KENNESAW, Ga. – If you’ve seen Wake Forest’s Katie Stengel play this season, there is definitely a recurring theme. Consider the following:
• She scored the Wake Forest’s only goal against Florida State in the ACC Tournament final
• She scored the game-winning goal in Wake Forest’s 2-0 victory against Oakland in the first round of the NCAA tournament
• She scored two goals – including the game-winner – against Penn State in the third round of the NCAA tournament
• She scored the game-winning goal against UCF in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament
In two seasons, Stengel a 5-foot-8 forward from Melbourne, Fla., is ripping through school and conference record books. Her 19 goals and 46 points this year eclipsed the old school record of 16 goals and 37 points that she set last season as a freshman.
Her season numbers are also tops in the ACC, one goal and four points ahead of Florida State’s Tiffany McCarty. If she maintains her current scoring pace through the end of the season, she will join former North Carolina star Mia Hamm and N.C. State standout Charmaine Hooper as the only players to lead the ACC in goal-scoring two years in a row. Hamm was the last player to lead the league in scoring in back-to-back seasons, accomplishing the feat when she scored 32 goals in 1992 and 26 goals in ’93. Hooper was the first to lead the ACC in consecutive seasons, scoring 15 goals in 1988 and 26 goals in 1989.
And in two seasons, she is one goal away from tying the school record for career goals set by Jill Hutchinson in four seasons.
“You have to be impressed,” Duke head coach Robbie Church said. “She had a fantastic freshman year, and then she comes back and had a better sophomore year. Usually, typically, when they have a great freshman year sometimes they slump in that sophomore season. Obviously she didn’t.
“I think I described her a couple of times this week she’s a sniper in the box. What amazes me, when you look at forwards, and sometimes forwards need a high number of opportunities to score goals. She doesn’t need that. She’ll get one chance or two chances and she’ll bury them. She’s very aggressive. She’ll finish right-footed, left-footed, she finishes balls with her head. She’s got all the artillery. She’s quicker and faster than you think out there. She’s just got that sense to score goals. She’s a special, special player.”
A special player with a killer instinct. Stengel, Wake Forest’s first ACC Offensive Player of the Year selection, is driven with a knack for putting teams away. Of her 16 goals, eight of them were game winners, which places her among the tops in that category in the nation. She scored big goals.
“I think whenever we’re in tough games, close games, I’m trying to score,” Stengel said. “That’s just my job as a forward. I have Rachel [Nuzzolese] and Marisa [Park] and some of the other players to play with, that they open up so many options. Whoever puts the goal away that is fine. I’m more than happy for them to put goals in, too.
“I think having so many good players helps me get free and have less defenders on me. They help me out and do their best and we get the job done.”
That is what Stengel epitomizes. The extra effort and selflessness that has helped Wake Forest to its first College Cup appearance. On the pitch and in the classroom – where she and goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe take the same courses on their pre-Med track – she strives for excellence.
“Katie’s a complete overachiever,” said Wake Forest head coach Tony da Luz. “She wants to be the best at whatever she does – whether its academics or soccer. Highly competitive. Aubrey knows that. She has that mentality and the work ethic to always improve, to always work on her game.
“Nobody puts in more work before practice, after practice, on off days, than Katie does to improve and keep sharp. She’s definitely not happy when she doesn’t score, when she doesn’t play well. She holds herself to pretty high standards. We don’t want to be around her when she doesn’t score. She’s pretty grumpy for a few days. She has a goalscorers’ mentality. She wants to turn people, she wants to beat people. She wants to get the goal. That’s hard to find.”
That would all mean little if Wake Forest doesn’t get past Duke on Friday. This tournament for her is much less about individual success as it is reaching team goals and sharing in team glory.
“I wanted to get further in the tournament [than last year] and we definitely did that,” Stengel said. “I wanted to win a championship and repeat with ACCs. We didn’t do that. Now we’ve got this championship we have to win.
“This year, we lost to FSU in the finals for the ACC tournament on PKs [penalty kicks] and it just left a bittersweet taste in our mouths, because we were that close and didn’t come away with the win. Now we’re here and have the opportunity to basically repeat the whole tournament scenario again playing Duke and, hopefully, FSU if everything works out. So we’re definitely motivated and hope to get the results this time.”