Favorite athlete:Abby Wambach
Favorite team:Duke basketball
Favorite memory competing in sports: Coming back from an ankle injury freshman year during soccer season and having my first game back be Senior Night, where I scored a goal and we won the game!
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: When (coach Mark) Woodcock demonstrated how to defend a girl running at you on Christina (one of my best friends and teammates). She was all smiley and excited and happy and then Woodcock absolutely decked her and sent her flying at least 10 yards. It was a "had to be there" kind of moment, but we laughed so hard together as a team!
Music on iPod:Frank Ocean, Drake, Kanye, Shakira, Enrique Iglesias, Chance the Rapper, Arctic Monkeys, The Head and the Heart, Florida Georgia Line
Future plans: Attend Duke University for four years as a Robertson Scholar and major in global health so that one day I can work one-on-one with individuals and communities to improve lives
Words to live by: “I'd rather regret something I did than something I didn't do.”
One goal before turning 30: Hike at Machu Picchu
One thing people don't know about me: I have an extra bone in my foot
By GORDON GLANTZ
When Cheltenham’s Liza Becker plotted her college path, the senior class president and two-sport athlete narrowed her choice down to two schools – Duke and North Carolina.
Choosing between the two bitter ACC rivals wasn’t easy, but the choice soon crystalized.
Becker, who played soccer all her life and lacrosse since seventh grade, visited Duke – and nearby UNC – last spring.
For a myriad of reasons, she was ready to become a Blue Devil and applied for early admittance.
“I liked both a lot,” she said. “I just had to sort out my priorities. Duke had a major in Global Health, and that was something that did not exist at other universities. It has an international focus, and I could pair it with another major. To me, that seemed interesting.
“There are so many interesting opportunities there – an interesting student body, and they attract prestigious professors and scientists. And a huge pull for me was that it didn’t seem as cut-throat as some Ivy League schools. People still have lives. I’m also into Duke basketball, so there’s that, too. It’s just a fitting environment.”
And that was that, or so she thought.
Becker then got word that she was under consideration for the prestigious Robertson Scholarship Leadership Program.
“I was confused,” admitted Becker, who is generally not prone to confusion. “I didn’t apply for it, but the (Duke) Applications Office put my name in the pool.”
What followed was a process that began with a Skype interview and ended with acceptance – if she chose to accept all that it entailed.
Ironically, the exclusive program for approximately 36 students – out of 60,000 applicants -- grants what equates to dual citizenship to both Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill, meaning she will spend a the second semester of her sophomore year at Duke’s rival school.
“At first, it did seem kind of daunting,” said. “I was worried about the expectations. But, to have that kind of an amazing opportunity was too much to pass up.
“Plus, well, a full ride sounded pretty good to me. It worked out nicely. I’m super-excited about it.”
Staying in the Game
Becker, who battled her share of injuries to stay on the field at Cheltenham, will be giving up playing for keeps at the collegiate level.
But sports have been too much a part of her life to walk away and not say goodbye. Despite what will be a demanding academic workload, she plans to compete at the club or intermural level.
“For me, when I thought about not being on a team anymore, it was such a part of who I am,” she said. “It’s not something I’m going to give up. It’s important to me to be on a team. In some capacity, I’m going to be on a team.”
Her passion for being on a team, and being a teammate, certainly did not go unrecognized.
“Liza is an amazing athlete and an asset to our team,” said Cheltenham lacrosse coach Didi Dean. “She is honest, hardworking, and coachable.
“She is impressive as a leader. She leads by example, and verbally, her verbal leadership exemplifies respect, motivating everyone to want to do their best. She is a captain this year and would have been her junior year as well if she had not had to take the year off due to an injury.”
Shouldering the Burden
Becker’s junior-year injury – a sprained AC joint and tendinitis in her shoulder -- occurred while going for a “50-50 ball” in a hard-fought soccer clash at Upper Dublin.
She rehabbed through the winter, but the first week of lacrosse season was one of agony.
“I showed up to play lacrosse, and I cried because I was in so much pain,” Becker recalled. “The physical therapy was very frustrating to me. It’s not high intensity, like a sport, but I kept working at it. It was important to me to be able to come back.”
And inspiring to those cheering for her to make it.
Said Dean: “The way she handled her injury was impressive. She met with me and discussed her apprehension, and we decided she would give it a shot. She came to three or so practices and said her shoulder was getting worse and that she would have to rehab it to health before she could play. She was disappointed but knew that was the course of action she needed to take. She rejoined the team this year as if she hadn’t missed a beat. She worked hard in the offseason to ensure her ability and commitment to the team.”
Still, Becker’s return was not as much of a straight line as it was a series of stops and starts and a drill of taking one step back for every two steps forward.
Despite her confident demeanor, she admits to some apprehension along the comeback trail.
“I definitely did,” she said. “On the surface, I didn’t, but I was scared that I wasn’t going to be able to handle it.”
But then she summoned the positive vibrations that have guided her all along.
