With 10 points in two games and two consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week titles, freshman midfielder Liza Hernandez is making a name for herself early in the season.
She is joined in her success by freshman goalie Jill Rizzo, who has started both games this season and helped the team remain undefeated in its first two games.
The pair represent a youth movement on the women’s lacrosse team, as they are two of five underclassmen — along with sophomore midfielder Baley Parrott, freshman attacker Alex Vander Molen and sophomore midfielder Mackenzie Maring — who have led the way to a strong start.
“The underclassmen are doing a good job,” said Ohio State coach Alexis Venechanos. “They’re playing fearless and they’re playing really brave right now.”
Hernandez, a two-time All-American, is leading the team in points, after coming off an incredibly impressive high school career. Scoring 253 goals total over her four-year career, she’s bringing that same drive and dedication as she begins to play for the Buckeyes.
“Yeah, it was great to get those awards, but I knew, like, once I get to college, those awards don’t really mean much,” Hernandez said. “You’re just in a pool … but I keep working and just getting better.”
With two straight Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards, Hernandez is already continuing her pattern of excelling on the field and being rewarded for her performance.
Currently, Hernandez is leading the team in goals, assists and shots, but isn’t letting her underclassman status intimidate her. Even though she’s only a freshman, she’s already becoming the person around whom the team rallies.
“I’m not much of a vocal leader,” Hernandez said. “But in practice, I try to lead by example.”
On the opposite end of the field, Rizzo has been dominating in the goal, playing full-time in both games and stopping an impressive number of shots.
Rizzo was a six-year starter and three-year captain for her varsity team. She was also given the award for Queensbury High School Athlete of the Year in 2015 and 2016.
But where Hernandez got her start excelling in a high school league that helped her build her skills, Rizzo got most of her experience playing in a more diverse summer league.
“My high school isn’t — my league wasn’t that great,” Rizzo said. “When I played summer ball, and played on my club team … that’s where we were able to develop my skills.”
Rizzo met Venechanos when she was younger and the two stayed in contact as Rizzo played through her high school career. Venechanos made sure to recruit her for the Buckeyes.
Sunday’s game against Jacksonville had the Buckeyes starting the second half down five goals. Rizzo refused to get frustrated and thanks her teammates for helping build her up.
“I made a couple of good saves that gave our offense a little confidence,” Rizzo said, noting that they then went on to win the game 13-12 in the second half.
Rizzo’s hard work and dedication is paying off. She was a contender for the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week, making 16 saves on Sunday and improving her save percentage to 0.475, rising to third place behind the goalies at Rutgers and Maryland.
It’s not only these two underclassmen who are currently championing the OSU lacrosse team as the season gets underway.
Parrott is tied for second in points with freshman attacker Vander Molen. Tied for third is Maring and Morgan Fee, a senior midfielder and the only upperclassman who has appeared among the top five girls on the team.
The underclassmen might be leading the team right now, but it’s the upperclassmen who are helping them feel confident enough to do so.
“I think our upperclassmen create that environment, that culture, of letting the younger players step up and be courageous,” Venechanos said. “Our returners are doing a great job of pumping them up.”
At practice, the girls consistently motivate each other to do better and to push past their limits, and it’s the cohesive effort by the team that makes them all willing to work harder.
The Buckeyes are hoping to keep the momentum going as they face off against Cincinnati on Sunday.
“We’re not really looking at the past, we’re kind of in the current,” Venechanos said. “We’re going to be a little more focused and dial it up from the start.”
With Hernandez in the middle, Rizzo in the net and the rest of the team rallying around the two, the team looks to be setting themselves up for success for the rest of the season.