In the relentless pursuit of perfection, Zoe Stukenberg is keeping her lacrosse stick close at hand. School's out and the high school season is over, but Stukenberg, a member of the M&D 2013 Black club team, spent last weekend at the 2012 IWLCA Champions Cup tournament in Downingtown, Pa.
With tournaments, it's five or six games a weekend. That's plenty of time to hone lacrosse skills and learn new ones.
"I love having so many games because if I struggle in one area, I have time to work on that skill in the next game," said this year's Columbia Flier/Howard County Times girls lacrosse Player of the Year. It's a repeat honor for Stukenberg, who was also named All-Met, All-Metro, a US Lacrosse Girls High School All-American and an Under Armour Elite Star.
"The only way you can get better is to play," she said. "I try to make sure that my stick skills are improving and that I am more accurate in my shooting."
Stukenberg doesn't limit her lacrosse work to team play. She does wall ball on her own and the dreaded Hector the Rejector waits in the backyard of her Waverly home.
"He's my worst enemy," said the Marriotts Ridge junior of the lacrosse training device that blocks most of an open net.
Against human goalkeepers, Stukenberg scored a county-high 67 goals this season, giving her 145 in three years.
"Coming off of last year, I wasn't sure how much Zoe would improve, but she is just so intense," coach Natalie Gaieski said. "Every practice Zoe expects herself to do her very best and she expects the same from her teammates."
Stukenberg's work ethic stands out, said her coach. "You can tell she goes into her back yard and shoots. She is always looking to improve."
Stukenberg needs to keep improving because as it has become known that she's the key to the Mustang offense, teams have tried defensive tactics like faceguarding her.
"Being faceguarded is not the most fun experience, but I've learned different ways to use it to my advantage," she said.
Sometimes she just pulled away from the goal and let her talented teammates go 6-on-6. Other times, she set picks or used the crease to get free. Sometimes she would purposefully mess up the defensive slides.
"I don't care how many goals I score. I just want my team to win," she said.
"I had great defenders on me all year. After I was faceguarded the first time, we had Molly Fleming guard me in practice. I decided if I could score when Molly was on me, I could score on anyone."
Stukenberg's teammates also had to make adjustments. Because their go-to girl was often closely marked, they had to learn to pass to her when there was only the narrowest of openings.
Stukenberg shared the draw control responsibilities with teammate Taylor Hensh.
"Draw control was tough for us this year," Gaieski said.
One example was when Mt. Hebron faced Marriotts Ridge in the Class 3A/2A East Region finals, and the Vikings' game plan completely stymied the Mustangs. It didn't matter if it was Hensh or Stukenberg who stepped up to take the draw, Mt. Hebron's Sam Brookhart won it, contributing to her team's upset victory.
It was a season-ending loss for Marriotts Ridge, and a role reversal of last year when Marriotts Ridge won the game to end Mt. Hebron's season.
Stukenberg and Brookhart are M&D teammates.