“I knew thinking negatively wasn’t going to work out,” said Becker, adding that she was “overwhelmed with excitement to come back.”
While she admits that soccer is her “number one sport” because she has “been playing since I could walk,” Becker has experienced winning more with the lacrosse team and is getting the most out of her final season.
“It’s going well so far,” said Becker. “We have won the games we have needed to step up and win. And for me, personally, this has been the best season of my whole high school career. I came back motivated to make the most of the games, remain consistent and be a good captain to my teammates. I don’t want us to sleep on any games.”
As one of six seniors on the lacrosse team, Becker finds herself in the role of those she was somewhat awestruck by as a freshman.
Claiming she had been “very bored” with softball, she gave lacrosse a whirl in middle school.
“I like the fast paced, high intensity kind of thing it had,” said Becker, a midfielder. “At Cheltenham, no one played before seventh grade, so it was a level playing field. I just relied on my raw athleticism and the hand-eye coordination I developed from softball and basketball.
“It just really clicked for me in high school, especially when I got to see the seniors on my team and I started to see what it really looked like. They were good role models. I was going against 18 year-olds when I was 15. Up until then, I hadn’t been challenged too much in anything. It was humbling but also very motivating. I remember thinking how I wanted to be like those girls one day, and it played out – in practice and in games.”
Each of the half-dozen seniors serves as a captain for Dean, and each brings a different approach.
“We have a lot of leaders on this team,” said Becker. “My style? I’m not loud. I stay calm in pressure situations. I lead by example. I do what is expected, even when no one is watching. I just show other people what needs to be done.”
Doing the Right Thing
Becker added that her style, her approach, carries over in the classroom atmosphere as well.
“I’m not loud about my grades and test scores,” she explained. “I just keep my head down and do my work. I’m not out to prove something. I just want to do the right thing.”
“I’ve always been a motivated student. I’m fortunate like that. It’s hard for some people to wrap their head around that, but it’s never been a huge chore to me. I always liked to learn.”
Just as she is a leader by example who will try to deal with teammates in a one-on-one setting, Becker will do the same academically.
“Those sort of connections are important,”said Becker. “You can’t make someone care about school, but talk about perspective a lot.”
That level of maturity serves her well as a conduit to the coaching staff.
“Liza is highly motivated and organized and has great decision making,” said Dean. “She takes advice well and implements the plan for the good of the group. She listens to her teammates and offers respectful suggestions to the coaching staff. She has the discretion to make decisions on her own and knows when to come to the coaches.
“Liza is truly one of those students who comes around once in a decade, she is going to make her mark on the world. It has been a complete honor to be her coach and I cannot wait to see what she does in the future.”
Once in a decade? Not the type of praise that gets thrown around lightly, and it makes it all worth it to Becker, whose long-range plans may include a career in medicine and/or working for a public health agency.
“It’s important to make the people who are most important to me proud,” she said.
Becker added that she has also drawn inspiration from her soccer coaches, head coach Mark Woodcock and assistant Steve Midzak, as well her parents (Debby Becker and Paula Altszuler), step-parents (Jackie Lynch and Brigitte Potgieter) and older brother, Noah, who left Northwestern to pursue his dream of being a jazz musician.
“He has been incredibly supportive of me,” said Becker. “He was a brilliant student and went to Northwestern, but he wanted to be a musician. That was such an inspiration, that he could act on his conviction like that. Being younger, it was inspirational to me. He needed to do what he needed to do to be happier.”
Becker added that she was “consistently raised to do community service” within her Jewish faith, as her synagogue – Mishkan Shalom in Manayunk – has “a huge focus on community service and social justice.”
That includes work for the Jewish Relief Agency delivering food to families in need and also park cleanups and volunteering on Earth Day.
“I was raised to believe in myself, and with a strong sense of feminism – to be honest, articulate and intelligent,” she said. “That comes from that aspect of unconditional love and support.”
And then there is her best friend since sixth grade – soccer teammate and musician, Paige Kytzidis.
“I’m so fortunate that we became best friends,” said Becker. “It can be hard in high school. It’s nice to have that one person to connect with. She is as smart as a tack and I can always count on her for great conversation. We know how to have fun together.”
It seems like a blink of an eye for Becker since she was a freshman, sitting in class with a few friends, and there was an announcement about class officers.
She has been president of her class ever since, fending off a challenge from a “popular guy” in her junior year and realizing how much it meant to her.
“At that point, I got worried,” said Becker, citing planning of dances and fundraisers among her responsibilities. “I felt like I had worked so hard. I didn’t want to give it up.
“It takes a whole lot to learn the ropes. There is a re-election each year, and I kept getting re-elected.”
And as her high experience comes to a close, and with a bright future ahead, Becker can feel good about leaving no stone unturned.
“It has given me challenges,” she said of Cheltenham. “I think I was always intrinsically ambitious, as well as motivated and hard-working. It has given me the tools and opportunities to try a wide variety of clubs and sports. I was able to channel all of that into constructive action.”