Redbird soccer star Anna Stinson’s on-the-field success has been remarkable—four straight winning seasons, two straight conference titles, and two consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament.

But it was the season Stinson was forced to spend on the sidelines due to injury that shaped her into the team leader she is today and inspired her future career.

It happened during her senior year of high school in Michigan, where she played soccer, basketball, and golf. She underwent two hip surgeries that year, and had to miss her senior seasons for basketball and soccer. It was difficult to sit and watch, Stinson said, but it also showed the team captain how to be a leader on and off the field—something she uses today as a third-year team captain for the Redbirds.

And Stinson’s rehabilitation from those surgeries sparked an interest in physical therapy as a career. Today, she’s an exercise science major at Illinois State with plans to attend graduate school next fall.

“I like being around people, talking to other people, seeing what they’re going through,” Stinson said. “Learning how you can help people get through those kinds of things is really interesting to me.”

Anna Stinson in action

Redbird soccer midfielder Anna Stinson in action this season.

Stinson’s concern for others is one of the reasons she’s a Top 10 national finalist for the Senior CLASS Award, a prestigious honor that recognizes achievement in community, classroom, character and competition. Stinson is the first player in program history to be a candidate.

As fan voting continues for the Senior CLASS Award, Stinson has bigger things to worry about. The Redbird women just wrapped up a 12-6-0 season (including a perfect 6-0 in Missouri Valley Conference action) and will open play in the MVC tournament on Friday as the No. 1 seed.

That level of winning has become the norm at Illinois State in recent years under head coach Drew Roff. It was Roff who recruited Stinson out of Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she picked up her competitive streak playing sports with her two other brothers. She started organized soccer at age 6.

Right away, she made an impact at Illinois State. She made the All-MVC Freshman Team, and is a three-time All-MVC selection. She’s racked up 12 goals, 17 assists, and 65 starts as a Redbird. And as a playmaking midfielder, Stinson is the team’s point guard, directing the ball to forwards who have posted two of the program’s three highest goal tallies the past couple seasons.

“Anna was a huge factor in that,” said Roff.

In 2012, the team came up short against No. 4 Marquette for its second-straight NCAA tournament opening-round loss. It was a heart-breaker, Stinson says. The Redbirds have never won an NCAA tourney game.

“Getting that experience has really set the tone for this year,” Stinson said.

Indeed, the Redbirds beat Marquette earlier this season as part of a tough non-conference schedule that Stinson hopes will push Illinois State over the edge to that elusive NCAA tournament victory. That’s the ultimate goal, and it would be a fitting end for Stinson’s impressive four years at ISU.

Academic standout

But the Senior CLASS Award is about more than wins and losses. Stinson maintained a perfect 4.0 grade point average through her first three years. She is a three-time CoSIDA/Capital One Academic All-District V selection, Missouri Valley Conference Elite 18 Award winner, MVC Commissioner’s Academic Excellence Award recipient and MVC Scholar-Athlete Team choice. Stinson has been named to the AFNI Honor Roll all six semesters, in addition to the MVC Honor Roll three times.

Anna Stinson kicks

Anna Stinson has racked up 12 goals, 17 assists, and 65 starts as a Redbird.

That too came from her family, where her parents stressed schoolwork and her two brothers, both engineers now, raised the bar for Stinson. “I was pretty competitive obviously, so I knew I wanted to keep up with them, and do my best at everything,” Stinson said.

Stinson’s vast community service efforts, which earned her the MVC Good Neighbor Award in 2012, include reading to children through the Just Read program. She loves being around kids and seeing their eyes light up and ask questions while she stresses the importance of school.

“They’re kind of in awe that you’re a college athlete,” she said.

Stinson is a strong team leader because of her positive attitude, humility, and willingness to take time to help her teammates and others, said Roff.

“As great of a student and soccer player she is, she really is a better person,” Roff said.

Stinson will graduate in May, and then it’s on to graduate school to become a physical therapist. She has an interview lined up at one of her potential schools later this month, but she may need to reschedule.

It’s on the same day as Round 2 of the NCAA tournament.

Ryan Denham can be reached at