In third grade, long before she gave any serious thought to attending college, Aiko Fujita fell in love with being a lacrosse goalie.
“I just knew right then,” the Southold High School senior said. “I know it sounds crazy. I was that young. But I like the feeling of getting shots at you. It’s just a rewarding feeling after the game. I just loved it.”
Fujita loved it so much that she became quite proficient at frustrating opposing players while backstopping the Mattituck/Southold/Greenport team to the Suffolk County Class D title last year.
Her talent and perseverance have since been rewarded in another way: with the opportunity to play for Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire.
In front of family, teammates and friends in the high school auditorium Friday afternoon, Fujita signed her National Letter of Intent to attend Saint Anselm.
The 17-year-old said she’d heard about the college through a cousin.
“I never really put any thought into it about playing lacrosse there,” she said, but that all changed when she visited the campus and met head coach Meghan Smith.
“It was the game changer,” Fujita said. “The coach is just amazing. Coach Smith, she’s so nice. She’s just been such a great person throughout this whole process.”
Saint Anselm is located in Goffstown, N.H., about a 2 1/2-hour drive from the New London ferry, Fujita said.
The beautiful campus was another selling point.
“It’s just super,” she said. “I don’t know how to describe it, but I know I’m going to fit in there. I just knew right when I went onto campus.”
The Hawks recorded a program-tying 13 wins while reaching the 2023 Northeast-10 Conference semifinals last season. Saint Anselm was ranked third in this year’s NE-10 preseason coaches’ poll.
Fujita said she plans to major in biology and eventually earn a master’s degree in nutrition. Her goal is to work as a registered dietician and nutritionist in a hospital or with a sports team.
Before donning the colors of St. Anselm, however, Fujita has some unfinished business with the MSG lacrosse squad. She was reminded of her present — and future — Friday, as goalie helmets from her future college and current high school teams sat on the table where she signed her commitment letter.
As the defending county champs, Fujita realizes that she and her teammates will have a proverbial target on their backs.
“It’s super important being in my senior year,” she said. “I want to do it again. I liked the feeling of winning counties. It was so much fun. It’s so exhilarating. I know that we have to work for it. It may take a little time, but I know that we’re all capable of doing it as long as you put in the work.”
Fujita knows a thing or two about putting in the work. She is a three-sport athlete, having played for the MSG girls soccer team in the fall. Two hours after her signing ceremony, Fujita headed a few miles east to practice with the Greenport/Southold girls basketball team (7-6, 7-2).
“I’m trying to live in the moment of basketball and enjoy the time I have in my last season because it’s one of my favorite sports,” she said. “But I also have obviously lacrosse on my mind and I’m keeping up with that.”
Even in the off-season, the MSG lacrosse team still trains several times a week and Fujita also competes in a Sunday league. If the Porters go far in the Class B basketball playoffs, Fujita said she will manage both sports.
“It will be hard, but I know I’ll make it work,” she said.
No one had to remind girls lacrosse head coach Logan McGinn how valuable Fujita has been to the squad. She was named an unsung hero by the Suffolk County coaches associations in lacrosse and basketball.
“It can’t happen to a better kid,” McGinn said of her decision to attend St. Anselm. “Aiko’s an all-world kid on the field and off the field. She’s definitely going to leave a big hole for us next year, not even just as a goalie but as a player and as a person. It’s going to be hard shoes to fill.”