It’s almost astounding to think that Zoe Steck is about to enter her senior year at the University of Connecticut.
After all, it seems like only yesterday that Steck was roaming the local soccer fields, maneuvering her way to becoming one of the best girls’ soccer players in the history of Nutley High School.
It was only a few minutes ago when there was a big celebration when Steck scored the 100th goal of her career as a Maroon Raider. Now, she’s getting ready to play the final soccer season of her brilliant career.
Steck was making big plans for her final season in March, when the Huskies conducted spring practice.
Then, the pandemic started to make its way into the United States – and the uncertainty that is college athletics started to kick in.
“We were in spring practice and then we were told to go home for two weeks,” Steck said. “And while I was home, I got word that they canceled the semester and everything would be online. It was a little bit of an adjustment for me, because I had only one class left and I had accommodating professors who were willing to help all of us.”
Still, it was a major adjustment for Steck, who was working towards her degree in psychology and a minor in criminal justice.
“It was difficult at times,” said Steck, who was making plans to begin her summer job as a lifeguard at the Glen Ridge Country Club. “I was working out and doing my school work online. I remained pretty much on a schedule and I wouldn’t let my mind wander too much.”
The Huskies all remained in contact with each other in a term that no one knew existed at the start of 2020.
“We had a lot of team Zoom meetings,” Steck said. “We always kept in contact with each other. I think we saw a light at the end of the tunnel.”
The Huskies were slated to report as a team this week to the UConn campus in Storrs, but that now will not happen.
As for the state of Steck’s senior year, no one knows.
The UConn football program has already shut down for the fall and will revisit restoring football in the spring. The UConn men’s basketball team has been told to stay where they are, because the Huskies hoop squad will not begin play until after New Year’s Day.
There have been no official declarations for the remainder of UConn’s great athletic program, like men’s soccer and women’s basketball. Both of those UConn squads are among the very best in the country.
But the UConn women’s soccer team has held no official practice and no official words have been issued about the state of the sport in Storrs.
“We were supposed to report this week,” Steck said. “But that has been pushed back now.”
So Steck sits and waits. She wonders if there will ever be a senior season, filled with balloons and tributes galore, like most senior athletes enjoy.
Last week, Steck was busy working as a counselor at the Nutley High School summer soccer camp that was organized and run by Steck’s high school coach Mike DiPiano.
Steck said that it felt good to be on the field again and running around with the youngsters who admire her as being Nutley’s greatest female soccer player.
“I love it,” Steck said. “I love being back with the kids. They are the future of Nutley soccer. This is where I started. I want to give back to the community where I began. I was looking forward to coming here and working with the kids. I have a lot of fun doing it. I like seeing other girls being passionate about the sport.”
Steck said that she was a little disheartened about her chances to play this fall when the UConn football program announced that it had ceased operations for 2020 and will look to see if it is feasible for the Huskies to play football in the spring.
“It was tough hearing that,” Steck said. “I have a lot of friends on the football team. I think that has prepared us if they decide to end our season. The school said that they didn’t want to risk any football players getting it (COVID-19). I think it gives school officials a little time to figure out what they’re going to do next.”
So basically, Steck sits and waits for the other shoe to drop.
“The hardest part is not knowing,” Steck said. “I know we all want to play a full season. We want to fight for something. If we take a step back now, I know we would be willing to sacrifice to have a full season. So I think we’re all for playing in the spring if it means we’re playing a full season and we have something to play for. Further discussion has to happen.”
It’s all up in the air – the fall season, Steck’s senior year.
“It’s tough,” Steck said. “My whole life, I have been prepared to play. But this uncertainty, between my teammates and friends, is so ridiculous. We’re all in this together. It affects all of us.”
Steck honestly had no idea what the future holds.
“Will they officially pull the plug? I honestly don’t know,” Steck said. “I’m going to keep working and training like we still have something to fight for.”
Steck will continue to work towards her degrees. She hopes to become some sort of law enforcement officer, either as a police officer or perhaps the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“Something along those lines,” Steck said.
The pandemic has even caused havoc in Steck’s educational plans. With one year left of eligibility, does she stick it out and wait for the Huskies to take the field again? Or does she transfer to a place that she most certainly will play next fall and move toward her final piece of education?
Just like everything else in college athletics, it’s all a big mystery. That’s certainly not what Zoe Steck signed up for nearly four years ago when she declared she was going to UConn.
Nutley native Zoe Steck participated as a counselor at the Nutley Soccer Camp last week, but doesn’t know if and when she will return to the women’s soccer team at the University of Connecticut. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”