Defender prizes long-term goal

Lacrosse: UMBC star Simone Stalling took last season off to concentrate on her engineering studies. It's all different now.

May 02, 2000|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,SUN STAFF

Being an all-conference lacrosse defender was just a small part of Simone Stalling's identity at UMBC, but when she took last year off to devote more time to academics, she had no idea how much she would miss the game.

"Although it was time consuming, once you don't have it, something's missing," said Stalling, a senior chemical engineering major. "That was definitely something that drew me back."

With a still-demanding but somewhat lighter course load, Stalling returned to the Retrievers this year. Although not quite in all-conference form, she has helped the Retrievers go unbeaten through the Northeast Conference as they prepare to go after a third straight conference tournament crown this weekend at Wagner College in Staten Island, N.Y.

While Stalling, 21, missed the sport she had played since fourth grade, she knew her future career had to come first.

A Meyerhoff Scholar planning to become a doctor and work in biomedical engineering, Stalling faced an overwhelming, engineering-intensive course load her junior year.

Her schedule required 20 hours each week in the classroom and dozens more hours for study outside the classroom.

In addition, Stalling said, what she was about to learn in that one year would lay the foundation for everything else to come at UMBC, in graduate school and en route to her M.D./Ph.D.

"I really had to take a step back and evaluate where my priorities were in terms of long term," said the Friends School graduate.

"Lacrosse has always been part of my life and it's always been something I've loved to do, but I had to come to the decision that I wasn't going to be an effective player that year. Whether I could go through the motions or not, I knew my head would not be in it."

Even without lacrosse, her time filled quickly with her studies and several other commitments to UMBC.

Stalling serves in the President's Cabinet and on the President's Student Advisory Council. She also had to fulfill community service requirements for the Meyerhoff Scholarship, a four-year UMBC program for students interested in science that encourages them to work toward a Ph.D. or an M.D./Ph.D.

Stalling compensated for the lack of physical activity by playing club field hockey and lacrosse and taking kick-boxing classes, but it wasn't quite the same.

"She missed it a lot," said her mother, Fern Stalling. "It was a hard decision for her to make, because she loves the sport so much. I told her she made the wise choice for her life and her career and that she could go back to it next year."

Even though she missed lacrosse, Stalling never regretted her decision.

"Being a Meyerhoff Scholar, they really push you. GPA-wise, you have to get a 3.0 and you have to be active in the community while keeping your grades up. I'm more of a perfectionist. I don't settle for a 3.0. I have to get a 4.0."

She earned a 4.0 in both semesters last year, acing such courses as fluid mechanics, kinetics for chemical engineering and heat and mass transfer. She carries a 3.94 cumulative grade-point average.

Stalling brings that same perfectionist drive to the lacrosse field.

Returning after the year off, she said, has been a humbling experience. Although she has played in all but two games and has started a few of them, Stalling is not satisfied.

"I guess I've had to change somewhat who I am," she said, "and not be such a perfectionist and realize it's going to take more work -- not than I'm used to, but than I probably thought it would. That definitely still is hard to know I'm not perfect."

Retrievers coach Monica Yeakel said she believes lacrosse has helped Stalling handle the rare times when something she does turns out less than A+.

"I think lacrosse has helped her to not be so hard on herself, " said Yeakel. "Even on the lacrosse field, Simone expects things to happen right away. I've told her it's not going to come right away for you now, you've got to keep working at it.

"Even after a year off, it only takes her a couple times to get something down, but it's that second time that annoys her."

In biomedical research, however, Stalling knows she will need many more than two tries to find success. Still, she said, she has had little trouble remaining patient in the lab.

"The possibility of discovery and the things you could learn or bring something new to everyone's attention -- that's motivating," said Stalling, who will graduate in December.

With several engineering internships behind her and an ongoing UMBC research project working to target antibodies that would hinder the onset of Alzheimer's disease, Stalling is well on her way toward her career goal.

"I have no doubt she's going to make a major contribution, " said Dr. Freeman Hrabowski, president of UMBC.

Stalling is often called upon to speak at luncheons for prospective students and at events held by Hrabowski for prospective donors or companies that work in partnership with the university.

Two months ago, she spoke at an awards ceremony honoring Christian H. Poindexter, chairman and chief executive officer of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., as UMBC's Engineer of the Year 200.

"When she finished speaking, I heard people saying, `Wow,' " said Hrabowski. "When she was speaking, you could sense the response from the audience. She was so articulate, so confident, so knowledgeable about engineering. I have no doubt that being a strong athlete has helped her.

"I want her to apply for the Rhodes [Scholarship]. We've had several nominees, but no one as impressive as she is."

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