April 1, 2011

Weekender: Stolzenberg Finds Solace in the Power of Solitude

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Through his experiences during his freshmen season on the men's lacrosse team, as well as during his semester abroad in Hong Kong, RPI junior Scott Stolzenberg has harnessed the power of being alone.
© Sara Melikian

There's being alone, and then there's standing by yourself in the jungles of Northwest Cambodia with nothing but a backpack full of clothes and a passport alone.

That's the kind of solitude that Scott Stolzenberg experienced this past fall during breaks from his junior year studying abroad in Hong Kong. He studied international finance, Mandarin and Chinese culture, ostensibly to prepare for his career after graduation from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. But his most memorable experiences came from trips to Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, Malayasia and the Chinese mainland.

But it was in Cambodia where Stolzenberg embraced being on his own.

"You kind of just go with the flow," he said. "You go to neighborhood and say, 'I'll stay here for a couple of days and see the sights.' I got to see some amazing things in Cambodia. I went to the temples of Angkor Wat that are thousands of years old and were built by hand. They are just unreal. I was cycling around them for 12 or 13 hours one day because they were amazing. Then I'd hop on a bus and go to another city and see what's there."

Although he found himself in some uncomfortable situations along the way, Stolzenberg wasn't afraid of being isolated. He had already conquered that fear during his first season as member of the RPI men's lacrosse team.

A promising close defender out of East Brunswick (N.J.) High School, Stolzenberg was cycled into the defensive rotation for the first six games of the season -- no small feat for a team on the rise after the return of Jim Townsend as head coach. After the sixth game, however, the playing time stopped. Stolzenberg was relegated to the bench.

Although technically surrounded by teammates, he felt alone. Part of his benching was a result of poor conditioning. With idle time on the bench, Stolzenberg's solid frame -- he's listed at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds -- became bigger.

"After that season I had a choice," Stolzenberg said. "Do I just quit or get better? Do I fix those things that didn't go as planned?"

He sought the counsel of his parents and some friends on the team, but the final decision was his. Stolzenberg would have to make it alone.

"I worked out hard; I worked on my agilities, my lateral steps," he said. "I could always move just going forward, but as a bigger guy, it was tough to shift that weight left and right and front and back. I worked on that. I hit the gym. I worked on my core a lot. I came back in better shape and with a better attitude. I turned everything around and I had a successful season. The whole team had a successful season."

Stolzenberg was one of four players who started all 17 games in 2010 for the Engineers, who won the Liberty League title, advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament and finished with a 14-3 record.

"His development from his freshman year to his sophomore year was one of the biggest developments I've ever seen," Townsend said. "He's a solid Division III defenseman."

Stolzenberg's value to the team does not end with his defensive contributions. He has taken it upon himself to keep the team motivated, especially the rookies, during the continuous grind of a college season.

"I feel like I can relate to some of the freshmen and younger guys and help them not make the same mistakes I did as a freshman and sophomore," Stolzenberg said. "I try to be encouraging and help them avoid getting in the negative mindsets I got myself into freshman year."

"He's the emotional leader of our team," added Townsend. "He's always upbeat. He's always looking at the positive side of things. He doesn't get in guy's faces, he just keeps everybody loose."

Lacrosse is Stolzenberg's passion, but he could talk about his Far East adventure for hours. It was a life-changing experience and, in a way, a continuation of what he learned during the emotional isolation he felt as a freshman.

"I was going to the other side of the world and I was going to live there four or five months alone. I matured out of just that," Stolzenberg said. "I guess a good way to put it is I grew up a little bit."

"He came back more mature," Townsend said. "He appreciates the game a little more."

There will likely be a time this Saturday -- when No. 8 RPI hosts an undefeated Hamilton team in a key Liberty League game -- that Stolzenberg will find himself alone, isolated against one of the Continentals' dangerous attackmen.

There will be no look of worry on his face. Stolzenberg will feel right at home.

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