It happened a handful of months after Molly Tracy broke a four-year hiatus from gripping a lacrosse stick.
UCLA was on the offensive against Oregon at the 2012 Santa Barbara Shootout tournament. The midfielder missed the pass from a teammate and let the ball slip by her – but just this once. As the ball teased going out of bounds, Tracy refused to let it beat her again.
She let go of the ephemeral thoughts of, “Oh shoot, should’ve caught that,” before barreling down the same path. Only she was a bit faster than the ball – overtaking and scooping the ball before it skipped the sidelines to keep the play alive.
The Bruins were already sitting on a comfortable lead against the Ducks and the change of possession Tracy prevented probably wouldn’t have impacted the game, but the significance of the gesture didn’t go unnoticed by then-coach Shanta Loecker.
“You’re gonna make mistakes,” she said in the next timeout. “But it’s amazing that you’re gonna sprint your ass off after the ball and save it from going out.”
That was a defining moment that the two-time captain and three-time president carried throughout a career with the women’s club lacrosse team. It’s a four-year spell that culminates with the reigning Women’s College Lacrosse Associates Co-Defender of the Year and Western Women’s Lacrosse League Division I MVP awards, amid a third-place team finish.
“That just kind of resonated with me,” said Tracy, a fourth-year economics student. “That was something that really stuck with me for the rest of the season, to just work as hard as I can to help the team and then I would be successful.”
Despite a long list of awards, Tracy didn’t join the team as a blue chip athlete coming from Redwood High School. Tracy’s experience with lacrosse prior to UCLA began with a brief two-year stint at Ross Valley Grizzlies Lacrosse Club during seventh and eighth grade. It ended abruptly after she decided to give up the sport when its season started conflicting with soccer, a sport she’d been playing since she was six.
At UCLA, Tracy had to make a similar decision, but after assessing both club teams she opted to go with lacrosse as the team wasn’t already in the middle of its season. After committing to the team, a then-freshman Tracy began to play lacrosse, and a game of catch-up.
“I don’t love not being great at something; it was definitely hard not being able to throw and catch or dropping (the ball) a lot,” Tracy said. “It was still fun because I loved everyone, but it’s more fun when you’re a little better.”
The challenge of shifting over from a game played primarily with feet to one that requires hand-eye coordinations placed Tracy with the club’s B Team.
Midway through her freshman season, the former soccer center back and right back found a niche playing defensive midfield on the lacrosse turf. And it was with the aid of something she could translate from her years of playing soccer.
“Even speaking to Shanta, who was her coach her freshman year, Molly’s strength has always been her athleticism,” said coach Paige Lin, who took over as the club coach for the 2012 season. “It probably took her a little bit longer to get her stick skills back and get comfortable within the game, but the keys to success on defense are driven by athleticism and that’s really where Molly excels.”
Tracy’s calling on defense eventually elevated her as the team’s primary guard option. One of Tracy’s most memorable performances as graduating captain was a quarterfinal matchup that pit the reigning UCLA defender of the year against the reigning attacker of the year, Georgia’s Jenna Dreyer.
“(Tracy) locked her down to one goal … and then she also put in two of her own,” Lin said. “That was the difference of the game; we won 9-7. It’s typical Molly for her to step up in a variety of ways.”
Although Tracy has accrued a four-year career at UCLA with multiple all-league and all-American mentions, her coach and teammates said the team leader retains a humble exterior and doesn’t view herself as a frontrunner for honors.
“She obviously knows to some level how good a player she is, but I don’t think she ever expects to get recognized,” said Kira Adsit, a third-year psychobiology student. “I don’t think she ever thinks she necessarily deserves, or should be winning something, but she 100 percent should.”
While the team regularly relies on Tracy’s defensive presence on the field, it managed to take advantage of her humility this year when awards season was around the corner.
With the regular season complete and the team vying to lengthen their postseason run at UC San Diego, the team still managed to find some respite with an all-league awards announcement. Lin managed to convince Tracy on a prior occasion that another UCLA standout and Tracy’s recommendation, midfielder Gretchen Kiep, would win top honors.
The scene was set for the team to spring a surprise on its president.
“We call out ‘most valuable player is from UCLA,’ and Molly kinda looks at Gretchen. And then they yell out ‘Molly Tracy,’” Lin said. “She kinda glared at me afterwards and was like ‘you lied to me.’ It’s just so fun because she’s so humble and she couldn’t really care less about winning any award.”
The president and captain finished her last season at UCLA with the awards her coach and peers think she deserved, but as far as team sports goes, she isn’t done. Whether it’s continuing in another lacrosse league or playing intramural soccer back in her hometown, Tracy said she’ll put her best foot forward.
Just like she did at UCLA.