Lerner has helped lead the Cardinal into the NCAA tournament, which it opens Friday (1 p.m. PT) against Duke at Notre Dame. After falling short of an automatic bid by losing to Denver in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation final last week, Stanford received an at-large berth into the tournament.
Lerner at first didn’t want to consider leaving the East Coast, but her decision to attend Stanford allowed her to live up to her potential on the field, thanks to a decision that changed attitude and her path, and launched a possible career in medicine.
On the eve of the NCAA tournament, Lerner sat in the lobby of a South Bend, Ind., hotel to talk about her career, her Ravens, and her legacy.
Q: What’s it like to have a second chance as a team?
A: It feels really good. After we lost Sunday, I was really bummed, because it was my senior year and I had such better expectations for our team and thought we’d win the MPSF championship, no problem. And when we didn’t, I wasn’t really sure if we’d get into the NCAA tournament. Now that we are in, I want to win now, more than anything.
Q: When did you find out you were in?
A: We were checking in at the (Denver) airport. Our coach, Amy Bokker, had it on her laptop.
Q: How has your career evolved at Stanford?
A: My first year, I didn’t really play. My second year, I started the first six games and then was taken from my starting spot. My sophomore year, I lost focus. It was really hard, but (classmates) Lyndsey Munoz and Anna Kim helped me through and reminded me that I’m still a good player.
At the end-of-the-year meeting with Amy, she told me what I needed to focus on. That summer, I re-focused everything and worked harder than I ever have. I focused on the things she told me I needed to fix. Come the fall, I was different person. I stopped feeling sorry for myself and making excuses. Instead, I did something about it.
Q: You have an incredible ability to control draws (she is Stanford’s season record-holder). How do you ignore the sticks flying in your face to get the ball?
A: It’s funny, on the draw, sometimes I don’t even realize there are other people around. I just try to go for the ball.
I kind of like getting hit. It’s boring when you get a clean draw. I’m very competitive and I like aggression. That’s kind of my thing, going for 50-50 balls on the draw. I love it, and I know the team needs me to get them.
Q: Do you just determine that you’re going to get it no matter what?
A: Sometimes. We definitely have strategy. Depending on who’s drawing, or where the past couple of draws have gone, I might have more of a boxing-out role than getting the ball. But if I’m focusing on the ball, if I can see it, I can get it.
Q: Your senior class is pretty close.
A: Anna and I live together, and Lyndsey lives pretty close. Rachel Ozer and Nina Swanson live in the same house, though not our house.
Q: Do you feel like you’ve been through a lot together?
A: I really do. Sophomore year, we went from making the NCAA tournament to being a bad team (8-10). And last year, we turned it around. I feel our class has always been leaders. I don’t think this program has had five seniors who all start and all make an impact. Yeah, really close. That’s why Sunday was hard, because all of us had been talking since Day One that our senior year was the year to win it all. A little setback, but we can still make it to the final four.
Q: How much have you as an individual or as a class have grown since you first met?
A: A lot. We definitely have matured and developed into better players. We have a really good coaching staff. I had good coaches in high school and club, but I’ve definitely learned to play the right defense and gotten a little more controlled – I’m very aggressive. I learned to play with better body positioning and more help defense. Everyone else has grown too.
Q: You’re from Maryland, and four in your senior class had to make a leap of faith to go across the country to school, with a program that really hadn’t proven itself. What drew you here?
A: Honestly, I didn’t even want to come out to Junior Day, because I wanted to go to an East Coast school. My club coach was the one who told me that I would like Amy as a coach and to give it a chance. So, I went to the winter camp and the junior day, and the first time I stepped on campus, I was sold. I told my mom, “I’m going here.” After that, If I could get into Stanford academically, how could I turn that down?
I love the athletic culture. I wanted to be part of a school that is winning the Directors’ Cup back to back, because I want to be around people who win and are successful, on and off the field. That was a huge part of the opportunity.
Q: What will you be doing next year?
A: I’m hoping in a year or two to get into med school. I’ve applied to a bunch of graduate programs in physiology or biomedical sciences to get my masters in science, to give me a chance to take more advanced science classes that I didn’t necessarily have as much time to take at Stanford. It just gives me a better chance and increases my background overall, so that when I do apply to med school, I have a better chance of getting in.
Q: What do you want to get into?
A: I really like sports medicine, orthopedics. That would be my dream, to be an orthopedic surgeon and be a team doctor for a college team. I’ve shadowed with an orthopedic surgeon, who works with the Ravens and some colleges in the Baltimore area, and I loved that. It was awesome.
Q: I understand you like the Baltimore Ravens.
A: I’m a huge Ravens fan and Ray Lewis was my idol. My dad has season tickets, so we’d been going since they came in 1998. I just love it.
Q: What can you take from watching them?
A: What I can take from Ray Lewis is that he brings so much emotion and power, his defensive presence. People are afraid of him because every single time he walks on the field … his dance … and from the opening kickoff to the end, he’s carrying the team on his back. I idolize him in that sense. Even though he’s not scoring touchdowns, he’s making plays all over the field. I try to pretend that I can be like him on defense. I can’t tackle people, but I can take that same mentality – I’m going to crush you. That’s what he does.
Q: What do you think your legacy will be with this program after you’ve graduated?
A: I hope that we’ve made Stanford lacrosse a national powerhouse -- back to back seasons making the NCAA tournament. I would like to think that I bring emotion and energy to the game, and that I could be the person coaches can rely on at the end of the game. If we need a big play, I want to be the one to make it, no matter what, and that mentality rubs off on the younger players. I hope they will always remember that.