“I’m just proud,” Maddie Souza’s father Tom explains emotionally when reflecting on his daughter’s tenure at Vanderbilt. “She’s playing at a high-level and she loves her teammates, and her situation. She is surrounded by a lot of very close friends, great people, a great education, and competitive lacrosse. That is all a parent could ever ask for.”
To Vanderbilt lacrosse fans, Maddie Souza is an emphatic force on the field. For her, this is just a reflection of her internal drive.
Back home in the San Ramon Valley, California, Souza is an outlier. She started playing lacrosse in early elementary school thanks to the influence of her older brothers. By fourth grade, Maddie decided to play in a league, eventually joining what was the only youth lacrosse team in her area, the Diablo Valley Scorpions.
Souza’s early signs of determination mirror her story today. Two years into her lacrosse career, she shared her vision with family.
“I was 12 saying I wanted to play Division I lacrosse in college, which I’m sure probably sounded crazy to them [her older brothers] at the time,” Souza says.
Fulfilling this dream came with costs, and Maddie demonstrated her maturity in accepting those sacrifices.
“Once I got serious about it, I was basically on the East Coast every summer, trying to get picked up to play in college,“ Souza explains. “So while a lot of my friends were going to the beach and doing other things, I was trying to figure out what college I wanted to go to.”
While sacrificing summers and traveling across the country may have deterred some, Souza used those experiences as lessons. She was even named the San Ramon Valley High School’s Female Athlete of the Year during her senior year.
“I think it all obviously paid off. I’m at Vanderbilt,” Souza says.
At Vanderbilt, Maddie has become a leader and a high-achieving student athlete, earning spots on the American Athletic Conference (AAC) All-Academic team and the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Honor Roll while studying Medicine, Health and Society. This determination in all facets of life shines through to others in her role as a field general for the 2021 Commodores.
“Every time I go on the field I want to have fun,” Souza says. “I make sure that I’m creating an environment that people want to play incredibly hard for.”
Souza impacts the game directly through her play too, just ask head coach Beth Hewitt. Nearly two months ago, Vanderbilt gained its fourth win of the season as they defeated High Point 17-13. Maddie Souza scored six goals on this day.
“The girls were locked in during the timeouts and bought into the adjustments,” Coach Hewitt says. “Maddie Souza seemed like every time we needed a goal, she came up with it.”
Souza may have missed out on experiences in her hometown of San Ramon Valley, California but she understood the potential of taking that risk. Souza’s risk taking has never subsided—if anything it has elevated. Souza brings that same sense of buy-in as a junior attacker for the No. 16 Vanderbilt Commodores.
“She loves her teammates and she loves the school,” her father says. “For Maddie to be at Vanderbilt playing lacrosse, it has really been a blessing.”
As the Commodores prepare for their AAC semifinal game against the Temple Owls on May 6 in Gainesville, Florida, Souza and the Commodores need to continue to trust each other. When the junior attacker was asked what will be key for the Commodores as they head into their AAC semifinal game, and then the NCAA tournament, she emphasized buy-in.
“We need to appreciate where we are, appreciate how far we’ve come,” Souza says. “So we just have to absolutely make the most of every moment that we have on the field. All of us believe that we’ve done so well this year, but we still have so much potential and we want to bring that into tournament play.”
The Commodores have achieved historic success this season, with the second most regular-season wins in program history and a stellar 8-1 home record. But Souza and the team understand that they have way more in the tank.
The student athletes are elated to play in the AAC semifinal. The AAC tournament and the chance to bring an NCAA championship to West End this season are the opportunities Souza and the team need to show the nation that they are a lacrosse powerhouse.
“Every single time we play good teams, we want to show up and prove that we deserve to be here,” Souza says. “And we do.”