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Heroic endeavors: Lurken, Koprucki, Steele win Athena Awards

Senior Larissa Lurken was named Park's Athena Award winner. Now in its 19th year, the Athena Award is given annually to one outstanding female athlete in the senior class.1 / 3
State champion alpine skier Elizabeth Koprucki earned East Ridge's Athena Award. Koprucki is an eight-time letter winner for the Raptors.2 / 3
Matteson Steele won New Life Academy's Athena Award. Steele earned eight varsity athletic letters - four in volleyball and four in basketball -- was a team captain of the Eagles' volleyball and basketball teams and was an All-Conference award-winner on the basketball court.3 / 3

In Greek mythology, among other things, Athena is the goddess of heroic endeavor.

This week, Park's Larissa Lurken, East Ridge's Elizabeth Koprucki and New Life Academy's Matteson Steele will be rewarded for their stellar work on and off the field.

Lurken, Koprucki and Steele each were awarded with their school's Athena Award.

Now in its 19th year, the Athena Award is given annually to one outstanding female athlete in the senior class. The Athena is awarded based on excellence and accomplishments in both individual and team sports, throughout the duration of the student-athlete's career. Consideration is given to both one-sport and multi-sport athletes. Athletes are nominated by their coaches and chosen by the Athena Awards Committee, which is comprised of school representatives, parents of previous award winners and business volunteers.

Lurken said she "didn't see it coming."

"I didn't even know I was in the running," Lurken said. "This is such a great honor. I appreciate it a lot. I think it wraps up everything I've accomplished thus far. Hopefully there's more to come, but it definitely feels good to get this at the end of my high school career."

At Park, Lurken earned 13 varsity letters. She lettered in track and field five times and in basketball and cross country four times in each sport. Most well-known for her exploits on the basketball court, where she is leaves Park as the all-time leading scorer in school history, Lurken was also All-Conference twice in track and once in cross country running. She was a state participant in cross country and has the fourth-fastest 4-kilometer time in school history. For the Wolfpack basketball team, Lurken earned All-Conference four times and was All-State honorable mention this past season. She also earned a Division 1 basketball scholarship to attend, and play for, Kent State University.

"If you really want to achieve something you should go for it," Lurken said. "There shouldn't be a moment that you don't want to get on the court or on the field or go run another lap. If you really put your mind to something, you can do it, you just have to push harder, take that extra lap and do that extra drill. I think it's important to like what you do, because if you like what you do you'll always want to do it."

Lurken also excelled off the court. She was a four-time academic letter winner and was academic All-State. She is a Math Applaud student and currently takes college courses at Inver Hills Community College. She was also involved in Leaders of the Pack, was a youth basketball mentor and coach for the Cottage Grove Athletic Association and volunteered for the annual Halloween event and fundraiser at the Cottage Grove American Legion. She is a currently planning on striving to be a pre-med major at Kent State.

"I think academics is really important, even more than athletics," Lurken said. "If you don't have the grades you can't play. I've concentrated hard on my academics and they're really important to me. That will ultimately get you into college and the career you want. Academics and athletics definitely go hand-in-hand."

East Ridge's Koprucki

At East Ridge High School, Koprucki is an eight-time letter winner in alpine ski racing and soccer and is one of four state champions in the school's four-year history. Koprucki is an alpine ski three-time All-Conference award winner, a three-time All-State award recipient and the 2013 state champion. In all, Koprucki took first place at 16 Suburban East Conference meets. On the soccer field, she is a three-time All-Conference winner, as well as a one-time All-Conference honorable mention honoree.

"It feels really good to be recognized as the best girl athlete in the school," Koprucki said. " I knew I was in the running for it, but I'm really happy I won. It sums up everything I've done to get where I am from my freshman year to my senior year."

Outside of her school competition, Koprucki recently finished first in the FIS Mid Am Slalom Competition at Lutsen Mountain and competed in nationals for the third-straight season along with the members of the US Women's Ski Team. She has been the Nagy Cup Winner two of the last three seasons, ranked in the top three athletes under age 18 in FIS in the United States.

"I think that if you are really lucky as a coach, an athlete such as Elizabeth comes around maybe once in your career," East Ridge alpine skiing coach Kevin Seipel said.

Off the field, Koprucki has been involved in the cancer walk for life as part of the PWER Alpine Squad helping raise money for cancer research, helped coach younger ski racing programs and volunteered with the Special Olympics. She is an honor roll student and received eight spotlight on scholarships (3.6 -4.0 GPA during a sports season). She is currently undecided on her post high school plans, but hopes to one day be a Physical Therapist.

"It's difficult to balance everything," Koprucki said. "Sometimes it seems like there aren't enough hours in the day. But, you just need to get your priorities straight - school does come first. If I don't get good grades I can't ski. That's how it's been since I was little. It's hard, but I've been able to do it."

NLA's Steele>/b>

At New Life Academy, Matteson Steele earned eight varsity athletic letters - four in volleyball and four in basketball. She was a team captain of the Eagles' volleyball and basketball teams and was an All-Conference award-winner on the basketball court. She also took part in Student Council, was a tutor, a member of the Art Club and Mentor Prayer Group. In the classroom, Steele was a National Honor Society member, was on the school's "A" Honor Roll and won New Life's Leadership, Character, and Christian Example Award, Spanish Award and Bible Award. Steele spent time volunteering at a number of community organizations including: Stone Crest Assistant Living, Vacation Bible School, Meals on Wheels, Feed My Starving Children and at basketball clinics and local churches. In addition, she was President of a non-profit organization called "Buy A Coffee, Buy A Well." She will attend Baylor University next year.

Lurken, Koprucki and Steele will be among 39 young women, representing St. Paul city and suburban public and private high schools, to be recognized at an awards ceremony and luncheon, on Wednesday April 17 at the Prom Center in Oakdale. The keynote speaker for the event is Rachel Blount, Sports Reporter and Columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. KARE 11 TV news anchor Randy Shaver will again emcee this year's ceremony.