Sports, Top Story, Spring, Lacrosse

‘Heights’ 2020-21 Female Athlete of the Year: Charlotte North

Maggie Koch was in a meeting when she got the call. On the other end of the line was the fulfillment of a six-year-old promise, one that she had made with a scrawny high school junior more than half a decade prior.

But Koch didn’t know that.

“Hey, I’m in a meeting,” she typed. “Can I call you back?” 

Almost as soon as she hit send, a gray bubble popped up in response: “I’m a finalist.”

Those three words sprung Koch out of her seat. They meant that scrawny 16-year-old had gone from Charlotte North: undersized, underrecruited Texan to Charlotte North: nationally heralded lacrosse powerhouse. And the six-year-old promise? That North would call—not text—Koch, her high school coach at the Episcopal School of Dallas (ESD), as soon as she was named a Tewaaraton finalist. 

Koch, to this day, can’t pinpoint how she knew that promise would come true. There was “just something about her” that Koch saw in North even before the rest of the lacrosse world had heard her name.

Six years, a National Championship, a Tewaaraton Award, and countless broken records later, North’s ascent into lacrosse’s upper echelons is only getting faster. After the greatest single season on record, North can add “Heights 2020-21 Female Athlete of the Year” to her ever-growing list of accolades. Even with another year left at Boston College, it seems like North has done everything she set out to do. 

Well, almost everything.

“We’re not done yet,” North laughed, with the triumph of a National Championship lingering on her words. “We want another one.”

North poses with Koch at the Tewaaraton Award ceremony.

I arrived at our meeting spot in the Conte Forum Media Suite 10 minutes early and was greeted by a practically empty room. Just one foldable table was perched on the elevated platform usually reserved for coaches’ press conferences, and everything else had been pushed to the edges of the room. 

Chairs were set up on either end of the singular table, long ways, and I opted for the one on the far side. Minutes later, North bounded down the short set of steps into the sunken room and assumed her place opposite me. I made an offhanded comment about how the length of the table and the LEDs blazing down on us made it feel like an interrogation. 

“I know,” she said. “I really don’t like the spotlights like this.”

Ironic, isn’t it?

For an athlete of her caliber, turning away from the spotlight—both literally and figuratively—is rare. But in every press conference, interview, Instagram caption, or acceptance speech since leading her team to its first-ever National Championship, North has passed every bit of credit onto her teammates. 

Immediately following the NCAA title game in which North shattered the single-season scoring record with 102 goals, she credited her coaches and teammates in four of her seven responses.

“Whether it’s practice or games, she’s always looking to set up her teammates,” North’s co-captain Cara Urbank said. “She’s just such a humble leader, and she’s done so much to make this program better.”

After the National Championship, North’s Instagram followers more than doubled practically overnight. When she won the Tewaaraton, her face went up on a billboard in congratulations. Abby Wambach even tweeted, “Just watching this game replay right now, and holy crap Charlotte North is legit.”

The words “meteoric rise” come to mind. That’s not to say North was entirely unknown before BC, or even before Duke, where she spent her first two years of college, but rather that the speed of her ascent into the stratosphere is unmatched by any other college athletes except for maybe those in football. Maybe.

But when I asked her about all of that newfound fame, she deflected it from herself, instead gushing about how exciting it is to see so much more exposure for women’s lacrosse as a whole. Especially after last season was cut short, fans’ anticipation for the college season was at an all-time high, North said. 

With the sport’s rise in popularity, North’s name has only become more and more prominent. North’s teammates, however, don’t see her as a celebrity like the fans do, which isn’t to say that they don’t revere her. But to them, she’s a stellar teammate before anything else.

“Obviously every team that plays against her kind of knows Charlotte,” Urbank said. “And obviously she has some crazy good plays and all that, but what stands out most to me is her humbleness and her ability to be such a team player and want to make everybody around her better every day.”

North and Urbank embrace after winning the National Championship.

Last February, I wrote a feature on North, who was, at that time, the new kid on the block. She had just transferred to BC with plenty of proven talent in her back pocket from two years at Duke. Her insatiable propensity for studying film—men’s lacrosse, Kayla Treanor’s highlights on YouTube, and really anything she could get her hands on—had defined her lacrosse career to that point, and it still does today. 

“And who knows,” the article reads. “Maybe there’s another little girl in Texas out in her backyard copying North’s own highlights.”

That conjecture was less founded on sheer speculation and more on the fact that North’s playstyle is unlike anyone else’s in college lacrosse today. From the way she strings her stick—a corner pocket with low shooters—to her eight-meter windup, North is like an elegant puzzle made up of pieces that fit together perfectly despite coming from different boxes. 

“The reason I love the sport so much is because everyone has a different style,” North said. “It’s taking little bits and pieces from who you look up to, and that’s why our sport is so great.”

Youth players across the country, not just in her home state of Texas, have started to pick up their sticks and mimic how North plays. Katie Facciola, one of just a handful of women’s stick stringers in the world and an assistant coach at Reading Memorial High School in Reading, Mass., has gotten an influx of requests to recreate the same pocket that North uses. 

