Lena Kurz wins Senior CLASS Award
Lena Kurz is the winner of the Senior CLASS Award for women’s soccer. The award is given annually to the most outstanding senior student-athlete in Division I.
“It was a huge honor to even be considered as a candidate for the Senior CLASS Award next to these other great senior student-athletes,” Kurz said. “It makes me extremely proud to represent as an international student-athlete the four Cs the award stands for. I feel honored and appreciate everyone who voted for me to be the winner of the Senior CLASS Award this year.”
Kurz won the online fan vote, which was worth one-third of the total. Head coaches and members of the media across the country also voted, with each group contributing another third. Selections were made based on each candidate’s achievement in the four C’s of classroom, community, character, and competition.
Dustin Downey, an assistant coach during Kurz’s first season before being named interim head coach this year, said, “First off, congratulations to Lena. She deserves every bit of this award. A big part of our coaching staff’s rebuild of UIC Women’s Soccer was to bring in kids with outstanding character. This was as important, if not more important, than recruiting student-athletes with exceptional athletic abilities and soccer skill, which Lena also happens to possess.”
Kurz came to UIC from Ludwigshafen, Germany, as a graduate student in 2019. She took just a year and a half to earn a master’s degree in instructional leadership and shattered all of the program’s goalkeeping records.
In 2019, Kurz set the standards by which all future UIC goalkeepers will be measured. She posted 10 solo shutouts, saved 85.9% of the shots she faced, allowed a mere 0.60 goals per 90 minutes and registered 11 wins. One of those wins was in the Horizon League semifinals, marking UIC’s first-ever win in a postseason tournament. “Reaching the conference final in my first season after putting in so much work and winning the semifinal with a golden goal was a memory I will never forget,” Kurz reflected. She was named Horizon League Goalkeeper of the Year after that season.
After ranking in the top 20 in the NCAA in save percentage, shutouts, and goals-against average in 2019, Kurz cemented her legacy in 2020-21. She led the Flames back to the Horizon League tournament, was twice named conference Defensive Player of the Week, and concluded her career as the program’s all-time leader in wins, shutouts, save percentage and goals-against average.
Kurz earned a perfect 4.0 GPA throughout her time at UIC. She was named to the Horizon League All-Academic Team this season and helped the women’s soccer program earn the United Soccer Coaches Team Academic Award. The team led all-female teams at UIC in total GPA.
“Lena’s a winner on the field and in the classroom. She’s a true ambassador to the university across the city, country, and even internationally. She embodies what it means to be a Flame, and has demonstrated the influence a student-athlete can have on the world,” Downey continued. “I expect Lena to not only continue to garner awards and accolades on the pitch but to someday achieve greatness in society. Lena has a passion to work with youth in her future endeavors, and I can’t help but think how lucky all of those kids will be to have someone like Lena impact their lives. It’s people like Lena that are going to make the world a better place by changing the lives of children one day at a time.”
“I’m so happy for Lena. I cannot think of a person more deserving of this award than her,” Andrew Percic said. “Her body of work both on and off the field speaks for itself. Getting to coach her has been an absolute joy. She has one of the best attitudes of any student athlete I have coached. She is incredibly hard working, the consummate professional.”
Percic worked extensively with the Flames’ keepers during both of Kurz’ seasons. “She is a leader both vocally and by example. She loves the game, the team, and the school,” he concluded.
Though direct-contact opportunities for community service were diminished during the Covid-19 pandemic, Kurz and her teammates made time to clean up the streets in the neighborhoods around UIC’s campus. She also took on more of a leadership role during the unprecedented season in which six freshmen were full-time starters and three more made significant contributions.
“It is an experience I will never forget and I am happy that I got out of my comfort zone and took this opportunity,” Kurz reflected. “This program helped me so much to grow as a person on and off the field. Taking over responsibility and a leadership role on the team is one of the many skills I improved over the past two years and will be so valuable on and off the field in the future.”
Kurz is the first Senior CLASS winner in any sport from UIC.
“Lena Kurz has embodied all that the Senior CLASS Award represents while at the University of Illinois Chicago,” said Erik Miner, executive director of the Senior CLASS Award. “She has made an enormous impact in the classroom, in the community, and on the field since arriving on campus. We would like to offer our congratulations to Lena Kurz and the University of Illinois Chicago.”
Downey spoke for everyone in the women’s soccer program when he said, “I hope Lena realizes how much her teammates and coaching staff love her. We are all so proud of Lena for this accomplishment, and are grateful to have someone like her in our lives.”