In eighth grade, Jill Rizzo wrote herself a letter that said she would play lacrosse for Ohio State one day. After watching her older sister play hockey for the Buckeyes, she knew that was where she belonged.
“I immediately fell in love with the school, the tradition and what it means to be a Buckeye,” Rizzo said.
Senior goalie and team captain Rizzo still has that letter. She has achieved that goal and beyond, breaking an Ohio State record in what appeared to be her final season. However, like many other spring student-athletes, she could not have foreseen her year coming to an abrupt end due to COVID-19.
“I would love nothing more than to put that Ohio State uniform back on and finish what we started,” Rizzo said prior to Monday’s NCAA vote to renew player eligibility.
Ohio State head coach Amy Bokker said Rizzo texted her three times that day prying for answers, and when the committee voted to renew player eligibility, Bokker said her star goalie was “over the moon.”
“It’s my first year at Ohio State, so I was bummed every day that I was only going to have her for a year,” Bokker said. “She’s really excited. I think what’s even more exciting is how affected the entire team is that she’s gonna come back and be a part of our program again.”
Rizzo grew up in Queensbury, New York, and began playing lacrosse in fifth grade, inspired by her older sister. Initially, she didn’t have much interest in the sport until her dad told her she couldn’t play baseball anymore and had to choose between softball and lacrosse.
Her choice to put down the bat in favor of a stick paid off.
Rizzo became an accomplished lacrosse player at Queensbury High School, winning Female Athlete of the Year in 2015 and ’16.
Transitioning to her career at Ohio State, Rizzo said she knew she wanted to have an effect on the lacrosse program.
“Putting on the scarlet and gray helped me understand and feel the winning culture set by those before me,” Rizzo said. “I wanted nothing more than to live up to the tradition of excellence and leave the program better than I found it.”
Rizzo has been a captain since her sophomore year, and her teammates and coaches said they admire her abilities as a leader.
“I think that is the beauty of what Jill brings to her teammates — she is a natural leader,” Bokker said. “She’s not doing anything special. She’s genuine and being herself and with that her teammates gravitate to follow.”
Having an experienced goalie like Rizzo helped ease Bokker’s transition to head coach during the 2020 season, Bokker said.
“Having Jill on the field as our anchor meant so much,” Bokker said. “To have the level of trust in Jill that we did was awesome, and her commitment to our core values is totally solid.”
In Ohio State’s fifth 2020 regular-season game against Cincinnati, Rizzo registered her 600th save.
Later in the year, she set a new Ohio State record for career saves with 661, something she did not realize until after the record-setting game was over.
Rizzo led the Big Ten in saves and finished No. 2 nationally before the remainder of the season was canceled.
The Buckeyes were about to enter conference play and were filled with excitement and energy, but the quick end to the campaign left the team feeling incomplete, Bokker said.
“While this situation is really unfortunate, it is much bigger and something that was completely out of our control,” Rizzo said. “I am staying positive through keeping up communication with the team and doing what I can to help others.”
It was a difficult experience knowing how much hard work the team had put in prior to the end of the season, Rizzo said. However, she remains incredibly proud.
“My coaches, administration and support staff are the best in the nation and have perfectly exemplified what it means to be an elite leader, which has helped me raise the standards I have for myself,” Rizzo said.
Off the lacrosse field, Rizzo is studying business administration. She said it can be difficult to find time for both academics and sports.
“Sometimes it’s hard to balance everything, but the love for my team, the sport and me wanting to maximize my potential was always something that kept me going,” Rizzo said.
Once finished with her career as a Buckeye, Rizzo said she plans to continue her love for lacrosse by becoming a collegiate lacrosse coach.
“I’m really proud about her coaching pursuit. She is a strong woman role model who any team would be lucky to have as a coach,” Bokker said.
Much to Rizzo’s delight, though, Monday’s vote means she’ll have one more year to break records on the field before starting a new career off of it.