Tireless work ethic paying off for San Francisco State’s Autumn Fox

Minutes after the end of each San Francisco State women's soccer game, Gators assistant coach Robin Hart fields a request.

Redshirt sophomore forward Autumn Fox wants a copy of the game tape.

For Fox, a 5-foot-4 forward with Roadrunner wheels, this is part of the grind. She wants to get better and will exhaust every possible option to do so. She has a line on the path to optimal performance.

Fox frequently heads onto Cox Stadium with Hart for extra technical practice. They work relentlessly on Fox's first touch. Hart peppers passes in, Fox controls. They rinse, repeat until the motion becomes second-nature.

“She works her butt off,” Hart said of Fox.

Fox admits that upon arriving at San Francisco State in 2012, she struggled to adapt to the rigors of the collegiate game. During that initial redshirt season, she felt herself hesitating during practices. Always a step off-key. It was like being in the shadows.

Looking back now, though, Fox is thankful. She was able to watch. She was able to learn.

The Gators endured a sluggish start to the 2013 season. Though they recovered with a strong finish, they didn't want a repeat performance in '14. With 16 newcomers, including junior college transfers and redshirt freshmen, in the fold, the team made a point of staying on campus through summer. Players worked together.

“We all just wanted to win,” Fox said.

When the preseason rolled around, the Gators zipped through the standard fitness test. Two-a-days became that little bit more manageable. Belief flooded the senses.

Monday's game against Hawaii Pacific was the latest testament to the reclamation. A 2-1 win gave the Gators a 5-1 record heading into conference play.

Fox, who provided an assist against the Sharks, was named the California Collegiate Athletic Association Player of the Week on Tuesday, largely for her performance at Fresno Pacific on Sept. 16, when she scored two goals and added an assist in a 3-1 Gators win. For Fox, it's the latest wrinkle in a welcome dream. Growing up in Thousand Oaks, she says she always wanted to attend San Francisco State.

“Now she's taking the pressure off some of her teammates,” Hart said. “Now she's the focus of the other team, and she can use that to set up her teammates.”

Hart has continued to serve as a sounding board for Fox. The week before her breakout against Fresno Pacific, Fox headed to Hart's office. She felt like she was pressing, she knew it was affecting her performance. Hart kept her message simple: Don't think, just play.

“And that's how I went into the Fresno Pacific game,” Fox said. “Clear mind, didn't think about anything. I got two goals and an assist.”

Now, her impact extends throughout the field's attacking third. Her first shot against Hawaii Pacific, taken with her left foot, flashed just wide of goal. Her assist came from her right foot, on the other side of the field. Earlier in the season, Fox struggled with that technique. Her solution: Work until it became second nature.

After the 2-1 win over Hawaii Pacific, the Gators had Tuesday off. Then, it was time to begin preparing for third-ranked Cal State Stanislaus' visit today. An acid test if ever there was one.

“We can get a good result if each of us works hard enough,” Fox said. “We're not thinking about our five wins. We're going into Stanislaus with a totally clear head.”

Fox and her teammates have a line on excellence. As Fox puts it succinctly, “We want a title this year. Real bad.”

Gators men on a roll: Speaking of strong SFSU starts, Gators men's soccer midfielder Sam Merrit has two goals and three assists through the first six games of the season. After a 1-0 home win over BYU-Hawaii on Tuesday, the Gators are 4-1-1, their best start since '09. They also face Cal State Stanislaus today.

CCSF showdown: On Saturday, the third-ranked CCSF football team heads to fifth-ranked American River College for a showdown of high-scoring teams with matching 3-0 records. Rams freshman Elijah Dale, formerly of St. Ignatius High School, rushed for 133 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries in the season opener against Sierra. Facing Laney the following weekend, sophomore Jahray Hayes finished with 39 carries for 200 yards and two scores. The College of San Mateo (3-0), ranked No. 1 in the state for the first time in program history, plays at home against San Joaquin Delta (0-3).

Academy spikers have quick start: The Academy of Art women's volleyball team has opened the season an impressive 6-3. Knights sophomore outside hitter Kelsey Brum has flown out of the gate with 143 kills, which ranks third in the Pac West Conference. Her 4.47 kills per set leads the conference.

Warriors roar back to win behind a Looney performance

Golden State takes 2-0 lead against Dallas in Western Conference Finals

Giants catchers work in Posey’s shadow

Joey Bart, heir apparent to Buster’s throne, ceding more at-bats to supposed backup Curt Casali