Outside the Box

Fox2By Alex Kantor

An internship at a law firm, a summer job near the beach, staying on campus to do research with a faculty member; these are traditional ways Amherst College students spend their summers. Alex Fox ’12 decided to spend his first summer of college away from his hometown of Garden City on New York’s Long Island. But unlike so many around him, he did not move into Manhattan for a summer gig. Instead, Fox joined three Yale lacrosse players on a journey to a remote area of British Columbia to play in one of the most violent sports leagues in the world.

Fox arrived on campus last fall and in his first season playing for the Lord Jeff men’s lacrosse team was an immediate impact player. While appearing in all 14 games, Fox scored nine goals and dished out 14 assists during a successful rookie campaign. Towards the end of the season, Fox spoke to a former high school teammate, Matt Gibson, who was wrapping up his sophomore year at Yale. Gibson kept talking about one of his friends from the Seattle-area who was going to play indoor lacrosse north of the border for the summer.

Gibson and his older brother, Brendan, convinced Fox to travel with them to spend the summer living with their teammate and playing lacrosse. Fox and the Gibson brothers traveled to British Columbia to meet up with Yale sophomore Greg Mahony. The soon-to-be teammates did not know all the details about their upcoming summer, but assumed they would be staying somewhere in Vancouver and living the good life. After all, this was “basically professional lacrosse.”

As it turns out, the four student-athletes landed in Aldergrove, a small town within the greater Vancouver municipality of Langley. Aldergrove has a population of just under 12,000 and limited attractions for college students looking for summer fun. The quartet ended up living in a one-bedroom apartment with just one bed. Shortly after they moved in, someone picked up a cot at the local Army-Navy supply store, while two others spent the summer sleeping on a couch and some cushions on the floor. While this does not sound like the ideal living environment, Fox explains that his father told him “this is a once-in-a-lifetime type of opportunity that he had to take.”

Putting aside the sleeping arrangements, Fox and the three Yale players spent their time playing for the Langley Thunder in the Junior “A” League. This division of indoor—or “box”—lacrosse is the most competitive non-professional league in North America, and is a traditional proving ground for the National Lacrosse League (NLL). The quality of play is very high and extremely physical. Cross-checking is legal in box lacrosse, and fighting is legal in a way similar to professional hockey. The games are played on a hockey rink-sized concrete surface, which makes the run of play extremely fast.

Amherst head coach Tom Carmean is no stranger to box lacrosse, having spent 10 seasons playing in the league that would eventually become the NLL. Carmean explains that Fox will “develop a whole new set of skills,” as he works on an “inside game, with the ability to score in tight spaces, while taking on lots of contact.”

Fox feels that his biggest gains on the field this summer might be in his “ability to see better angles by using the head of [his] stick as [his] eyes.” With such a small goal in indoor lacrosse, and goalies wearing larger pads than in outdoor lacrosse, Fox developed the skill of “changing [his] shooting angle to gain a better chance at scoring.”

More than anything on the field, Fox learned about a different walk of life. There team was comprised mostly of 20 year-old tradesmen who were simply getting by on wages as electricians and plumbers. Fox tells that “spending $45,000 a year on school was mind-blowing” to his teammates. He was able to grab extra money working part time as an assistant mechanic for the team’s manager, explaining that he had relatively no car experience and was essentially unscrewing bolts as directed.

Brendan Gibson was able to see the development in Fox’s game firsthand by playing with him every day. Gibson explains that Fox “benefited most from the fast pace of box lacrosse’s transition. As a midfielder, he would usually look to come across the midfield and settle the ball in field lacrosse, but in box there are no rules.” Gibson continues that “if there is anyone out there that could break free in the open field and utilize that speed and skill, it would be Fox.”

Despite being just a sophomore at Amherst, Fox has seen other players turn to him for lessons during pickup games this fall. He has tried to teach some of the skills he learned indoors this summer, but knows that being a good box lacrosse player doesn’t always translate to the field.

While he has taken the skills he learned this summer back to the field at Amherst, Fox finds the greatest impact from his experience has been made on his attitude. After spending months in cramped living quarters and doing his own cooking, Fox has a renewed appreciation for his spacious dorm room and the prepared meals of Valentine. With a semester’s worth of good meals and nights of quality sleep ahead of him before the 2010 season begins, the sky is the limit for this rising star.