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Jun 5, 2018 1:45 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

ESM Grads Fuccillo, Tooker Help Lead James Madison's Women's Lacrosse Team To Its First Ever National Title

Rebecca Tooker defending in the National Championship. JMU ATHLETICS
Jun 5, 2018 1:45 PM

A sea of purple and gold fans spanned the stands at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University, site of this year’s Division I women’s lacrosse National Championship between No. 17 James Madison University and No. 3 Boston College on May 27. There was nothing to be heard but the roar of the crowd with a sell-out of just over 12,000 people.

Despite the madness, junior defender Natalie Fuccillo, an Eastport native, found her father, Ralph Fuccillo, fashioned in all JMU Duke attire and a purple wig that served as good luck through the historic postseason.

“Every goal, after everything, I’d turn around to my dad and he would raise two peace signs, give me a wink and shoot little [gun-hands],” Fuccillo said.

Whether it was family tradition that led to JMU’s success or not, no one will ever know for sure, but Fuccillo, along with fellow Eastport South Manor graduate Rebecca Tooker, helped lead the Dukes to their first ever National Championship with a historic 16-15 upset victory over Boston College.

“My favorite moment was when the buzzer went off. It was more of a sense of relief that these past four years what I’ve been working for is paying off, what my team has been working for, and all the long hours and long nights of doing homework after practice have paid off,” Tooker said. “It was a great feeling.”

For both Fuccillo and Tooker, it was an oddly familiar feeling returning to Long Island to play yet another championship so close to home.

The hand gestures and tradition the Fuccillos had was birthed during Natalie’s years at ESM where she was a five-year active member of the varsity girls lacrosse team. Over her high school career, the Lady Sharks qualified for four straight county championship appearances, clinching three of them, most notably Fuccillo’s senior year in 2015 when the Lady Sharks won the New York State Class B State Championship.

By that time, Tooker was already making a name for herself on the campus at JMU, after having graduated in 2014 from ESM where she found her fair share of success as well. Tooker aided ESM to its first ever county championship that she and Fuccillo won together in 2012, but leaving her alma mater before its state-title run left her a bit envious.

“I [had] a chip on my shoulder because I was a part of the first team to win a county championship [at ESM],” said Tooker. “When my class left, the girls felt they had a lot left in the tank and they were going to prove it the next year.”

Fuccillo noted that just like when no one expected ESM to win its state title, no one expected James Madison to win the National title this year. Together, Fuccillo and Tooker put a big name on a small town, and a once unranked school directly on top.

“We made JMU history” Fuccillo said. “Coming into JMU we had this mentality that we were going to make this program great.”

With one final season left in her career, Fuccillo battled through rotator cuff surgery and labrum reconstruction surgery her first two years at JMU. She made her debut this season, seeing action in nine games. JMU head coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe gave credit to Fuccillo for battling through her injuries and said that anytime an injured player is just as engaged and committed as one who isn’t, “you know you have something special going on in the program.” Fuccillo, Klaes-Bawcombe added, sacrificed her own experience for the benefit of her team and she doesn’t let any underclassmen forget how precious their spot on the team is and how great their impact is.

“[Fuccillo] is somebody who has had to deal with tremendous adversity. She was someone who questioned if this was all worth it,” she said. “I’m really inspired by her level of commitment and her individual sacrifice for the team.”

Klaes-Bawcombe noted that Fuccillo’s experience at JMU has been very different than Tooker’s, but they have been equally as impactful.

“[Tooker] is fearless in the way that she goes after the game, she is so loyal to her teammates and her program,” she said.“She will run through a brick wall for you.”

Tooker finished out her career at Duke as a three-year starter, captain in her junior and senior years, was a three-time Colonial Athletic Association Conference Champion and was a Media Honorable Mention All-American to go along with a bevy of other commendations. But most notable is National Champion.

“She became exactly what I thought she could become,” Klaes-Bawcombe said. “She reached and maximized her potential at JMU.”

Tooker is completing a summer internship with JMU’s sports marketing department before turning the page on her college career and admits that the win hasn’t sunk in yet. She is waiting for everyone to leave for the summer so she can look over at her mini-trophy and the cut piece of lacrosse goal net and take it all in.

The class of 2018 has left a legacy, being the first team to win a National Championship, and Tooker hopes that the teams to come build off of the success that she has crafted in her years as a Duke.

“I’m proud of where I came from and I’m proud of how I’m leaving [James Madison University],” Tooker said.

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