As a two-time team captain of the nation's most successful women's lacrosse program, Zoe Stukenberg has learned how to guide others. Her leadership qualities have been instrumental to the continuing success of the University of Maryland's women's lacrosse program and also will be an asset in her next position standing in front of a classroom.
Stukenberg is nearing the end of a fulfilling and highly successful collegiate lacrosse career. During that time, the senior midfielder has been a key part of four of the most dominant teams during the Terps' 44-year women's lacrosse history. Since Stukenberg's arrival, Maryland has posted an 85-3 record, earned four conference regular-season championships, made four NCAA Tournament appearances and captured two national titles.
Stukenberg began her lacrosse journey at Marriotts Ridge High School. A three-time high school All-American, Stukenberg guided the Mustangs to Maryland Class 3A/2A state championships during the 2011 and 2013 seasons and was twice named the Howard County Player of the Year.
"We want to keep the best lacrosse players in Maryland, at Maryland," said Terps head coach Cathy Reese, who has guided the program to three NCAA championships during the past seven seasons. "Zoe was someone who caught our eye from the very beginning. Getting to know her sealed the deal. We needed her here."
But unlike many high school players in Maryland, Stukenberg wasn't dreaming of becoming a Terp from an early age.
"I don't really like to think too far ahead," said Stukenberg, who also played soccer and basketball at Marriotts Ridge. "You keep trying to be the best lacrosse player that you can be, and all of a sudden things work out for you. [Coming to Maryland] wasn't something that I always envisioned for myself, but looking back, I wouldn't trade it for the world."
The Ellicott City, Md., native made an immediate impact as a freshman. During Maryland's final season in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Stukenberg earned the league's Freshman of the Year honor after totaling 35 goals and 12 assists for a Terps team that finished with a 23-1 record and won the school's first NCAA title in four years.
Stukenberg's career has trended upward since her standout freshman campaign. During her 2015 sophomore season, she contributed 38 goals and 22 assists to a 21-1 Maryland team that edged North Carolina, 9-8, for the NCAA title. As a junior, Stukenberg earned IWLCA second-team All-America honors and was nominated for the prestigious Tewaaraton Award after totaling 49 goals and 16 assists during Maryland's 22-1 season, which ended with a 13-7 loss to North Carolina in the NCAA title game.
Following the graduation of three-time Tewaaraton winner Taylor Cummings and Tewaaraton finalist Alice Mercer, there were preseason questions about how the 2017 Maryland squad would fare against the nation's toughest schedule. Stukenberg's strong leadership was crucial during the Terps' perfect 19-0 campaign, which has resulted in a third consecutive Big Ten regular-season title, a second straight conference tournament championship and the nation's top ranking.
"She's such an easy person to talk to, and there's such a positive energy about her," Reese said. "When Zoe came in as a freshman, she had great leadership skills off the bat. Everything she does is 100 percent. There's no going half-speed for her. Zoe is a motivator on the field who creates an energy that everyone can feed off of. Her energy and her work ethic are contagious for all of the players around her. She does it all, and she does it well."
Stukenberg's presence has been important to Maryland at both ends of the field. During the 2017 campaign, she earned the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Week accolade twice while receiving Offensive Player of the Week honors once. Stukenberg ranks fourth on the team with 44 goals and is third in assists (22) and points (66). She has also been credited with 62 draw controls, 18 caused turnovers and a team-leading 42 ground balls.
Stukenberg, who ranks ninth in Maryland history with 166 career goals, is one of 25 nominees for the 2017 Tewaaraton Award, along with teammates Nadine Hadnagy, Megan Whittle and Megan Taylor. She also earned All-Big Ten honors for the third consecutive season.
Despite her numerous accomplishments, Stukenberg prefers to direct the attention to her teammates.
"I'm amazed with how many opportunities and triumphs I've been a part of," Stukenberg said. "I've learned so much from every teammate at Maryland, not just the first-team All-Americans and the Tewaaraton winners."
Stukenberg looks back fondly on the Terps' three trips to the Final Four, especially the championship-winning appearances during the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
"The past three years at those Final Four weekends have been the most memorable part of my experience at Maryland," Stukenberg said. "The team wins that we gritted out in big moments are what I'll remember, like the national championship game my sophomore year against North Carolina when we were down by three goals at halftime. That game was so special, and that comeback was so unbelievably fun. I also think about my freshman year, playing in my first national championship game [against Syracuse at Towson's Johnny Unitas Stadium], when I walked out to play and was shaking because I was so nervous. That was the first time that I experienced what it really meant to be a Terp and to be a part of this culture at Maryland."
Stukenberg's accomplishments aren't limited to the playing field. A stellar student, she was a third-team CoSIDA Academic All-American during her junior year. The biological sciences major was also the recipient of the NCAA's Elite 89 (2015) and Elite 90 (2016) awards for achieving the highest GPA of any women's lacrosse student-athlete who has participated at the NCAA Final Four site. Stukenberg has achieved a 4.0 GPA during her four years at Maryland.
On May 7, Stukenberg was awarded the Big Ten Medal of Honor, which is presented annually to one male and one female student-athlete from the graduating class of each university "who have attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work."
"My two passions are school and sports," Stukenberg said. "I've loved getting involved with leadership organizations and community service, but school and sports take up the majority of my time and have been my priorities. And, the key to my college career has been keeping my priorities straight."
After graduation, Stukenberg will join the Teach for America program and work in the Baltimore City Public School system.
"Teach for America has such an unbelievable mission, and I love the people I've met through the organization," said Stukenberg, who is slated to teach 10th-grade biology at an as-yet undetermined high school. "I think it suits me well, and I'm really excited to take on this challenge. It's a two-year commitment, and this summer I'll get to student-teach and then start in the fall in a Baltimore high school."
Reese, whose players have gone on to successful careers in many different fields, isn't surprised by Stukenberg's choice.
"How cool is that?" Reese said. "She's so excited about that opportunity, and is ready to embrace it. Her ability to relate to people and to deal with kids will help her make an impact and make a difference. Whoever gets her [as a teacher] is going to be really lucky."
Issue 233: May 2017