In a difficult season for the Newman Lady Jets soccer team, a lone bright spot was the strong play of their star defender Maria Stephens. Earlier this month, Stephen's solid defensive support for the Jets at the right-back position gained her 2nd Team All-Conference recognition from the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association (MIAA). In 2019, She was named to the 3rd Team All-MIAA, and was the Lady Jets most valuable player.
Stephens, now a 3rd-year nursing major, is the Lady Jets captain and recorded 10 shots this season. So far, she has played every minute in all of her collegiate games. However, her presence is mainly felt on the defensive end, where she is often tasked with guarding their opponent's best offensive players.
“ Being a defender means I don’t score the goals, but I am responsible for seeing the entire field, preventing scoring opportunities, and I have to play fast,” said Stephens.
She began playing soccer at the age of five when she lived with her friend Aubrey Resendezez, and her father, Sam, who was a soccer coach. He encouraged Stephens to play soccer competitively, and the two girls became childhood friends and teammates throughout their playing time at Wichita South High.
Sadly, Aubrey passed away last April after being shot while sitting in a parked car at a Wichita gas station. Following her father’s shooting death on October 16 when Aubrey was just 15, she had hoped to become a police officer. Stephens sees her second family as an inspiration because they were her biggest supporters from the start.
"They pretty much raised me for nearly half of my life that my parents didn't raise me, so I felt like my life has always been like two different worlds," said Stephens. "I built a strong relationship with them, and soccer just became a love for me, and they're the reason I still play to this day."
When Stephens isn't locking down her opponent, she's locked in to her nursing books. Being the third oldest out of eleven children, she naturally gravitated towards nursing because of her love of caring for others and the human body. Her 3.6 GPA earned her 2021 MIAA Scholar-Athlete Award and has landed her on the Newman University Dean's List for the last three years.
Stephens wishes to play in a professional setting once her time with Newman concludes. If that opportunity doesn’t appear, she’ll continue on the nursing path with dreams of being a traveling nurse.