When Ryan Sterba was a freshman in high school, he wrote a letter to the Michigan athletic department asking them to consider adding soccer to its list of varsity programs. He never received a letter back, but the University added the sport two years later – just as Sterba was making college plans.
“As soon as we learned about his love for Michigan, we knew we needed to have him,” Michigan coach Steve Burns said. “Sterba was a guy who you knew would bleed for your team.”
In 2002, Sterba signed with Michigan and saw his dream become a reality.
“After the first game he played for Michigan during his freshman year, he called me,” Sterba’s mother, Carol, said. “He said, ‘I was so excited to put on a Michigan uniform.’ I know he thinks that even now as a senior.”
The senior captain grew up in Westlake, Ohio, near Cleveland. He got interested in soccer after watching his two older brothers and sister play.
“Ryan lived and died soccer when he was younger,” Carol Sterba said. “If he wasn’t at his own practice, he was running drills at his older brothers’ practices or just going outside to kick the ball around in the backyard.”
Sterba grew up loving Michigan, which was odd considering both his parents attended Ohio State and were avid Buckeye enthusiasts.
“Ryan wanted to go to Michigan since the day he was born,” Carol said. “Everything he owned had Michigan written on it. We never really understood why.”
Sterba admits it was because he wanted to cheer for the team no one in his family wanted to win. He felt there was something special about the Michigan tradition and thought it was more dominant than the school “down south.”
While Sterba’s parents still won’t deny their love for Ohio State, they have made a concession for Ryan and the Michigan soccer program.
“We won’t bend when it comes to football though,” Carol said. “The Michigan-Ohio State football game is a huge rivalry in our family.”
Every year, during the final Big Ten football matchup between the team, the Sterbas have a running competition in the family. Whoever’s team wins the game is permitted to hang their school’s flag outside the house for a week.
“I think we all get more competitive every year,” Carol said. “No one likes to see their team lose.”
Since the Sterba’s home is only a two-hour drive from Ann Arbor, Ryan’s parents have attended most of the Wolverines’ home games. The Sterbas were at Michigan’s last home game on Sunday against Wisconsin when Ryan – in his final game on U-M Varsity Field – scored two goals to give the Wolverines a 4-2 victory over the Badgers.
“It was sort of sad to see him play in Ann Arbor for the last time,” Carol said. “The four years went by so fast. It has been such a joy watching him play.”
Burns admitted that he’ll be sad to see Sterba move on from the program and is grateful for all the work the captain has put into the team.
“Sterba’s greatest asset is his leadership,” Burns said. “When we recruit players we are looking for future leaders, and Sterba is exactly the kind of guy we wanted. He has helped make the team a success.’
As Sterba’s final season with the Wolverines winds down, he knows that the opportunities he has had and the friends he has made at Michigan will stay with him for the rest of his life.
“I’ve been able to be part of one of the most legendary athletic traditions in the nation,” Sterba said. “I wouldn’t have ever chosen any differently.”