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Senior leaves mark on field hockey program at Rutgers

<p>Senior midfielder Ali Stever has been a catalyst for Rutgers on offense during her time on the Banks, but the greater significance lies in both her impact on the program and the feeling it has reciprocated to her.</p>

Senior midfielder Ali Stever has been a catalyst for Rutgers on offense during her time on the Banks, but the greater significance lies in both her impact on the program and the feeling it has reciprocated to her.

Some journeys are fatefully intertwined.

This one started in the fall of 2011 when Jenn Staab first took the field for the Rutgers field hockey team in her debut season as a Scarlet Knight. 

The former four-year starter at Ocean City High School (New Jersey) logged 16 starts in 18 total appearances during her freshman campaign on the Banks, serving as a consistent force in the Rutgers midfield.

Staab was not the only former Red Raider who had come to the Banks that year. A 2001 graduate that led the team to three consecutive state championships during her high school career, Meredith Civico served as the assistant coach for the Knights during Staab’s freshman season before taking over the reins as head coach in 2012.

The same year that Civico stepped into the head coach position, Ali Stever joined the ranks of her fellow Ocean City alumni continuing their field hockey pursuits at Rutgers. Following in similar footsteps laid by her teammate and close friend Staab, the freshman midfielder earned 15 starts and saw action in 18 total games during her debut season.

Fast-forward to this year, Civico has led the Knights to at least nine victories in three consecutive seasons for the first time since 1999. Staab, a Class of 2015 graduate and Second-Team All-Big East member, was recently honored by Rutgers Athletics with the Headley-Singer Award.

A senior captain for the Knights this season, Stever has remained a force to be reckoned with in the Rutgers midfield as a true two-way player. She currently ranks second on the team in assists and is one goal away from setting a new career-high in a single season.

In recalling her journey to Rutgers, the impact of Stever’s former teammate and current head coach has been fundamental.

“It kind of started with Jenn Staab, who graduated last year. I became really good friends with Jenn and she always was saying, ‘Come to Rutgers, come to Rutgers,’” Stever said. “I actually transferred to Ocean City my junior year, so I wasn’t super familiar with Rutgers as a school. But between (Staab) and (Civico), they really encouraged me to come up and give it a try.”

After transferring from Mount Saint Joseph Academy in Flourtown, Pennsylvania, Stever not only led the Red Raiders to a South Jersey Championship and the New Jersey State semifinals, but also made invaluable connections off the field at her new high school.

These relationships have played an indispensable role in how this Knight got to where she is today.

“Having that Ocean City influence was a huge factor because Jenn came and said that she loved it,” Stever said. “I trusted Jenn, and Mere coming into the head coaching position was an awesome thing to come into. It was a huge factor just because I could trust that it was gonna be a good fit for me.”

With Staab passing the torch to Stever as team captain, the senior has helped lead her team through its sophomore season in the Big Ten.

Seeing the program through a time of groundbreaking changes, from a new head coach to inauguration into one of the foremost college field hockey conferences in the country, Stever has been integral in guiding the Knights through these transitions.

“I think just her leadership on and off the field is huge,” senior forward Nicole Imbriaco said of her fellow teammate. “I think her contributions these past four years has been immense and, I don’t know, I feel like it’s gonna be a huge loss to the team next year.”

Civico credits Stever as being a vital factor influencing the team’s performance and dynamic throughout the season.

Setting the bar high during training and game play, Stever also expresses an unwavering passion for the game that permeates through to her teammates.

“Ali (Stever) is such a hardworking player, and she is a player who cares tremendously about the program and about the team. I think she brings that out everyday,” Civico said. “She’s been a starter for four years now and she’s just a player that I look to for consistency. She understands the game play, she understands how focused we need to be and she understands how to get it done under pressure. And I think that’s really what Ali brings to the table.”

The effect Stever has had on the field hockey program at Rutgers goes both ways.

Only a few days away from playing in the final two games of her career as a Knight, Stever’s time at Rutgers has not only prompted growth and successes as an athlete, but as a person as well.

“It’s been interesting," Stever said of her time on the Banks. "I’m definitely sad to see it end but I’m so happy that I was here for four years because I’ve learned so much — on the field, in the classroom, with my teammates — that I feel as though I would be a completely different person if I didn’t stick out the four years.”

For updates on the Rutgers field hockey team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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