Editor’s note: Our head coaches have been invited to submit one nominee for the MLT Athlete of the Year from their team from the past school year. The Murray Ledger & Times will open an online poll for the readers to choose one athlete from each school (Calloway High School, Murray High School and Murray State). Keep reading our series and watch for the opportunity to cast your vote.
Murray State Racer soccer won four straight OVC titles, and one of the constants during that run was Murray Ledger & Times Athlete of the Year nominee Alex Steigerwald.
Playing as the last line of defense for the Racers, goalkeeper Steigerwald set several records, including wins in a career, shutouts, and saves. It came as no surprise that she was named the MVP of the 2018 OVC Tournament her senior year after she and her defense shutout the top scoring offense in the OVC en route to another trip to the NCAA tournament.
Steigerwald began her journey to that MVP moment at the age of five.
“I think a large portion of the reason why [I played] was because it was one of the more popular sports in my family and my parents thought it would be a good experience for us to have at a young age,” Steigerwald said.
Early on, two sports held her interest: soccer, and basketball. Even though she loved playing basketball, she said she knew in her heart her choice would always be soccer, and her position of choice was decided early on.
“I decided to be a goalie full time, around fifth grade,” Steigerwald said. “I knew that I wanted to play soccer for as long as I could, but when I began club in 7th grade was when I knew that my goal was college.”
As a younger player, Steigerwald always looked forward to her opportunity to rotate into the goalie position and she said it even baffled her a little why nobody else wanted to do it.
“When I was young and playing, I got to experience goalkeeper as most kids do because they ensure everyone rotates positions,” Steigerwald said. “I was always so excited to play, and I remember thinking, “How could the other kids not love this?” and more and more I was requesting to be in goal instead of being asked to be there, and my joy of playing and even practicing goalkeeping only grew and I never even considered other positions because I’d found my perfect fit.”
Her position was a perfect fit, but so was Murray State. It didn’t take very long for her to fall in love with the program and decide that Murray was where she wanted to be.
“It was the spring break of my junior year and my sister, dad and I traveled to multiple schools over the break. When we got to Murray, we met Coach (Jeremy) Groves, and we walked around the campus and talked about the program,” Steigerwald said. “From those couple of hours of being on campus and exploring the town a little I just knew; it was that perfect fit. The town was comfortable, and the people were so nice and welcoming. I left that day very excited because I knew I would be back.”
Stepping on campus as a freshman could seem daunting to some, and the idea of a school and sport balance may appear to have its challenges, but Steigerwald said that was something she’d been doing since she was in middle school. She said the structure and schedule was something she loved because she got rewarded with getting to play soccer at the end of the day and she had several teammates to help with classes and studying.
That translated to their play on the field and allowed everyone to be a leader in their own way.
“I feel that in some way shape or form everyone on the team was a leader. I was one of the more outspoken people on the team when I needed to be. I don’t believe that we would have succeeded how we did by relying on only a handful of leaders; it was up to each one of us. For me personally, being a keeper requires communication, so it is no shock that most of my leadership came through words to players. During sessions and games, my job was to help those around me as I could see the entire field, I had the ability to help players even when I could not be involved in the play physically.”
In her freshman year, Steigerwald was 9-2 as a starter with five shutouts, she was named to the 2015 All-Newcomer team and she finished with a pair of program records with a save percentage of .889 and a goals-against-average of .64 per game. However, the most impressive thing was being a part of the first-ever team to go unbeaten and untied in conference play.
“I think my favorite memory was freshman year. I got to be part of the first team to go 10-0, and I was so happy to be part of that. But the icing on the cake was winning the tournament at home in front of our fans knowing we would be getting to go to the NCAA tournament,” Steigerwald said. “As a freshman, that was very special and only made me work harder the next three years with the mindset to get back there.”
In her sophomore year, she recorded six shutouts and the Racers were regular-season OVC champs once again, but things didn’t go as planned in the OVC Tournament. The team would have to wait another year to attempt to reach the NCAA tournament.
“Junior year we were back at home for the tournament final after having lost in the semis the previous year, and we were more than excited for that game. I loved this game so much because nobody had any doubts about what the result would be, we just had to be patient,” Steigerwald said. “We went into overtime, which I love, and I could tell the girls did too, as much as we would like to have put the game away in regulation it is an entirely different experience in overtime. Hatty (Harriet Withers) served the corner and Ny (Nyomi Devine) headed the ball and it hit the crossbar for Miyah (Watford) finished it. I just remember sprinting to those girls as fast as I could. After the previous year’s disappointment in the semis, it was the absolute best feeling.”
As a senior, Steigerwald was named tournament MVP and secured a third trip to the NCAA tournament. As important as she was to the program over her last four years as the last line of defense, Steigerwald said it took more than just her or the team or even the coaches. It took a cumulative effort by everyone involved with the program.
“I am not sure people realize how many pieces to the puzzle there are on a collegiate team and how they must function together for there to be success, especially as much success as we were fortunate enough to have. Obviously, the players and coaches had to work together but also our athletic trainers, strength coaches and the parents were huge parts of our team as well. We didn’t do it on our own and we all should be credited with that success. There were rough patches but we all found different ways to help us get out of them better than we were before.”
Now that her career has come to an end she said she would like to find a way to get into coaching as a way to give back.
“I would love to get into goalkeeper coaching as well,” Steigerwald said. I had fantastic goalkeeper coaches growing up, and I owe them all a huge thanks for helping me get to the college level and making me the best I could be. I think there would be nothing better than helping kids achieve their goals like I was lucky enough to.”