Whether it’s a table tennis match with his roommates or an intense soccer game, senior defender Stefan Mueller loves winning.
He also hates losing, which can be difficult when he’s involved in a four-person table tennis tournament with his equally competitive roommates on the soccer team.
“None of us like to lose,” senior midfielder Dan White said. “That’s what makes our house so much fun together, because no matter what we’re doing, we’re being competitive with each other.”
Even though the verdict is out on who has won the most table tennis games, Mueller’s drive to succeed has taken him far on the soccer field.
Mueller started in all of the team’s 18 games his freshman season. Since then, he has only missed three games in his four years as an Owl.
“I think he’s just about started every game, except when he was injured, so he’s been a big part of the defense for those four years,” coach David MacWilliams said. “I think you’ve got to be tough mentally. To start in all those games, you’re going to have injuries to wrap, so if you’re banged up, you’re going to play.”
A staple on the Owls’ defense, Mueller, an outside back, also brings a unique trait to the backline. He is left-footed, which is a commodity for Temple and will make him even harder to replace after he graduates.
Right-footed players may feel less comfortable in a position on the left side. As one of just a few left-footed guys on the team, Mueller is able to play on the left side and use his dominant foot. Even Mueller’s pre-game ritual stems from this characteristic.
“I always put my left cleat on first, then my right, left shin guard on, right shin guard,” Mueller said. “It’s always left to right, I guess just because I’m left-footed. I always just make sure it’s ready first.”
Despite having a defensive role on the team, Mueller tries to take a more aggressive style on offense, especially by sending crosses into the box. This season, he has recorded an assist to bring his college career total to four assists and one goal.
Mueller is from East Northport, New York, but his grandparents were born in Germany. His favorite soccer player is Germany’s Philipp Lahm. He tries to model his play after the Bayern Munich right back.
“His consistency is probably the biggest thing about him,” Mueller said. “I think you need to play well game-in and game-out, and it’s big for the team if you can do that.”
The senior defender’s consistency has helped the Owls achieve a 32-30-10 record in his four seasons. During this time, Temple had three seasons with 10 or more wins and was ranked as high as No. 17 in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America coaches poll last season. That was the first time the Owls had been in the Top 25 since 1997.
For Mueller, one of the best parts of achieving these goals has been working alongside his teammates, particularly White and senior defender Matt Mahoney, who are the other two seniors that have been on the team all four years.
“It’s really fun this year,” Mueller said. “I’ve been with this group of guys four years now, I really know how they like to play, so it’s really comfortable now. Especially playing a lot my first three years, it’s natural now, playing with this group of guys.”
Graduating will be an adjustment for Mueller, who said he will miss his teammates and playing the sport he’s loved since he was four years old.
“It’s been a good four years, but you’re always going to miss these days, being with the same guys for four years, so it’s definitely bittersweet,” Mueller said.
Mueller hopes to continue playing in some capacity after he leaves Temple. As for his years as an Owl, the outside back hopes to leave behind an ideal of what a Temple player should be.
“I hope to be a role model for the guys coming up,” Mueller said. “Hopefully when our freshmen become seniors, they’ll be talking about myself and the rest of our class.”
MacWilliams said he will be sad to see Mueller and the other seniors leave after this season. The senior class is a tough one to replace, and for a coach in his 17th season, the four years together seemed to have flown by.
Not only will MacWilliams miss the talent and experience of the seniors, but also the personality each athlete brings to the team, including Mueller’s mellow, even-keel disposition.
“I have enjoyed coaching him,” MacWilliams said. “He’s a very quiet individual, but we’ve joked with him and had fun with him. I’m going to miss Stef and his hard work and his effort, knowing that I can pencil him in and he’s going to do a solid job.”
Maura Razanauskas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @CaptainAMAURAca.