By Ben Kaufmann
For the entirety of her career as a Hornet, first at Enosburg Falls High School then at Lyndon State College, Michelle Wilcox’s contributions on the soccer field weren’t designed to be measured on stat sheets or with personal awards. A lifetime spent putting the needs of the team above self-service will be rewarded on Friday with just the kind of recognition the Sheldon native never sought when Wilcox is inducted into the Lyndon State College Athletic Hall Of Fame.
“I couldn’t begin to tell you how many goals or assists she tallied at EFHS,” former Enosburg coach Rick Greene wrote in an e-mail to the County Courier. “But I can tell you the program was the most successful during her tenure because of her attitude and making everyone else around her that much better.”
The irony of such a high individual honor going to an individual unconcerned with personal glory is made even more delightful when hearing the part of this entire process Wilcox is most excited about.
“I’m looking at the Hall Of Fame event as more of an opportunity to reconnect with my teammates,” Wilcox said. “They’re the ones who have taught me so many valuable things that are so effective in helping my success in my life now. It’s more than the outward things, scoring all the points and the accolades. Those are the things that are going to help you when you go through trials.”
Lyndon State College, now part of Northern Vermont University created by a merger of Lyndon and Johnson State colleges in 2018, tabbed the diminutive Wilcox (Lyndon class of 2012) along with cross country star Jennifer Quirion Davis.
Wilcox was notorious for packing an almost unbelievable amount of energy and athleticism into her 5’0” frame. Not content to frustrate just opposing soccer players, Wilcox also participated in basketball and softball both at Enosburg High and Lyndon State, though soccer always reigned well above other athletic commitments for Wilcox. It should come as no surprise that sport in which height and muscle mass are discouraged in favor of speed and intelligence is the one in which all five feet of Wilcox excelled.
“I think the thing that struck me most about Michelle from the moment I saw her on the field was her determination and heart,” said Greene, who coached Wilcox for the last three of her four varsity years from ’04-’08. “Without a doubt, she was pound for pound the toughest athlete I’ve ever seen.”
Donna Flanders was a Junior Varsity coach and Varsity Assistant during Green’s tenure before taking the reigns of the varsity program from ’10-’14. In an e-mail to the County Courier, she echoed Greene’s sentiments about Wilcox standing tall above the field in everything but height.
“It’s not often that you get an athlete with the athleticism that Mitch displayed on the field,” Flanders said. “She may be small but she is mighty!” There were times that she would take a hard hit that I didn’t think she would be able to get up from, but got up she did. Mitch was usually the first to arrive at practice and the last to leave.”
A speedster of a forward/midfielder with a defensive mind and ball-handling skills deft enough to make anyone who watched her take extra notice, Wilcox made her name on providing whatever her team required on any given day.
Need to protect a one-goal lead for 40 minutes? Drop Wilcox back. Need to hang on to possession? Tell Mitch to play keep away. Having trouble getting the ball into the offensive third? Get Wilcox in the middle and tell the forwards to be ready. Need a goal? Run, Mitch, run. Need to take an ordinary play like a throw-in and turn it into a weapon? Oh goodness, buckle up.
“Like the flip throw,” Greene wrote, referring to Wilcox’s otherworldly act of using a front-flip on the ball to turn her team’s throw-ins into pseudo corner kicks. “It was her way of trying to help the team and for her to become a better player.”
Wilcox said the flip-throw was just as effective as a defensive clearance method as it was on offense. She said Caitlyn Pearce, one of her youth coaches who had utilized the flip-throw as a player for BFA-St. Albans taught her the flip prior to high school. Though Wilcox struggled to land her flip and gave up on it for a time, watching Enosburg classmate Paul Ladd -whom she would later coach with at Richford- develop a masterful flip-throw encouraged her to do the same.
“She just has that ‘never give up’ attitude that many athletes could learn from,” said Flanders.
The strategy of playing as if she belonged on a highlight reel without ever caring if she ever actually did make a highlight reel began to pay off well before Friday’s Hall Of Fame induction. Wilcox was selected for the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) Second Team in 2010 and was the first Lyndon State player to make the First Team in 2011. She was voted her team’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2011. A combination of academic and athletic prowess vaulted her to more awards during her senior year as Wilcox won Lyndon’s Dudley Bell Outstanding Student-Athlete Award and was recognized as Lyndon’s Green & Gold Scholar-Athlete.
The accolades voted on by those closest to her are the ones that mean the most to Wilcox. Peers and staff voted her as Lyndon’s Alumni Council Outstanding Senior in 2012. She was selected as a captain for the soccer team in her final two seasons.
Of course, those who coached her before all the collegiate awards knew long ago that it was more than her talent on the field which would make the generous and kind-hearted Wilcox successful.
“I think what sets Michelle apart from most everyone else is that she took nothing for granted,” Greene said. “A very humble yet driven individual who overcame a lot of obstacles to become a very special young lady. I know she made me a better coach and person.”
“For all that I’ve spoken about Michelle the athlete, she was and I’m sure still is an even better human being,” he added.
Flanders said she felt like a proud parent when she went to watch Wilcox play at Lyndon State.
“It was an honor to coach someone with such a huge heart that was so dedicated and passionate about the sport she loved so much,” she said. “So many athletes could and did learn from her abilities.”
Unsurprisingly, Wilcox continues to utilize her gifts to help others. Now located in St. Albans, she works as a behavior interventionist supporting local youths for NCSS. She has worked as an assistant coach at the high school level at both Richford and Missisquoi. Wilcox is a devout Baptist and has traveled to Africa with the Peace Corps.
“Faith has been the central point in all of this,” said Wilcox, a longtime member of Northside Baptist Church in St. Albans. “If I’m too prideful or selfish, my faith has been the thing that brings me back where I need to be.”
Time for coaching has been tough to come by with her demanding day job. There is no shortage of those in need of Wilcox’s compassion and enthusiasm. Years of team-first mentality have her always looking for the next way to help, though she’ll embrace Friday’s celebration despite her lack of desire to be in the spotlight.
“I’m just thankful for the opportunity,” Wilcox said. “I’m excited to celebrate with my teammates and reconnect with them.”
Greene left to relocate in Colorado in 2010, but not before getting a chance to watch Wilcox play a couple of games at Lyndon. If Wilcox is a bit reluctant to speak highly of herself, Greene is happy to fill the void.
“She should be a role model for every man or woman who ever steps onto a playing field. To give everything you have and not waste one ounce of the talent you’ve been given. It should be a lesson to all who play sports, especially at EFHS, that great things happen if you’re willing to put the work in. That is Michelle’s legacy, in my mind.”
“I wish I could be there in person to see Michelle accept this award because I’d be giving her a standing ovation with tears in my eyes.”
A contingent of friends and family will make the trek to Lyndon on Friday, all in support of an athlete who never asked for such praise. For many years a Hornet, Michelle Wilcox is now forever a Hall Of Famer.