After stringing an example stick, she handed it off to her players at Reading for some experimentation. She told them to “shoot it like Charlotte,” only to find out that North’s stick is “nearly impossible” to play with in order to achieve the incredible power that North puts behind her shots. 

All of her players copied North’s signature windup, but only one found the back of the net. 

“It just goes to show that the wand doesn’t make the wizard,” Facciola said.

In rare moments of downtime, North turns on men’s lacrosse. With slightly different rules that allow for different shot variations, North’s trademark windup and high-velocity shots seem to be modeled after the likes of Paul Rabil and Matt Rambo of the Premier Lacrosse League, though she didn’t name anyone in particular. From the eight-meter arc, she prioritizes power over speed off the line, which is unique among women’s lacrosse players.

“I kind of see an eight-meter as a free throw,” North said. “You have your routine, and whatever your routine is … once you step in a game you know exactly what you’re going to do.”

North’s routine is simple—or at least it looks that way. With the ball in her stick, she extends her arms out from her body and takes three or four quick windups. All opposing goalies can do is stare down the face of a freight train. On the official’s whistle, North takes one shuffle step as her arms swing through, launching the ball into whichever corner she chooses with pinpoint accuracy. It’s poetry in motion.

The free throw analogy, North said, is a reflection of her days as a basketball player (she still holds the all-time scoring record at ESD). She once had dreams of playing under the lights of Cameron Indoor Stadium for the Blue Devils, consistently attending Duke basketball camps throughout high school. 

She didn’t even pick up a lacrosse stick until seventh grade, but it quickly became her second love, and by the end of high school, she knew it was the end of one chapter on the court and the beginning of a new one on the field. 

North celebrates a goal in the season opener against Albany.

The first time North met Koch, she was a sophomore in high school at ESD, and the season hadn’t started yet. Still, the budding lacrosse protégé was itching to get out to Troutt Athletic Fields next to the school building, so Koch jumped on the opportunity to help out one of her players.

“I didn’t know then that she was a star,” Koch said. “She was just super engaged and asked lots of questions.”

The pair worked on wing dodges going from right to left, bits of which North had picked up from watching men’s lacrosse. It wasn’t obvious to Koch right away just how high of a ceiling North had, but that realization came with time.

During her sophomore season, North had one game in which she scored 11 goals. All Koch could do was look at her assistant coach, Ali Meagher, BC ’13, and laugh.

“She was doing things that I had never seen high school kids do, but especially at that time in Texas,” Koch said. “It was very, very uncommon, and the velocity she was shooting with was just remarkable. … We couldn’t do anything but shake our heads and laugh because how good she got in that short span of time was unreal.”

Still, North was confronted with a problem: she lived in Texas. That in itself isn’t an issue—North is endlessly proud of her home state and spends her Sundays cheering on the Dallas Cowboys—but Texas is not exactly a lacrosse recruiting hotbed. 

Unlike highschoolers on the East Coast, North could only go to a handful of major recruiting showcases and camps. Urbank, for example, a Long Island resident, could spend practically every weekend impressing college coaches at ID camps up and down the Eastern Seaboard. North could count those chances on her fingers. 

Late in the recruiting process—the summer going into her junior year—North attended a tournament in Midlothian, Va., outside of Richmond. As the last game of the weekend wound down, a Duke assistant coach told Koch all she needed to know: “We’re good.”

A few weeks later, North went on her official visit, and in the spring of her junior year, she committed to Duke. Even then, she was later to sign than a lot of her peers. In a 2018 US Lacrosse Magazine article, Duke coach Kerstin Kimel referred to North as a “last-spot kid.”

North quickly proved why she deserved that spot. She was an All-ACC Second Team selection in her first year after leading Duke with 59 goals. The next year, she upped her game even more, lighting up for 105 points on 82 goals—17 of which came from the eight-meter mark—and 23 assists. 

After an abbreviated first year at BC, she came back stronger, finishing the season with 102 goals (first in the NCAA), 174 draw controls (third), and a staggering .63 shot percentage (eighth) from 102 goals on just 162 shots. No one with a higher shot percentage exceeded 125 shots, and the top three in shot percentage were all in single digits. 

After the Tewaaraton ceremony, with her award still in her hands, North said she had plans to “reevaluate” her future at BC once the fanfare that accompanied the National Championship settled down. Though she said her Texas-loving heart could never let her root for the Patriots, one week later, she released a Brady/Gronk-style video announcing her return to the Heights for 2022

There’s no doubt that North’s name will soon be held on the same pedestal as the likes of Doug Flutie, Matt Ryan, and Johnny Gaudreau at BC. She’s more decorated than any other BC lacrosse player in history, and she has unequivocally changed the game of lacrosse. So only one question remains. 

What more is there for her to do?

Featured Image by Greg Flume Courtesy of NCAA Photos

Other Images Courtesy of Charlotte North, by Greg Flume Courtesy of NCAA Photos, and by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

July 7, 2021

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