Through middle school, high school and now four years at Loyola Maryland, Elli Kluegel has never earned a course grade other than an A. Which raises the question: How would she react to a B?
“I don’t know. I’ve never been really tempted to test that out,” she said with a laugh. “I guess I would describe myself as a perfectionist. My method has always been that if you’re going to do something, you might as well give it 110% and do it right the first time. So I think I just try my hardest on every assignment, and I’ve been pleased with how I’ve performed. I guess if I got a B, that would probably not be my favorite thing in the world. Hopefully, it doesn’t happen.”
Kluegel has been acing tests in the classroom and on the field for the Greyhounds women’s lacrosse team this spring. The 22-year-old senior midfielder leads her teammates in ground balls (27), ranks second in caused turnovers (14) and third in goals (26), and is tied for fourth in points (32). She also became the 32nd player in program history to reach 100 career goals when she scored five in a 17-6 thrashing of Furman on April 25.
Loyola (11-2), which captured its fifth Patriot League tournament championship in seven years in Saturday’s 11-6 victory over Lehigh, will open the NCAA tournament against Hofstra (6-6) on Friday at 3 p.m. at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. The winner will then get a shot at the No. 3 seed Orange (14-3) in the second round Sunday at 3 p.m.
Greyhounds coach Jen Adams said not enough attention is being given to Kluegel, who recently earned her first All-Patriot League accolade as a second-team selection and the conference’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year award in women’s lacrosse.
“There’s a lot of times where she’s not necessarily getting the recognition that she deserves,” Adams said. “I think there are a lot of players that garner All-American or Patriot League recognition, and I tell her this all the time: I’d take you on my midfield team any day just because of her selflessness, her leadership, her integrity and how she plays the game. She’s an absolute workhorse and will do anything for the betterment of her team. She brings all of that to Loyola, and we wouldn’t be where we are and certainly not as strong a midfield unit without Elli.”
Kluegel’s significance on offense and defense has become even more heightened due to the absence of senior midfielder Sam Fiedler. The Reisterstown resident and Garrison Forest graduate tore her left Achilles tendon in the first half of an eventual 20-3 rout of Bucknell on April 18 and — along with her 32 goals and 45 points (both of which continue to rank second on the team) — will miss the team’s entire postseason run.
Fiedler’s loss is especially poignant considering she and Kluegel have been best friends and roommates every year since they were freshmen. The pair are quiet by nature, focused on their academics, share a fondness for peanut and peanut butter M&M’s, and are dedicated about watching an episode of “Criminal Minds” every night before going to bed.
They also appreciate each other’s differences. Kluegel has introduced salads and fruit to Fiedler’s diet, while Fiedler is in charge of the duo’s musical playlist, which is a mix of pop and rap.
The two have developed an on-field chemistry stemming from starting practically every game together.
“We know what we need, and we don’t have to speak about it on the field,” said Fiedler, who was comforted by Kluegel and senior attacker Livy Rosenzweig on the night of her season-ending injury. “We just know where we’re going to be and what we’re going to do. I know her strengths. She’s such a good driver, especially from the wings. So I know that I need to get her the ball when she’s there, and she knows that I’m a good cutter. So she knows when to get the ball through for me. It works really well, just knowing the best parts of our games.”
After Fiedler’s injury, Adams met with Kluegel and fellow starting midfielders in junior Jillian Wilson (Gerstell) and sophomore Catie Corolla. She explained that no single player could replace Fiedler, but that all three would be asked to contribute on offense and defense. Since then, Adams said she has noticed a renewed level of intensity from Kluegel.
“I think in large part, it’s like she wants to go out there every day and do it for Sam, too,” Adams said. “They’ve been close friends off the field. So I think she was dealing with the physical player side of things and losing an incredible player on the field, but she was also losing one of her best friends and a teammate who has literally started side by side in every game of their collegiate careers. They were really a one-two punch for us in the midfield. So I think that side emotionally is a tough one, but she stepped up.”
In the three games without Fiedler, which Kluegel called “crushing,” she has amassed 10 goals, one assist, seven ground balls and three caused turnovers.
“I haven’t really been thinking about being expected to become Sam, but I think I’ve really tried to focus these past few games, especially with her being hurt,” Kluegel said. “For the past three years, I’ve been beside her and watched all of the incredible things she can do, and she is one of the most incredible players lacrosse IQ-wise that I have ever gotten to play with. So I’ve been able to pick up those points by trying to mimic what she does. I’m not filling her spot obviously, but I’m trying to take tips and pointers from her game and incorporate them into mine.”
Fiedler characterized her roommate’s production as “awesome.”
“I think she’s been doing an amazing job continuing to play her game, but also being able to pick up other parts of her game that she always had inside of her,” Fiedler said. “I’m always just super proud of her. Since I can’t be on the field, I love cheering her on, and I just want her and the team to do their best out there. Whatever she needs me to help with, I’ll be there.”
Kluegel’s personal success has been a work in progress. She admitted that in her first two seasons with the Greyhounds, she was her own worst critic.
Kluegel described her attitude toward meeting her own high standards as “spiraling downward because I had some misconception that I wasn’t doing well or wasn’t achieving when in reality I was doing fine. It’s been a struggle with the mental side of my game to get over the ominous expectations. I think that’s been something that Jen has really helped me work through over my time here. Not that I’m not a perfectionist anymore, but it’s about being OK with what happens and letting things play out and going in with the confidence that I am prepared.”
On a team headlined by Rosenzweig, the Patriot League’s Attacker of the Year, junior Katie Detwiler, the conference’s Defender of the Year, and senior Kaitlyn Larsson, the league’s Goalkeeper of the Year, Kluegel tends to get overlooked. But she shrugged off a question about going unnoticed.
“I think I’ve always kind of focused on just doing what needs to be done,” she said. “I’m not sure that I always got recognition or needed the recognition. As long as I knew that what I was doing was having a real positive impact on the team, plays like that were kind of always enough for me. I just want to make sure that I am a presence on the field and on the team and that I’m doing things that need to be done. I think that is enough.”
Kluegel will graduate later this month with a bachelor’s in biology minoring in innovation and entrepreneurship. She will pursue a master’s at Loyola in emerging media communications and return to the team next spring.
For now, however, her top priority is doing what she can to help the Greyhounds reach the NCAA tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 2015.
“Especially with Sam being gone, we relied on her to make a lot of interceptions and a lot of points,” Kluegel said. “So in addition to picking up some of the slack with her being gone, I’m definitely going to have to continue to play between the 30s and run fast and get ground balls and be that workhorse middie. That’s something that our whole unit really does very well. So I think all of us definitely need to keep that up if we want to go far.”
NCAA first round
LOYOLA VS. HOFSTRA
Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.
Friday, 3 p.m.
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