NAIA Player of the Year: Laura Maria
It’s been a whirlwind for Laura Maria (’22) over the course of the last twelve months.
The OKWU women’s soccer standout returned to Bartlesville in August 2022 for her final season and final semester of her collegiate experience. She was already one of the most accomplished athletes in OKWU’s history, a nationally recognized player. One accomplishment, however, had proven elusive – the Lady Eagles had qualified for the NAIA Tournament but had not advanced past the Second Round to earn a spot at the Championships in Alabama.
With Maria leading the way in her final season, the Lady Eagles checked that box, and Maria etched her name in the history books, earning NAIA Player of the Year. During her final season, she scored 56 goals, one shy of the NAIA single-season record, and added 25 assists as the Lady Eagles posted a 22-1-1 record, winning the KCAC regular-season and tournament championships, and advancing to the NAIA Championship Final Site for the first time.
Maria ended her OKWU career with 119 goals and 60 assists over 88 games, an indelible mark on the program’s record books. She looks back on her experience on campus with appreciation, noting her favorite memories are the times spent with teammates as they traveled and prepared to play.
“Once you leave, you really think about how those moments were very important,” she said.
Originally from Brazil, Maria always wanted to attend college in the United States. After a year at a junior college in Kansas, she was recruited to OKWU and continued her playing career in Bartlesville.
Shortly after graduating, Maria signed a contract in Liga BPI, the first division in Portugal. She joined her team midway through their season.
It was a quick transition from college to the professional environment, but she was ready, crediting Coach Ivan Ristic with preparing her to play at this level. “He was one of the best coaches I’ve had. When I got here, I didn’t feel like I was behind anybody. I felt like I was at the same level.”
For Maria, playing in Portugal was her first choice since she already speaks the language. “It was easy to say yes and come here.” She had other offers in Europe.
Maria joined her new team, CS Maritimo, in late January. She appeared in 10 games, scoring 2 goals and adding 1 assist in her first professional season.
Whatever her future holds, her legacy as an OKWU athlete is secure. Maria’s accomplishments include four appearances on the All-KCAC First Team, two KCAC MVPs, and three NAIA All-American nods.
And as she plays overseas, Maria is a living embodiment of the #BeOneSent mantra, fulfilling the mission and purpose of OKWU as she lives out her dream of being a professional athlete.