Jacksonville's Jess Hotchkiss set to be first program graduate

Hotchkiss on the cusp of history

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Jacksonville's Jess Hotchkiss set to be first program graduate
Jacksonville's Jess Hotchkiss set to be first program graduate

Hotchkiss stuck with it, will be first to graduate from lacrosse program

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Jess Hotchkiss is moving through her athletic life with a sense of urgency each day.

She is moving through her academic life with history waiting just around the bend.

Hotchkiss, a defender on the JU women’s lacrosse team, soon will do what no one else had done, and what no one else will ever do at, when she becomes the first player from the three-year old program to graduate.

It’s now dawning on her the significance of the event.

“Honestly I’ve never thought about being the first person to graduate from this program,” Hotchkiss, who will get a degree in fine arts with a specialization in photography and a minor in marketing, said. “It’s weird because there were a lot of people who started it with me; it’s weird that I am the only one that’s going to make it. I guess it is a big thing.”

Her parents, Steve and Michelle, get it.

“My parents are very excited I’m graduating,” she said. “It’s a big deal that I’m doing it in four years (the first in the family to accomplish that). Regardless of lacrosse it’s a big accomplishment for my parents that I am graduating.”

The lacrosse thing she has done has been a big accomplishment also and with the idea this may be her last season to play in the back of her mind, everything seems to be taking on added urgency. She is headed for a one-year master’s in business program at JU but not sure if she’ll play next year.

“It was especially evident to me going into the Florida game (the season opener) that this could be my last first game,” Hotchkiss, who transferred from Drexel “on a whim” said. “Every second matters, every minute of practice matters I’m just trying to not take anything for granted. I might stick around for another season, I’m not sure yet so every time is a big deal. I love game day, that’s why I put in these three plus hours a day is to get out there and perform at the highest level.”

Losing Hotchkiss will be a big deal to JU coach Mindy McCord, who brought in the New Yorker before the school had a team. McCord is free to admit she has a soft spot for the defenseman and long-time team captain, the sole survivor of about 10 club players who came here originally.

“When all the club players started dropping off I was very curious to see who would last,” McCord said. “Now it’s just her and it’s going to be a special moment in history for the program because she has done it from the very start. She has seen the guts of what was and now, what is. That’s something no one else has perspective with me, we have a perspective no one has.”

Quite naturally, because of the history their bond is tight.

“We have established a really strong bond,” McCord said. “She came in that year before we had a season so she got to see the infancy of nothing. We didn’t have any players here. She was integral with the other club players. She helped shape and I took a lot of feedback from her. It took a lot of fortitude from players like Jess to make more of an individual commitment because we didn’t have the setting to practice as a club.”

The process hasn’t been without its moments.

“I have grown so much,” Hotchkiss said. “Coach will tell you I was kind of a head case, very emotional. I was thrown into leadership role as a sophomore; there were a lot of ups and downs. The coaches and personal growth have helped. Leading by example comes naturally to me; vocal leadership was not something I did. I didn’t like calling people out, I’ve learned that it’s necessary.”

Such as when a couple of players were about two minutes late getting to the team bus to Florida.

Hotchkiss pulled her diminutive 5-foot-4 frame out of her seat, marched to the front of the bus and snapped at both the late comers and team in general about the importance of punctuality when traveling.

Without using the term “head case” McCord agrees with Hotchkiss’ assessment.

“She’s grown a lot as player and grown tremendously as a leader. Going into her sophomore year she didn’t necessarily have natural leadership qualities,” McCord said. “There were some hard moments trying to shape her. We were trying to push her through something to be something she wasn’t necessarily comfortable with. She’s done and amazing job of putting on some big shoes and stepping into roles the team needed even when she might not have been ready for that.”

All part of the process that now is coming full circle.

“What makes me so proud is that she bought in, and trusted me that first year,” McCord said. “It took some convincing that there was going to be a program here but she believed this program could be great and she’s invested so much of herself and her vision and belief. Finding someone who will ride that with you is very integral. She’s made me a better coach. She’s held me accountable to recognizing what people need and what the team needs and I trust her. You’re really lucky in your life if you have people like that – who can help shape your dynamic.’

Video Extra – Hear it from Jess Hotchkiss in her own words: