family’s love for the sport. Jen was a three-sport star at Colby College, including serving as a two-time team captain in lacrosse. She also coached her daughters’ club teams, helping them refine their skills beyond the backyard, while also serving as assistant lacrosse coach of the Eagles for the last seven seasons. Jen is only one of Kent’s many connections to BC—she has three uncles and an aunt who are alumni.
Like Kent, Rix imparted her wisdom on her younger sister Morgayne. Throughout their childhood, Morgayne always considered her older sister a role model. Their parents, though incredibly supportive, weren’t the types to force Rix to play with her little sister—she always offered. Regardless of blistering cold winds or relatively intense heat (for Long Island, at least), the two sisters trotted out to the Garden City practice fields each day to refine their skills. They took shot after shot at the wall, aiming for an imaginary goal. According to Nesi, after all of that practice, Morgayne now models her playing style after her older sister, a key to the younger Rix’s success. “I wish I had a big sister like Mikaela,” Nesi said.
Rix’s influence on Morgayne extends beyond the field. The younger Rix admires her sister’s unmatched motivation. “Every time she sets her eye on something she always does whatever she can to achieve it,” Morgayne said. “She had the goal to make the U-19 Team and she did that, she had the goal to play college lacrosse and she did that.”
The Eagles’ middie also excels in the classroom—she won BC’s Junior Class Outstanding Scholar-Athlete Award last season—just as she did in Garden City. Morgayne keeps all of Rix’s old report cards to inspire her to try to get a leg up over her older sister in at least one thing. “We always joke around about it how Mikaela is the most athletic and how we don’t know what me and my other sister [Marguerite] are,” Morgayne said.
Morgayne only pauses before taking her sister’s lucky spandex.
Rix’s superstition—or as she prefers to call it, her routine—of wearing the same spandex, headband, and socks for each game dates back to her high school days. “[It’s] more of a mental check for myself that it’s the same playing field every time,” she said. Although many sisters share clothes, Morgayne didn’t want to mess with her sister’s mojo, even if she wanted the luck to rub off on her as well. “I knew that if I took it, I’d probably be shot,” Morgayne said.
The Eagles come into the year ranked No. 6 nationally by Inside Lacrosse—under any other circumstance, this would be a good sign. Unfortunately for BC, the Atlantic Coast Conference in women’s lacrosse is akin to the dominance of the SEC West in football. Of the Top 20 teams, seven play in the ACC, including three of the top five—Syracuse, North Carolina, and Duke.
Walker, who is attempting to make BC into a women’s lacrosse powerhouse similar to Northwestern—where she was an assistant under Kelly Amonte Hiller for four consecutive national championship teams between 2005-2008—understands the challenges of playing in such a difficult conference. She believes the ACC is the nation’s premier league and that matching up against these strong teams week after week will, in the long run, benefit her girls.
Eventually, the Eagles will have to win some of those more difficult conference games. Despite having the program’s best record last season, BC had trouble competing with these top-notch forces, as the Eagles finished an uneven 3-5 in the conference.
Most of the struggles came from the BC’s one-sided approach last season. The Eagles were built on their phenomenal offense, led by Rix, Stanwick, and Sarah Mannelly and complemented by Brooke Blue and Moira Barry. With an abundance of offensive weapons, BC moved the ball around extensively, creating space to bombard opposing goalies—the Eagles averaged more than 13 goals per game in 2014.
When going up against top teams like UNC, Syracuse, or Maryland, BC’s offensive attack got stifled by opponents’ stout defenses. Against the Eagles, the opposition often clumped close to the crease, preventing BC’s goal scorers from driving. As a result, the Eagles managed only nine goals three times and 10 goals once in four games against those three opponents—all losses.
That’s a problem for an Eagles’ defense that is up-and-down, at best. Although Walker’s team shined in transition defense, BC struggled to force turnovers and generate heavy pressure, allowing offenses to settle down and set up in the zone.
While the Eagles’ top three—Rix, Stanwick, and Mannelly—remain on the Heights, Blue and Barry have since graduated. In their place, BC will need midfielders Caroline Margolis and Tess Chandler to build off the flashes of talent they showed in 2014. That still would only put the Eagles in the same place as last year, with five offensive weapons.
That’s where Kent comes in. If the freshman midfielder can live up to her unbelievably high expectations, she will give BC a sixth offensive threat. That only adds headaches for opposing defenses to continue to cover all of the Eagles—chances are, it’d be extremely difficult to put a point man on each one. Perhaps it could also mask the BC’s deficiencies in front of goalie Zoe Ochoa, who also stands to improve this season. If that all falls into place—and, yes, it’s a big if—the Eagles could be the most lethal goal scoring attack in the country.
But the lacrosse team should worry about Kent’s position as a starting forward for BC’s hockey team. Katie King Crowley’s squad gears up for the postseason this weekend, and at 30-1-1, looks poised to make a championship run deep into March. This has prevented the two-sport star from participating in a formal practice for Walker’s team, and even Kent admits that she hasn’t had the opportunity to train on her own as much as she’d like for the lacrosse season.
Walker, although not particularly concerned about her marquee recruit’s preparedness, expects Kent to contribute the second she can join the team. Kent’s teammates also fear on her behalf—many are in disbelief that she can juggle two varsity sports, especially one with as long of a season as hockey.
The freshman downplayed any worry, expressing confidence in her ability on the field. “Lacrosse, unlike hockey—that’s hard to pick up—but lacrosse is a little easier for me,” Kent said. She claims she’s made friends with her teammates off the field, although whether she will have the same chemistry on it remains up in the air.
In addition, expecting Kent to live up to these lofty goals is a lot to ask of a freshman. With 36 points—seven goals and 29 assists, the third highest total among freshmen—Kent has climbed her way to Crowley’s top line, suiting up alongside Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa. But joining a team midseason in a different sport is no guarantee for greatness, no matter how naturally gifted she is.
While holding the trophy above her head, Rix spots her family in the audience. She tries to wave, but needs help to keep the trophy aloft. Kent is there atop the podium to give her a hand. At least that’s the plan.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor