Senior Sydney Stuenkel has begun her fourth and final year running cross country with the Ramblers, and she is determined to make a lasting impression as she returns from a leg injury that sidelined her last year.
The St. Charles, Illinois, native realized she wanted to run full-time after taking her sophomore year in high school off to focus on soccer. Once soccer season began, she realized the only reason she liked soccer was because it involved running. Stuenkel is the first in her family to run at a collegiate level, but athleticism flows through the family’s genes; Stuenkel’s younger sister plays Division I soccer at the University of Iowa.
After running a personal best time in a five-kilometer race last season, the marketing major received the honor of Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) female runner of the week and took a second place finish at the race.
Fifth-year head coach Jamie Kropp said she believes Stuenkel is now considered one of the leaders on the team, both in practice and at meets. Kropp said Stuenkel has been a leader since she came in as a first-year runner.
“She’s pretty laid-back with her attitude,” said Kropp. “She is serious about training and competing, but she has a very laid-back mentality that I think helps the rest of the group stay calm but still focused.”
Stuenkel’s skills depleted after facing the injury last season that made running more difficult. She was diagnosed with piriformis syndrome, which is when the piriformis muscle in the lower leg irritates the nearby sciatic nerve and causes pain, numbness and tingling along the back of the leg and into the foot. The injury slowed Stuenkel’s training.
Kropp said she thinks this took an emotional toll on Stuenkel.
“I think that [was] something that definitely knocked her down both physically and her confidence in being able to perform at the level that she was typically capable of in the conference,” she said.
However, Stuenkel bounced back this year and is now one of the best female runners for Loyola. Her improvements came from training during the offseason, which she started shortly after track season ended in May. To start, she ran 30 miles a week, increasing that number steadily until she got to 60 miles per week, which is what she continues to run now. Her improvements showed when she took fourth place at the Badger Invitational earlier this season.
Kropp said she commends Stuenkel for all her hard work during the offseason.
“Sydney has a really strong work ethic. She has a lot of confidence in herself as well,” she said. “She does her best at the meets and knows that she can push herself pretty hard and has the confidence to do that.”
After the injury, Stuenkel said she had to work even harder to get back to full potential, but she’s now determined to do well at conference meets.
“I really want to focus on competing at a conference level,” Stuenkel said. “I haven’t necessarily been able to perform as well as I want to at conference, so I would say that a top five finish would be a really successful meet for me.”
Although she is now fully healthy, Stuenkel didn’t participate in the National Catholic Championships due to an illness that she did not fully recover from before the meet. She and the rest of the team look to continue its success and hope to lead the Ramblers to their first team appearance at the NCAA Championship in program history.
With graduation looming closer this upcoming May, Stuenkel said she needs to focus on the future. She said she plans to discontinue her racing career after graduation but will still run for leisure. She said she hopes to pursue a career in marketing and environmental science.
“I think that I’ve had enough success in my college career where I would be perfectly happy to end it after college,” she said. “I still want to run, and I’d like to do the marathon after graduation [next] October.”
The women’s cross country team will continue its season at the Greater Louisville Classic in Louisville, Kentucky, on Oct. 3.