Getting the nickname "Izzy" always felt like a natural fit to Isabella Francati, especially considering she's played lacrosse for almost as long as she can remember.

"I think it was hard to pronounce Isabella with a mouthguard, so we switched it to Izzy," the Dublin Jerome senior said.

Although Francati also was "pretty serious" about soccer until middle school, her decision to focus on lacrosse paid off.

"I decided I enjoyed the game of lacrosse a little better and I feel like I connect better with the sport," Francati said. "I see the field well and love playing a team sport where I can celebrate a win with the entire team and overcome obstacles with a team."

Playing mostly as a midfielder, Francati burst onto the scene as a freshman, recording 68 goals and 15 assists in 20 games. She missed her entire sophomore season with an injury but returned last year to earn first-team all-OCC-Cardinal Division honors while seeing playing time as both a midfielder and an attacker.

Francati had two goals in an 11-4 loss to Upper Arlington in the Division I, Region 3 final a year ago as Jerome finished 14-3-1 overall. The Celtics went 7-0 in the OCC-Cardinal to win their second consecutive league championship.

Jerome lost just four players to graduation and was hopeful of being in position to challenge five-time defending state champion UA before the spring sports season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

"One of the most standout things about Izzy is that she's a unique athlete who is incredibly gifted and has such a natural athletic ability, but she also works really, really hard and is the kind of player that truly is a self-starter," coach Kendall Gordon said. "She's the type of kid who's always asking, 'What can I do better?' She is always coaching her teammates and really applying any coaching points she's given. She's the type of kid who keeps working and working and working and isn't going to stop when she's mastered a skill."

Francati, who also has competed for Resolute Lacrosse at the club level, has stayed in shape by partaking in a running and lifting program and has maintained her lacrosse skills by practicing with an open net at a local field.

"I've had maybe one or two teammates come with me and shoot, but we were told to do our own lifting," Francati said. "Sometimes we'd do running on a grass field while social distancing, but nothing really organized. I've kept myself busy by staying in shape and just taking it day by day knowing it will get better eventually. Lacrosse is an outlet to relieve stress and emotions and I've been putting in work to relieve as much as possible.

"Out of any year I've played at Jerome, this would have been our best shot at making it to and winning states. We were a group that bonded super well and had a ton of potential. We added a couple new coaches to our staff and I was looking forward to learning from them, so I was disappointed to not be able to do that."

Francati has signed to play for Villanova, which was 3-5 before the NCAA canceled the spring sports season on March 12. Among the Wildcats' wins was a 12-9 upset over 16th-ranked Navy on Feb. 22.

Francati graduated with a 4.9 GPA and was an honor roll student throughout her time at Jerome. She plans to study business at Villanova, with a possible eye on law school.

A left-handed shooter, Francati had a Zoom meeting with members of Villanova's program in April.

"It's always different for goalies (to go against a left-hander) because right-handers shoot in a different spot, so people are a little surprised," Francati said. "I actually went on a visit over the winter break in 2018 (to Villanova) and kind of just fell in love with the campus and staff and the atmosphere. It's a good balance of athletics and academics and is the perfect distance away from home. I loved it there."

julrey@thisweeknews.com

@UlreyThisWeek