Emma Vinall has never been deterred or dissuaded from scoring
The fifth-year senior closes out a record-breaking career at American University
Emma Vinall has never seen a goal she couldn’t score, and April 24, 2021, against the Navy Midshipmen, was no exception.
With 55 seconds left in the game, Vinall fired a shot at the net just like she had so many times over her career at American University.
She was pressed by Navy’s superb defense all game long, but the Midshipmen’s fortress-like wall around the goal was no match for Vinall’s shot once again proving that stopping her is a tall order.
Vinall’s 161st goal was special, and everyone knew it.
Vinall — who broke AU’s all-time points record the same day — stood alone as the top scorer in AU lacrosse history. AU lost that game to the Midshipmen 13-20, their sixth loss of the season, but not before Vinall scored another goal with a second remaining.
Vinall’s place in AU history was already secure even if she never played another game at AU, but this attacker was not done giving goalies nightmares.
Who is Emma Vinall
“I literally grew up going to all their lacrosse games, all their high school games,” said Vinall, now a graduate student at AU. “I don't think I really decided I wanted to play college lacrosse until I started to see my older sisters go do it.”
Vinall started playing in elementary school, and she quickly found success. The Virginian scored over 300 goals during her high school career and her scoring prowess gave her the opportunity to play at American University.
Vinall learned a lot during her freshman year. Despite beginning her career as a midfielder, she switched position to attacker and quickly became the Eagles’ best scorer.
She led the team with 35 goals scored in only ten games of play in 2018. Vinall said former head coach Emma Wallace helped her develop into the offensive juggernaut that defenders now fear.
“[Wallace] recognized that I would just be way better on attack using all my energy there,” Vinall said. “I think that's when I really made the switch over to attack.”
But the maturation of her game was put on hold when Vinall tore her ACL in the middle of the 2018 season. Despite the setback, midfielder and fellow fifth-year senior Kendall Goldblum said it was a growing experience for her.
“It made her mentally stronger and more grateful to be out there and gave her kind of a sense of perspective that it can be taken away any day,” Goldblum said. “She's just a super mentally tough, driven person that's always trying to get better, always out doing extra work.”
Even as the constant upheaval contributed to losses while Vinall was an undergraduate, the team went 18-31, but Vinall soldiered on through it all and continued scoring.
Vinall’s list of achievements is longer than most, she also broke AU’s all-time draw controls record this season, but she is not interested in basking in her achievements.
“She's not a selfish player,” head coach Lindsay Teeters said. “Everything that she does is for the betterment of the team.”
Vinall didn’t even know she was close to breaking the points and goals record before the 2020-2021 season started.
“It was definitely a good feeling. I wasn't really thinking about breaking the record in that (Navy) game, or really all season,” Vinall said. “I know, Lindsey (Teeters) said something to me briefly before the game about it.”
Vinall also became the first Eagle to surpass 200 goals in her career, achieving that milestone against Army West Point, but Vinall once again said she isn’t interested in chasing stats.
“One of my biggest roles on the team is producing goals. I mean, that's every attacker’s job,” Vinall said. “You want to produce goals, but I'm not someone who's keeping track in my head.”
“[Harkins] was a great feeder, and a really selfless player,” Vinall said. “Kendall is someone who always knows exactly what each other's doing on the field. So it makes it really easy to work together with her.”
Her teammates have been happy to set up Vinall for scoring opportunities over the years.
“[Vinall] was someone that I instantly connected with and clicked with. We have a really good connection, both on the field and off the field,” Goldblum said. “We kind of joke around that we can talk to each other without using words. We just look at each other and know what each other wants in the field. So it's a really great connection. And I love working with her out there.”
The keys to Vinall’s game
Vinall can beat defenders several ways. She can use her footwork to gain a step on a defender and send a long-range shot from the fan or the arc. Vinall can also take a pass from one of her teammates as she cuts toward the net or beat the goalie after picking up a ground ball.
Even when surrounded by defenders with the shot clock going down, Vinall can reach into her bag of tricks and send a behind-the-back shot into the net or a backhanded surprise to befuddle helpless goalies.
“She's incredibly strong, she's got a rocket for a shot,” Teeters said.
Vinall’s rocket shot poses such a threat to opposing defenses that it’s apparent when they try to guard her. She often garners multiple defenders as she darts to the goal, and opposing teams also resort to hacking and slashing to try and stop her. But Vinall is undeterred. Fouling her gives her a free position shot, and the 5’11 attacker is lethal from there too.
Vinall said she built her impressive array of offensive attacks through hours of studying the game.
“I'm definitely a big film watcher. I think we joke a lot in our house [that] people are always watching lacrosse,” Vinall said. “I think the times when I have gotten a little better have just been me going out to shoot alone every day. Or just like running through my own drills. I think that's the time when you can like really get specific about skills you want to improve.”
Her coaches have taken notice of her meticulous preparation.
“What sets her apart is her work ethic. As team practice is ending, she stays. She's shooting, she's working on all of her skills,” Teeters said. “She has just done an incredible job of continuing to improve her game.”
Vinall’s career at AU has been a testament to a player who is unstoppable on offense. She has been top ten in goals per game in The Patriot League since she was a freshman, but Vinall’s offensive prowess also goes beyond the PL.
An Eagle data analysis found that Vinall has been in the top 100 players in goals per game in Division I play every year she’s been at AU except for the 2019-2020 season, as the NCAA did not release rankings for the COVID shortened season. In eight games of play in 2021, Vinall finished the season averaging 4.38 goals per game, sixth in NCAA Division I.
Vinall’s goal-scoring gift has been essential to the Eagles during her five seasons at AU. She averaged 40 goals a season as an undergraduate, which made up almost 30 percent of AU’s total offense during that time, and her 35 goals in 2021 were more than AU’s next top two goal scorers combined.
The present and future for Emma Vinall
The 2021-2022 season has been business as usual for Vinall. Her 37 goals scored, 46 points, 59 shots on goal and 86 draw controls lead the team, but winning is more important than statistical superiority for Vinall.
“If I don't score any goals and our team still wins, still a good day,” Vinall said.
Vinall hasn’t had a scoreless game this season, and the Eagles are winning. AU is 7-5 on the season, and Vinall can thank the pandemic for her fifth-year dominance. The NCAA gave all Division I athletes an extra year of eligibility in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.
Vinall could have entered the transfer portal as a graduate student and left AU, her skills would have been in high demand, but she said the decision to return to AU was easy.
“I definitely knew I wanted to play lacrosse for another year,” Vinall said. “When all your best friends are coming back, and I love and respect Lindsay as a coach, it's kind of a no-brainer for me to stay here with them.”
The Eagles are poised to make the Patriot League Tournament for the first time in Vinall’s time at AU, and Vinall figures to play a major role. It’s also a no-brainer what Vinall will do after her career at AU is over. Vinall said she’s not done with lacrosse.
“I want to become a coach or a college coach. Lindsay's been a really good mentor, and I've talked to her a lot about it,” Vinall said. “ I want to see what's out there and go [to] other places.”