As the women’s lacrosse captain at the University of Vermont in 2005, Vanessa Cox showed the team’s new head coach, Jen Johnson, what leadership was all about.
“We were playing horribly at SUNY-Binghamton and at halftime I really laid into the team,” Johnson recalled. “And then Vanessa came out in the second half, scored five goals, and just drove herself and her teammates to play harder and win the game.”
Ms. Cox, the department administrator for the Brandeis University department of athletics, died Thursday in Maine Medical Center in Portland. New Hampshire State Police said she was a passenger in a car struck by another vehicle on Route 16 in Milton, N.H., Thursday evening. She was 31 and lived in Boston.
When Ms. Cox graduated from UVM in 2005, she held the women’s lacrosse program records for career points (173) and goal scoring (133). “She will go down in history as one of the all-time greats in Vermont women’s lacrosse,” Johnson told the Globe that year. Earlier in Ms. Cox’s career, she was a multisport athlete at Newton North High and was a 2010 inductee into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
She also played for Team Canada in the 2009 and 2013 Women’s Lacrosse World Cup. Her mother, Micheline, was born in Canada and had dual US-Canadian citizenship, which made Ms. Cox eligible to play for the Canadians. In 2013, she helped lead the team to a silver medal in Oshawa, Ontario, which was Canada’s best-ever finish.
“She was our most talented player at the attack position at Vermont and then she proved her versatility as a defender with Team Canada because of how hard she worked at it,” Johnson, a former Team Canada captain who still coaches the UVM team, said in an interview. “And she was one of the most thoughtful people I ever knew, and a supportive friend.”
The UVM squad will wear uniform patches displaying Ms. Cox’s number 23 and her initials when they play at Boston College Saturday, and for the remainder of the season.
At Brandeis since 2011, Ms. Cox was involved in student-athlete recruitment, was an organizer for the Friends of Brandeis Athletics Hall of Fame, and was head coach of the university’s club women’s lacrosse team through last season.
“When visitors came to our office, the first desk they approached was Vanessa’s, and you couldn’t ask for a warmer, more energetic or more personable individual to represent Brandeis and our department,” said Sheryl Sousa, the Brandeis athletic director. “Having Vanessa as a coach was so fortunate for us. She was a vital member of the Brandeis community and her loss leaves a huge void.”
Annie Cui, a Brandeis senior who was captain of last year’s team, and captain-elect Heather Barash, a junior, said Ms. Cox was a passionate and patient teacher of the sport.
“She always came to team bonding events and always encouraged us,” Cui said.
Barash, who considered Ms. Cox a mentor, had never played lacrosse before attending Brandeis. “She worked with me every single practice and just told me to keep at it, and although she was very modest about playing for Team Canada at the World Cup, you could tell how excited she was,” Barash said.
At Newton North, where she graduated in 2001, Vanessa Marie Cox also competed in varsity soccer and indoor track and was a Globe girls’ lacrosse All-Scholastic. As a senior, she led the Bay State Conference in scoring as a lacrosse player and had 70 career goals.
“Vanessa was a high-energy athlete, and her teammates regarded her as a leader who inspired others,” Newton North High athletic director Tom Giusti said.
Ms. Cox had been the women’s lacrosse rookie of the year at the University of Vermont, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science. She also received a master’s in sports leadership from Northeastern University in 2011.
She was an assistant lacrosse coach at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 2005-07 and head coach for four more seasons, compiling a 36-26 record.
In 2008, Ms. Cox became the first MIT head coach in program history to be named the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.
“She was a fantastic, graceful, all-around athlete and she recently had taken up rock climbing,” said MIT head field hockey coach Cheryl Silva, who was head women’s lacrosse coach when Ms. Cox was hired.
“She was like a breath of fresh air,” Silva added. “She brought a lot of energy and enthusiasm to our program and really connected with the players. Vanessa was still competing with the Canadian team, so when she talked so passionately about the game our players picked up on that.”
In 2009, when Ms. Cox finally got to play in the World Cup in Prague, she wrote in an e-mail on the eve of the games: “Competing at this level has been my dream for over five years now and I can’t believe the time has finally come to put the years of hard work, sprint workouts, wall ball, and lifting to use.”
In addition to her mother, Micheline (Bolduc) of Boston, Ms. Cox leaves her father, Vincent, also of Boston; her brother, Brandon of Brookline; and her paternal grandparents, Jean and Jim of Taunton, England.
A funeral Mass will be held at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in Grace Episcopal Church in Newton. Burial is private.
Though Ms. Cox stayed busy through the years as a competitor, coach, and administrator, “she never neglected anything in her life,” her brother said. “If something was difficult for me or my mother, she would pick us up and help us plow through it, while at the same time being a high-quality competitor on the field and off the field. It was really something to watch. She was an absolute super human.”
A longtime supporter of Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston and the nonprofit MSPCA, Ms. Cox loved dogs and cats “ever since my dad brought home a dog in a cardboard box when we were kids,” her brother said.
He added that from childhood onward “she was an animal whisperer” who could coax dogs to perform a variety of tricks. “She was just so compassionate to all life, not just people,” he said. “We were so proud of her, how she lived life. She was just always glowing.”Bryan Marquard of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Marvin Pave can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.