After stellar Oregon career, Alex Breiner begins transition to coaching
University senior Alex Breiner got more than she bargained for when she visited Eugene as a lacrosse recruit four years ago.
Her parents away at a wedding, the then wide-eyed 17-year-old from Alexandria, Va., took the cross country trip all by her lonesome. While her time in Eugene went well — “it was a really neat, exciting experience,” said Breiner — the flight back home did not.
“I flew back, and I got stuck in Chicago overnight,” Breiner said. “I was only 17 at the time so I wasn’t allowed to get a hotel so they made me sleep in this little room at the airport. Basically, I was living out of the airport for a night.”
To make matters worse, Breiner contracted a nasty case of mono a few days after her return home.
That all could have clouded Breiner’s impression of Oregon — nobody would have blamed her for dismissing the possibility of making that same journey numerous times over the course of her college career — but instead, she embraced that possibility.
“I flew back and had mono the whole next week and next couple weeks,” Breiner said. “Finally, I called (Oregon lacrosse coach Jen Larsen) and said I wanted to be a Duck, even after that whole terrible trip.”
Four years and 120 goals later, Oregon is certainly glad she did.
An East Coast native, Breiner didn’t begin playing lacrosse until she was in eighth grade. While the athletic skills involved in being a successful lacrosse player came naturally to Breiner, the rules of the game initially seemed foreign.
“One of the rules that really got me was whenever they blew the whistle, you have to stand still,” Breiner said. “That was something that really threw me off. I had a lot of refs telling me the rules as I was playing the game.”
However it didn’t take long for Breiner to get the hang of it, and before long, she was one of the top lacrosse players in the area. She scored a school-record 91 goals her junior year, and colleges began to take notice.
Although she received interest from several local schools, Breiner eventually decided on Oregon, bad flight and all. She was ready to move from the lacrosse-obsessed East Coast to a place where she could just enjoy playing a sport she loved.
“I was really happy to come out here and actually have fun playing lacrosse and not have to worry about the politics and everything else that goes along on the East Coast,” Breiner said.
In a less intense and pressure-filled environment, Breiner flourished.
Breiner made an impact on Oregon’s lacrosse team her first year on campus. Playing in every game for a Duck squad that reached the semifinals of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament, Breiner scored 22 goals. Following the season, Breiner was voted Rookie of the Year by her teammates.
Breiner continued to improve in her sophomore and junior campaigns, scoring 40 and 50 points, respectively, before upping her game another notch in her senior year.
Determined to make the best of her final season, Breiner was named first-team all MPSF after tying an Oregon record with 64 points. Her success didn’t come by accident.
“I think she just really dialed it in,” Larsen said. “I think she understood what the hard work meant, and she put the work in, and the improvement kept coming.”
It was just one part of Breiner’s transformation from star player to team leader. Always an excellent goal-scorer, Breiner added the title of facilitator to her resume, tallying a career-high 26 assists (her previous high was 16).
Breiner’s improved play was reflected in her statistical achievements — her brilliant senior campaign left her third in program history in scoring and earned her First-Team All-West/Midwest Region honors — but wasn’t motivated by [email protected]@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4427&SPID=251&DB_LANG=C&ATCLID=205155250&[email protected]@
“She was not looking to make sure her stats were high; she was a player looking for success for her team and did everything she could for that,” Larsen said.
Evidence of Breiner’s team-first attitude was found in her emergence as the team’s spiritual leader.
“We could always count on her to bring us back up,” Breiner’s teammate Jana Drummond said. “She pumped us up; she gave us pregame speeches all the time and those really helped our team connect and really look up to her as a leader.”
Not even Breiner’s best efforts could spare the Ducks from heartbreak at conclusion of her senior year, however.
With a berth in the NCAA Tournament on the line, Oregon jumped out to a 7-0 lead over No. 6 Stanford in the MPSF championship game. But the Cardinal came back, eventually topping the Ducks 12-10. Just like that, the dream season ended, one Stanford goal at a [email protected]@http://www.goducks.com/ViewArticle.dbml?SPSID=4424&SPID=251&DB_LANG=C&DB_OEM_ID=500&[email protected]@
Coping with the loss hasn’t been easy, but Breiner has managed to gain some perspective.
“I found that those freshmen this year, this is all they know, getting to the MPSF Tournament, and those are the girls that are going to start leading this program,” she said.
Although Breiner’s playing career as a Duck ended in defeat, her involvement in Oregon’s lacrosse program is far from over. Next year, as she completes her degree in Family and Human Services, Breiner will serve as an undergraduate assistant on the team.
Larsen anticipates Breiner will make a seamless transition from player to coach.
“I think she’s going to have a team that respects her; she’s going to be able to empower,” Larsen said.
Breiner isn’t entirely sure what she wants to do after she graduates next spring, but she knows she wants to find a way to continue coaching. She’ll only need to look back to her dominant senior season to draw inspiration.
“She was really determined her senior year, not just for herself, but for her team, and I think she was able to pass that along to others,” Larsen said. “That’s a really good lesson to continue to be spread on, is be a force, but be a force with an army behind you.”
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