Blood clots sideline Wake soccer star
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The lights at Spry Stadium were already on when Wake Forest began its Senior Day ceremonies shortly before Sunday's game against top-ranked Virginia. The artificial illumination was an early afternoon concession to the gray sky above, but it did little to lift the gloomy mood that settled over the scene.
This was a day to celebrate the most successful senior class in the program's history, but the most successful senior of the bunch wasn't where she was supposed to be.
Hours before the game and the ceremony, Wake Forest announced All-American forward Katie Stengel will be out indefinitely after she was diagnosed with deep vein thrombosis, in her case two blood clots in her left leg.
The program's official stance on Stengel is she is out indefinitely, not necessarily permanently, But she didn't sound like someone who expected to return with just 2½ weeks remaining in the regular season and little more than a month until the start of the NCAA tournament.
"It was hard looking back," Stengel said of the emotions of the day. "Realizing that it's all over, and I just have to look back on my college career and appreciate the memories and support the team going forward."
Sunday's game against Virginia was the first Stengel missed this season. She began to notice something was amiss after a game at Boston College on Sept. 26. She at first chalked up the extreme soreness in her left leg to the artificial turf in Massachusetts, but it didn't go away and grew progressively worse as the team traveled to Syracuse three days later, then home to Winston-Salem and then to Notre Dame on Oct. 3.
When Stengel went for treatment Oct. 5, a doctor grew concerned she was showing multiple symptoms that could be associated with deep vein thrombosis. An ultrasound and X-rays confirmed those suspicions. Stengel said one of the clots completely blocked a vein, while the second created around 70 percent blockage in another.
She is expected to make a full recovery and treatment should resolve the clots naturally, but it is neither a quick process nor one to take lightly.
"While I'm on the blood thinners in order to prevent it from reoccurring or any other complications, I can't play soccer," Stengel said. "So I have to be on those for three months and see where I go from there."
Asked if the math inherent in that course of treatment left any opening by which she could return this season, she would not definitively close the door on the possibility but offered little hope.
"As of now, no," Stengel said. "But we're still trying to check progress throughout and assess."
There was some speculation circulating that Wake Forest could apply for an additional year of eligibility for Stengel, based on the time she will miss this season and the time she missed last season while playing with the United States Under-20 national team that beat Germany to win the Under-20 Women's World Cup (just the second title for the American entry in the past five editions of that signature youth event).
Any such effort would seem a long shot. She said she wasn't sure about any such plans and that the coaches were taking care of any related matters.
But if given the opportunity, even with a likely place in the first round of the National Women's Soccer League awaiting, she would be back.
"I think if it was an option, I'd love to have another year," Stengel said. "But as of now, I have no idea. I still plan on pursuing soccer afterward, wherever that entails."
If this is the end of Stengel's college career, it will be remembered as one of the most successful and transformative in recent memory. Despite the time missed last season with the national team, she is one of only five active Division I players with 50 career goals (she broke the Wake Forest career record while still a junior). And of those other four players, none played in the ACC, far and away the most competitive conference in the sport and one of the most competitive in any college sport.
Stengel became the first player since Mia Hamm to lead the ACC in scoring in back-to-back seasons when she did so in her first two seasons. Stengel and Hamm. When you're the only other person on a list with arguably the greatest player of all time, you're doing something right.
More than the numbers, she changed the profile of a program and took the Demon Deacons to their first College Cup in 2011. No player meant more to a team.
Without Stengel and fellow senior Rachel Nuzzolese, also out for the season, Wake Forest will struggle. Talent remains, and All-American goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe is going to keep the Demon Deacons in a lot of games, but it isn't clear where the goals are going to come from.
Stengel wore game shorts and a jersey Sunday, but the only action she saw were a few tentative touches of the ball as her teammates went about warming up before the game. She said after the 2-0 loss she felt she let her teammates down, that she could have helped turn the tide in what was otherwise a solid defensive showing against the nation's best attack.
She didn't let anyone down, of course. For the past four years, she lifted them up.
Virginia coach Steve Swanson knows Stengel well from their time together on the Under-20 national team.
"If you know Katie Stengel, you know that she loves soccer," Swanson said. "You just feel for her. I think our players feel for her and our program feels for her. You could see she's such an important part of their team. ... I think we're all happy that she's going to be OK and she's getting it taken care of now, but we're very sad that she has to sit out at all.
"She's meant a lot to college soccer, and I think to Wake Forest, over the past four years, no question about it."
She will be back. Just not as soon as she or anyone who enjoys soccer would like.