NOTE: A version of this story first appeared in the winter edition of Concordia University's Broadcaster magazine.
Maria Deeter essentially grew up living in the shadow of Concordia’s iconic Weller tower. When she goes home for a holiday or semester break, she drives long enough to hear one song play – if it’s a short one. Seriously, the drive is so abrupt that it’s barely long enough to even begin to hold a conversation with Maria about her background and the history of a Deeter family full of Bulldogs.
It’s also a family with strong ties to Lincoln Lutheran High School. Says Maria, “I didn’t really have a choice” when it came to choosing a high school destination. She landed at Lincoln Lutheran where her father Chris continues to teach physics and chemistry.
While Maria followed the heavily worn family trail to Lincoln Lutheran, some questioned whether that path would lead to the same college decision made by parents Chris and Tammy and elder siblings Rachel, Alex, Nicolas and Emelia. Maria’s obvious soccer talents could potentially open up doors that would usher her out of her hometown Seward.
“Everything I had heard from high school coaches, club coaches and other people from the area was that she was going to go Division I and you had no chance,” said Concordia head women’s soccer coach Greg Henson. “When I got the chance to see her play I wasn’t going to allow somebody in our backyard that was as talented as she was to leave without a conversation.”
Many of the prognosticators referenced by Henson had no idea what was really going through the mind of Maria, who highly valued a Christian education in a small school setting. Now in the middle of her junior year as a Bulldog soccer player, she’s become a star and an exemplary student-athlete at Concordia. She’s a first team All-GPAC selection and a NAIA Scholar-Athlete with nearly a 4.0 cumulative grade-point average.
Concordia was never the longshot to become Maria’s college home as some outsiders thought. Bulldog blue was in her blood. Her dad played soccer here. She then grew up listening to what her siblings had to say about their own Concordia experiences. It was almost all positive. Despite overtures from NCAA Division I schools such as the University of Nebraska-Omaha and the University of South Dakota, Maria committed to Concordia prior to her senior year of high school.
“I just love it,” Maria said. “I love the atmosphere. I love getting to know a bunch of people. Now that I’m an upperclassman I know a lot of people on campus. It’s just cool to be able to see someone and talk to someone and just have a nice conversation. The Christian atmosphere is something you can’t compete with. It’s something I’ve always grown up with. I’ve just been really blessed. I really needed that and appreciate having that at this time.”
How close of a call was it really for Maria? Chris says her daughter developed a close relationship with the coaches at South Dakota. At times, Maria went back and forth while weighing her options. When Maria ultimately chose Concordia, some around the club circuit asked, “What are you doing?” as Chris recalls. “We tell people that her experience has been incredible. She’s gotten to play a lot all three years. She’s gotten to go to Florida (for the national tournament). We’ve been able to be there as parents.”
Though Maria was born and raised in Seward, she has spent more of her day-to-day time in her hometown as a collegiate student than she ever did before arriving on campus. Soccer and school typically took her to Lincoln and Omaha, but Maria got started playing soccer around the age of four when she ran wild on the Seward rec fields.
The game was a natural fit for her personality and her never-sit-still tendencies that she seemed to inherit from her mother. Says Maria, “I’m a sports-aholic but when I’m on the soccer field I just feel like I’m in my element and comfortable. It’s just second nature. I’ve spent so much time kicking a soccer ball and playing.”
More and more people in the local soccer community became aware of Maria while seeing her play club soccer in Omaha. Chris and Tammy would drive Maria to and from Omaha from about third grade until her junior year of high school. A lot of time and energy was sunk into Maria’s soccer playing. Her siblings even joked that she was spoiled because of such treatment.
Maria takes such ribbings in stride. The youngest of five children just isn’t going to get by without being picked on once in a while. Maybe that’s what makes her such a competitor and so driven to be the best. Says Henson, “She’s such a competitor in everything she does. I think all the players on the team would tell you that if you’re up against Deeter in anything she deems as a competition, you better bring your ‘A’ game because she’s going in it to win.”
Chris saw that competitive fire in his daughter from a young age. He never minded the commitment of driving Maria to Omaha and back as long as she made a commitment of her own. That was easy for someone who would spend hours in the backyard dribbling the soccer ball. Once when her Lincoln club team was defeated handily by one in Omaha, she asked to join that team because she wanted to be surrounded by the best.
Such competitiveness extends to making gingerbread houses, yes, gingerbread houses. It was a friendly competition with family over Thanksgiving break. Says Chris, “She was determined to make the best gingerbread house even though it wasn’t really a competition. She’s an incredibly driven young woman. It doesn’t really matter what it is.”
Whether she had the best gingerbread house or not, Maria will always have one thing over her siblings: she’s the only one her father never had to kick out of class at Lincoln Lutheran. Not only have Chris and Maria bonded over soccer, they bonded in the classroom over science. Maria’s so narrowly focused that she mentions studying when asked about her hobbies, which include an obsession for anything to do with sports. She even briefly considered the possibility of trying to play basketball at Concordia after excelling at the prep level under head coach Rich Olson, the father of Bulldog women’s basketball coach Drew Olson.
It's safe to say soccer has been a good fit. Maria has led the program to a combined 44 wins, two conference championships and a national tournament appearance over the past three seasons. Henson called her the MVP of the GPAC this past fall. She led the team in both goals and assists and was a big reason why Concordia broke a program record for fewest goals allowed in a season.
“To see how far we’ve come as a team is pretty awesome and the fact that I’ve been able to be part of it – I can’t ask for anything else,” Maria said. “There are still goals we want to accomplish. I only have year left, but I just want to look back and say that there’s no doubt I’ve done everything I can, I’ve worked as hard as I can and we’ve done the best we could.”
Right in her backyard, Maria has found the Bulldog life to be exceedingly more rewarding than she could have imagined. So respected is Maria that she was named a team captain in the middle of her freshman year. Those who knew her at an early age could see this coming. She understood the game at level that defied her years.
And all these years later, Chris and Tammy still get to watch their daughter play at a place so familiar to the family that her college visit glossed over a campus tour. The decision was a win for the whole family, even if Tammy sometimes nervously refuses to watch the action late in a close game. Added Chris, “Being there has meant the world to us.” Remembered Henson of his recruiting visits with Maria, “I think we realized at the same time that we shared the same vision for the program and what we wanted to accomplish with the program.”
It’s a Bulldog life and Maria is soaking it up.
Says Maria, “I’ve been really blessed with a lot of great friends and teammates. Now I just feel right at home. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”