Sam Fletcher: the quintessential team captain.
The senior midfielder from Virginia finished her final season on the turf for UCLA and prepares to, temporarily, hang up her cleats.
Though her collegiate playing days are now behind her, Fletcher has left a legacy unequaled by any UCLA lacrosse player before her. Having found unprecedented success during the past four years, the future leaders of UCLA women’s lacrosse will attempt to fill the void left by their dynamic captain. But for Fletcher, that’s really where it all started for her – fulfilling a role.
Even though Vienna, Virginia, is her hometown, Fletcher was actually born in Colombia and moved to the United States at a young age. This would not be the end of her travels but it would certainly play a role in regards to her early lacrosse career.
Picking up her first stick in the third grade, Fletcher started the sport early – as many on the East Coast do. It was not to last though as her family packed up and moved to Thailand for a few years during her elementary school days. Lacrosse, originally being a Native American sport, was not popular in Thailand. Thus, lacrosse had to be put on pause.
Fletcher would return to the United States, and to lacrosse, by middle school. She played throughout middle and into high school but stopped halfway, opting instead for a life of swimming.
“While I was playing lacrosse, I was also swimming,” Fletcher said. “It came down to the choice of what I thought I was going to do in the future and I thought I might swim in college.”
Thus, lacrosse was dropped.
Once Fletcher got to college, things changed.
“When I came to our first interest meeting, the people I met were so welcoming and fun,” Fletcher said. “The girls on the team, the way the season was structured, the sport, everything seemed so perfect.”
Lacrosse was picked right back up.
As soon as her cleats hit the turf, Sam was one of the strongest players on the team. During her freshman year, Fletcher led her team with 35 goals and was second only to a senior in total points per game.
Despite this incredible success, Fletcher’s quiet and shy personality caused her to be far too humble.
“When Sam was a freshman, she was one of the best on the team,” said coach Paige Lin. “But she didn’t know it and she, honestly, didn’t really want to be it.”
In order to bring out something fierce in Fletcher, Lin would pull her aside after games and ask her how she did, generally receiving an answer of a mediocre degree. Lin would then pull out the stat book and display her amazing stats.
“She despised (getting pulled aside), she didn’t like it at all,” Lin said. “But I would tell her that those numbers are phenomenal and she had to own it and be OK with it.”
The girls of UCLA lacrosse barely made the regional playoffs during Fletcher’s freshman year. The team was good but didn’t really have all the pieces yet.
However, with three incredible freshman midfielders, a senior goalie and Fletcher’s continued development – UCLA found itself in third place at nationals during her sophomore year, a significant improvement from the previous season.
After the successful campaign of Fletcher’s sophomore season, there was a sudden expectation to win and a need for Fletcher’s class to become leaders.
Through continued success, coach Lin’s nudging and increased comfortability and trust among teammates, Fletcher finally broke through during her junior season.
“(Sam) realized what the team needed,” said senior defender Kira Adsit. “She does everything for the team and we needed her to step into her role and realize how good she actually is. … It was the role that she was always meant to have.”
Being named a team captain allowed Fletcher to fully realize her potential. But ever the player with a slightly shy and humble personality, Fletcher chose to lead by example rather than being the loud voice on the team.
“(Sam’s) work ethic sets the bar for everyone,” Lin said. “One of the biggest jobs for the captain is to show everyone that even the best players on the team are always trying to get better, want to get better and are willing to put in the work to do so.”
Even so, Fletcher’s voice was not lost in the crowd. She soon realized that she didn’t need to yell and scream to be a vocal leader. And what she had to say was important to the team.
“I became more comfortable with the team and that gave me more confidence in myself,” Fletcher said. “I realized that what I have to say is pretty relevant to what we need to work on or what we did well. And speaking up was a good chance to voice all of that.”
And despite losing nearly all the senior leaders from last season, Fletcher was able to grasp the helm of the program and steer them to another third-place finish in the national tournament, finally becoming the leader she was meant to be.
In Fletcher’s senior season, she continued to help expand the program by being a mentor to the 11 underclassmen on the team and taking on the role of Player Representative.
“I think it’s safe to say that everyone looks up to Sam, from freshman to even myself,” Adsit said. “I’ve been a captain for two years alongside her and I still look up to her.”
Despite not going as far as they would have liked in the national tournament this season, Fletcher’s career at UCLA has been a resounding success. She has been named to numerous All-American, All-Tournament and All-League teams over the past three years and has become well-known across the country.
“Sam’s the type of player that every coach dreams of,” Lin said. “I’ve had other coaches say that they wish they had a player like Sam on their team or Sam would be the player they’d want to steal away from us.”
The UCLA women’s lacrosse program has been stronger than ever these past few seasons. And in regards to the future, Fletcher’s graduation leaves a hole in the team but also an opportunity.
“Sam has given her all to this program, and it’s tough imagining the team without her,” Adsit said. “But Sam realized her full potential because there was a leadership hole in the team that needed to be filled, and now someone else has the opportunity to step up and come into their own.”