After missing the majority of last season with an injury, Stanford lacrosse’s junior Rachel Ozer was recently named to the watch list for the Tewaarton Award. The attacker joins teammates and classmates Anna Kim and Lyndsey Munoz on the list of top prospects for the honor, which is given annually to the top women’s collegiate lacrosse player in the country.
Ozer has tallied 31 goals and 15 assists in 12 games this season to lead the Cardinal in her triumphant return to the field.
“[Ozer] is one of the most dynamic attackers in the country — with her stature she’s really difficult for defenders to match up against, and she just creates a lot of opportunities,” said Stanford head coach Amy Bokker. “She’s a great player, and she’s starting to really make a name for herself because she’s so difficult to keep up with.”
After scoring 15 goals and nine assists while appearing in every game of her 2011 freshman campaign, Ozer and her team entered 2012 with high hopes. That came crashing down — literally — when Ozer broke her collarbone five games into the season.
“I was just driving into the goal and I think I was trying a little bit too hard to get in there when there were a lot of defenders,” Ozer recalled. “I either got tripped or pushed, but I was suddenly in the air and I landed right on my shoulder.”
Ozer ended up having surgery and was forced to watch from the sideline as the Cardinal produced an 8-10 season that ended with a loss to Oregon in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship game, falling short of earning a play-in game bid for the NCAA Tournament.
“We didn’t have our strongest season last year and it’s hard to be on the sideline and feel like you couldn’t help out the team when you really wanted to,” Ozer said.
Despite the injury, Ozer remained an active part of the program, even continuing to travel with the team to road games. While she was on the sidelines, her coaches worked to keep Ozer involved mentally even if she couldn’t participate physically.
“We charged her with trying to gain a coach’s perspective from the sideline, trying to watch and see different developments and watch how different defenses played,” Bokker said. “We were hoping to train her to become that coach-figure on the field leading into this year.”
Bokker said that despite Ozer’s natural inclination to be more quiet and humble, her insights help the team perform better.
“She’s not someone who will call out orders on the field,” Bokker said. “But when the team comes in the huddle, she will explain what she sees and give her opinion that way.”
Ozer was able to start playing casually last summer and was fully recovered by the time the Cardinal began training again in the fall. Ozer said she was helped by the fact that broken collarbones are usually not lingering injuries.
“It’s an injury where I got the surgery and then I am able to be fully recovered,” Ozer explained. “When I started playing again, being able to have full range of motion was kind of weird, but you adjust pretty quickly — it was a pretty smooth recovery.”
The attacker’s presence on the field has certainly helped her team this year as the Cardinal has put together an 8-4 record, with all four losses coming against teams currently ranked in the top 11 nationally.
Ozer ranks seventh in the MPSF in points per game and has scored in every game this season except for the Cardinal’s loss to No. 4 Northwestern last Sunday.
Ozer gave credit to her teammates for helping her both during and after the injury, noting that after the injury, she counted on her teammates to help with basic tasks like driving her car or putting her hair up into a ponytail.
This season, Ozer said a supportive offense has helped her succeed in her return to the field.
“The nice thing about our team is that anyone on the attack can score and we have a lot of depth this year,” Ozer said. “The defense can’t just focus on shutting me off because if they do, my teammates will all be there. That definitely eases the burden of not feeling like I have to do everything.”
Although Ozer is academically a junior, the Cardinal can look forward to contributions from her on the field for the next three years. Because Ozer only played five games last year, she was able to redshirt the season and maintain her eligibility.
Ozer, who is currently majoring in atmosphere and energy engineering, plans to take advantage of Stanford’s coterm opportunities and remain with the team for a fifth year, which Bokker described as “huge” for her squad.
“That just says a lot about our program and a lot about what it means to her,” Bokker said. “Her potential to get even better as she grows through the next three years is going to be huge, and we’re really excited to have her be a part of it.”
But for now, Ozer’s focus is on the present as the Cardinal looks to bounce back from its disappointing postseason result last season.
“We’re all really fierce competitors, so we all want to get back to where we were and go even further,” Ozer said. ‘We all have dreams of the national championship, and it starts with an MPSF championship, but we think we’re on track to do good things.”
The Cardinal has four regular season games left before it enters the MPSF Tournament, with a berth in the NCAA tournament potentially following. The winner of the Tewaarton Award will be announced on May 30.
Contact Jana Persky at jpersky “at” stanford.edu.