It seemed like the next logical step in John Stertzer’s growth.
The Terrapins soccer midfielder broke out last season, finishing second on the team with 14 goals. He earned first team All-ACC and NSCAA third team All-America honors. Stertzer’s MLS SuperDraft stock had risen, and pundits projected him as a late first-round pick.
His stock may have been peaking, so why not use a stellar junior campaign as a springboard for a professional career?
That question was hardly on the forefront of his mind. The chatter — the projections, the scouting reports, the awards — was simply outsiders’ impressions of Stertzer’s performance. The Oakton, Va., native saw things differently. He saw room left to grow.
“[Declaring for the MLS SuperDraft] really wasn’t in my head as much as everyone makes it out to be,” Stertzer said yesterday. “It was in my mind, but at the end of day, I think I’d always stay here.”
While Stertzer’s stat totals for the Terps this season aren’t as gaudy as a year ago — he has five goals through the Terps’ 12 games this season after tallying nine in the same span in 2011 — his command of the midfield has helped organize the nation’s No. 1 team, which hosts Colgate tonight at Ludwig Field.
It’s all been part of Stertzer’s maturation. He arrived in 2009 as a two-time Washington Post All-Met First Team member and the 2007 All-Met Virginia Player of the Year at Flint Hill High School, where he scored 105 goals. But Stertzer totaled just two goals in 16 games as a freshman, a year in which coach Sasho Cirovski said inconsistencies plagued his game.
“We saw glimpses of his talent in his first year, but midway through his second year, the light turned on,” Cirovski said. “Right about this time in his sophomore year, it sort of clicked. You could see he was going to be a real force at that point.”
Stertzer scored twice for 2010’s 19-3-1 squad that fell in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals and increased that number to 14 last season. The hard work from the offseason was starting to carry over into the games, and Stertzer was becoming a legitimate threat on offense.
This season became about Stertzer’s leadership. He, along with defenders Taylor Kemp and London Woodberry, could become the first Terps senior class since 1997 never to make the College Cup. It’s given the slight 6-footer motivation to push himself and his teammates more than ever, even if he’s had to change his tone a bit.
“This year, aside from last year, has been so much more positive from his part,” goalkeeper Keith Cardona said. “Last year, he was one of the vocal guys, but it wasn’t always in a positive way, and he’s really kept his emotions under wraps this year and not let his anger get the best of him on the pitch sometimes.”
Cirovski said Stertzer had to learn how to inspire his teammates with his drive and “hypercompetitive” nature. The 20th-year coach has seen the change in the captain, too, even if it slightly overwhelmed Stertzer at first. The midfielder suffered a four-game points drought earlier this season before finally snapping it last week with a goal against Duke and two assists against Rutgers.
“He had to fine-tune his energies in the right way,” Cirovski said. “He was maybe overly concerned with that in the first half of the season. I asked him to relax because now he’s got all the eyes and ears of the whole team on him. He can concentrate on playing and not worry as much because he’s earned all their respect.”
Stertzer has found a mentor in Cirovski to guide him through his growth. He knows Cirovski’s story and said Cirovski’s tutelage has helped on and off the field. When thinking about going pro after last season, he thought of Cirovski.
“Sash has done so much for me here at this program,” Stertzer said. “I think to return the favor, I should be here four years and play for him four years.”
During the offseason, Stertzer knew the next step in his growth wasn’t the professional ranks. It was coming back to College Park to make one last run at a College Cup with Cirovski.
It was becoming a leader.
“He’s been Sasho’s baby almost, and he’s come into his own,” Cardona said. “He’s the man of this team.”