Acacia Walker-Weinstein, head coach at Boston College, insists that she’ll never forget the first time she saw Sam Apuzzo play, nor when the attack came for her recruiting visit.
That’s when Walker-Weinstein, who took over the Eagles for the 2013 season, put the full-court press on Apuzzo.
“We told her she was our big recruit and we’d do anything we could to bring her in,” Walker-Weinstein said.
That urging was magnetic for Apuzzo, who admitted BC wasn’t initially on her radar screen. A star at her high school in West Babylon, N.Y., and on the club side for Long Island Top Gun, Apuzzo was courted by other Atlantic Coast Conference and Big 10 schools.
But one visit to Chestnut Hill later, the eventual five-year varsity player, four-time captain and two-time high school All-America was convinced.
“Acacia wanted me to come here, but a lot of other coaches I met were set back and almost like they didn’t need me,” Apuzzo said. “Acacia made me feel wanted and made me feel like I could be a part of this up-and-coming program.”
Flash forward, and the junior is one of the top offensive threats in the country, having led BC to the nationaltitle game a year ago, scoring a single-season-programrecord 119 points (80 goals, 39 assists) and winning 71 draw controls along the way. During 2017, Apuzzo also was an All-ACC first-team member and Tewaaraton Award nominee.
That all adds up to a résumé that might induce some cockiness and swagger, but those who know Apuzzo best maintain the polar opposite is true.
“If you met Sam on the street, you’d say that’s the nicest girl,” said Colleen Kilgus, Apuzzo’s coach at West Babylon. “You’d never know what an amazing athlete she is and how talented she is. She’s so shy and so humble.”
Kilgus, who also was the 20-year-old’s high school teacher, said Apuzzo is probably the best-ever athlete to come out of West Babylon, given she also played soccer and basketball. When probed further, Kilgus brings up Shannon Smith, the West Babylon native lacrosse fans might recognize most.
Smith, who is the head coach at Hofstra, won three national titles while playing at Northwestern and also captured the Tewaaraton Award in 2011. Back home, Smith and Apuzzo live around the corner from each other, so the BC stalwart would often link up with her mentor over summer breaks.
“I’d be home doing some extra work and Sam would be down at the field, too,” Smith said. “People say she’s quiet and reserved, but she’d tell me how it was and would be super competitive. If I dropped a ball, she’d ask me ‘What was that for?’ She wasn’t afraid to rub it in.”
When interviewed, Apuzzo is noticeably shy as well. She doesn’t go into too much detail when asked about her ACL tear freshman year, which caused her to play only nine games and then endure a 10-month recovery period.
In talking about her hometown roots and family, however, Apuzzo opens up. She’s the youngest of four siblings, and neither her parents nor three brothers ever played lacrosse beyond high school.
“My brothers never let me get away with anything easy,” Apuzzo said. “Whether I wanted to play knockout basketball, I had to prove I was good enough. They pushed me around and it’s where I got my competitive drive.”
There’s also what Apuzzo calls her “street crew,” meaning her neighborhood friends from back home. She grew up playing with Sam Geiersbach (the 2017 Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year at Richmond), Nicole Levy (who is on the 2017 Tewaaraton Award Watch List at Syracuse) and Kali Benvenuto (George Washington midfielder), among others.
“A lot of times, we’d go into my backyard and we had this old net, and we’d play ‘Horse’ and do different tricks,” Apuzzo said.
Those early days laid the groundwork, too, for a player who’s now expected to step into a broader leadership role for the Eagles.
It remains to be seen if Kenzie Kent (Norwell, Mass.), the Most Outstanding Player at last year’s final four, will play in 2018, given that she’s also a senior captain on BC’s women’s hockey team. The Eagles also have graduated goalkeeper Zoe Ochoa (Longmeadow, Mass.), midfielder Mary Kate O’Neill, and attacks Kate Weeks and Kayla O’Connor (Merrimac, Mass.).
In turn, Walker-Weinstein said, even more responsibility now awaits Apuzzo.
“We’re not trying to change her, but we’re trying to push her human side a little bit and be a little more vocal,” Walker-Weinstein said. “She has established a little more respect from her teammates. The biggest thing is getting her to understand the power she has because she’s so well respected.”
Apuzzo said that charge has suited her well so far, and she doesn’t take the job lightly given BC boasts 13 underclassmen.
“I can’t predict what will happen, pointswise, because everything changes this year, but as a leader I’m doing my best,” Apuzzo said. “I’m pretty quiet, so it’s been a struggle to come out and lead, but I’m doing my best.”
And while it’s an isolated moment, Kilgus said a moment from Apuzzo’s junior year at West Babylon shows she’s ready to lead. They had a playoff game against West Islip, another Long Island powerhouse program, and Apuzzo came in with an injured hamstring.
Playing practically on one leg, Kilgus said, Apuzzo had five goals to beat West Islip.
“Her determination and her will power to do great things even if she’s not feeling great is what really stands out,” Kilgus said. “It shows the type of person she is.”
They’re moments that add up, though, to a lacrosse world that’s champing at the bit to see what Apuzzo has in store for a BC program that’s undoubtedly on the rise. If all goes to plan, Apuzzo will be center stage every step of the way.
“She has no idea that she has the tools to be the most ideal leader,” Walker-Weinstein said. “She’s really a pure joy to coach.”