Nov. 3, 2011
Maria Abatjoglou (Women's Tennis) 1994-98
Abatjoglou came to Lawrence from the mountains of West Virginia, because she wanted to play in a top Division I program. The four-year letterwinner not only excelled on the court, but stood out in the class room as she was named first-team GTE Academic All-American for the 1996-97 season. After graduating from KU, Abatjoglou, now Maria Stearns went onto Harvard Law School, where she completed her J.D. and now practices law in the Los Angeles area. She lives in Orange County with her husband Alan, who played golf for Kansas (1992-96), and their two sons.
What have you been doing since you left KU?
"I went to Harvard Law School in 1999 and graduated in 2002. I also got married to another former Kansas athlete--Alan Stearns who was a golfer. After law school I practiced in KC for about a year and a half. Then my husband and I decided to move to California, where he is from. We landed in Orange County in 2004."
How do you like living in Southern California?
"We love it. We're very, very happy. We have two boys--a five year-old and a three year-old and we have a great home that we're happy with. We also live in a great community and really great jobs. I work at a large firm in Orange County where there are about 160 attorneys. I am an employment attorney and I represent companies when they get sued for harassment or discrimination. Companies call me because they don't know how to handle a personnel issue, so I represent them."
Are you enjoying life as a lawyer?
"I love it and feel very fortunate. We work a lot as lawyers, but I think the job is really interesting because everyone can relate to it. You can tell somebody that `this woman feels like she is being sexually harassed or this person feels like they are being treated differently,' so I help the company try to figure out how to handle situations like that."
Growing up in West Virginia, how did you decide to come to KU?
"My goal was to be at a top-20 program and at the time we were. It was a good place and I loved the coach (Chuck Merzbacher) I owe a lot to KU, I even met my husband there. I received a great education, which was a solid platform for me to go and head off to Harvard Law School. I was able to do it all because I had a lot of support--particularly from the Student (Athlete) Support (Services office)."
How did the Student Athlete Support Services department help you?
"It was invaluable because I was a double major in philosophy and Spanish. The Spanish aspect of it was the hardest. I even had a tutor, who I think is still there. Her name is Mercedes Hucke. She was by my side the whole time helping me through all of the hoops that I needed to jump through in order to maintain that 4.0 GPA.
I kind of got obsessed with it at one point because I always knew I wanted to go to Harvard and I felt like I really had to stand out with respect to my GPA. That department was great and (Associate AD for Student Athlete Support Services) Paul Buskirk was awesome. I felt like I had a place to go and people to support me through whatever challenges arose academically."
KU recently purchased a tennis facility in Lawrence, what are your thoughts on that move?
"Good for them because when I was there, we had Alvamar but then we lost it, so we had to drive to Topeka. Having one in Lawrence makes a big difference."
Have you been back to Lawrence since graduating in 1999?
"We have friends in Kansas City, so we go back from time to time. My husband still goes back for basketball games."