Every week, the Blue Zone breaks down an outstanding spring athlete, looking at their weekly performance and their season as a whole. Up next is Lexi Schmalz:
Coming off a highly successful 2022 campaign that saw it earn a 16-4 record with big wins against Boston College and Virginia, Duke has struggled to put together an encore performance in 2023. Going 6-7 overall and 1-6 in conference play, the Blue Devils have not lived entirely up to expectations. However, the few bright spots for head coach Kerstin Kimel’s squad have come in the individual play of the veterans. One such athlete is senior Lexi Schmalz, an unsung hero for this Duke team who has been on an absolute tear as of late.
A talented midfielder out of Needham, Mass., Schmalz was not necessarily picked to be a headliner for this Blue Devil squad coming into 2023. While she competed in all 20 games in 2022, she never started a single contest and only notched eight goals and four assists to her name in that span. Even in the early stages of her senior season, she largely played the role of a substitute. However, Schmalz finally earned her callup when she started against East Carolina after the absence of classmate Olivia Carner. Since that moment, she has not looked back.
Starting the next three games, Schmalz has taken full advantage of the playing time by proving both her skill and tenacity. Notching 13 goals and 15 points over the four-game span, the midfielder has used her nose for the goal, slicing through players and dodging her way to the net. Drawing free positions is her particular specialty, but even more impressive is her ability to convert once she draws the foul. With 12 goals off 15 opportunities, Schmalz has established herself as the eight-meter queen.
The senior has stepped up in the big moments in her starting stretch, especially with the pressure of ACC play on her back. After a four-game losing streak in conference play, Schmalz propelled Duke to a 16-8 win against Pittsburgh to earn its first ACC win. As if that weren’t enough, she notched a season- and career-high five goals to put the icing on the cake.
The true testament to her tenacity and grit as a player, however, have come in conjunction with Blue Devil failure. In its past two contests, Duke has lost to both Virginia Tech 14-13, and Virginia 16-12, in heartbreaking performances that have dug an even deeper hole in conference play. And yet, Schmalz has not slowed down in the slightest as she has attempted to uplift her teammates.
Scoring three goals each in the two-game stretch, the senior midfielder has led her team in scoring while converting on 4-of-5 free position shots. Her determination and fighting spirit have been evident with her all-out effort on both ends of the field, which is a large part of the reason why the Blue Devils’ losses have been so close in score. Even in the bleakest of moments, Schmalz can be counted on to provide the light.
She may not dominate the collegiate lacrosse headlines like graduate student Maddie Jenner or junior Katie DeSimone, but Schmalz has served as a crucial backbone with surefire consistency in her senior campaign. As Duke’s regular season fades into twilight, Kimel and company will need the midfielder to continue with her peak form for a hope of postseason success.
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Mackenzie Sheehy is a Trinity sophomore and Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.