Discovered at a VCU gym, Emma Kruse becomes Rams’ starting keeper

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Emma Kruse trudged slowly off the soccer field at the conclusion of a 1-0 regional quarterfinal loss to Fredericksburg’s Riverbend High School.

The Forest Park High School goalkeeper, ever the perfectionist, wouldn’t have the opportunity to redeem herself or her team. Her soccer career as she knew it had come to a quiet and untimely end. The moment felt surreal.

Kruse only played for two seasons in high school in Woodbridge, Va., and enjoyed it immensely, but figured she’d close that chapter of her life. With graduation quickly approaching, she shifted her focus to academics and the new challenges that awaited her at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Sure, the idea of playing collegiate soccer appealed to the two-sport athlete — she and her Forest Park basketball teammates spent the previous three summers at VCU’s basketball camp and the camaraderie she experienced on those three-day trips away from home resonated with her. But any fantasy of collegiate sports glory dissipated quickly — no soccer scholarship awaited her in Richmond.

“The thought of playing college soccer never really crossed my mind when I was in high school,” said Kruse, 20, a Woodbridge native. “I never played club soccer as a kid and I only played for two years in high school. So playing college soccer was never really in my sights.”

A couple of months after the Riverbend loss, Kruse stuffed her belongings into the family’s navy blue Honda Odyssey, and under overcast skies, her mother Dorothy Ryan and father Jay accompanied her on the 90-mile drive to Richmond. With sports finally behind her, she could focus on being a full-time student. That plan changed quickly.

Most athletes will tell you they never really outgrow their love for the sport. They just find ways to conceal it. After acclimating to life as a full-time student, Kruse joined one of VCU’s club soccer teams that played at the school’s Cary Street Gym, a three-story, red-brick structure that sits on the edge of campus not far from Richmond’s Downtown Expressway.

Kruse took a class with current VCU forward Maren Johansen during her first semester, and the two formed a friendship. She eventually convinced Johansen to bring a few of her varsity teammates down to play on one of Cary Gym’s indoor fields. Kruse’s soccer skills impressed Johansen, and things just fell into place.

“Their goalkeeper at the time was from California and she really wanted to go home … so she quit the team,” Kruse said. “They were looking for a goalkeeper so Maren told the coach about me and then told me to email her if I was interested.”

Kruse sent an email to then-VCU coach Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak to inquire about walking on to the team. Roberts Sahaydak, who now coaches at Central Florida, invited her to one of the team’s workouts.

“She just really opened up in training and just had this presence about her that really intrigued me,” said Roberts Sahaydak, a 1996 U.S. Olympic gold medal team member. “I liked the way she communicated to the players who she didn’t even know. Not only did I like her as a person, but she really had some good saves and I could tell that there was something special about her.”

Life has moved quickly for VCU’s current starting goalkeeper. In the three games she started in 2012, she tallied five saves, recorded a shutout and earned Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Week honors for her play in games against High Point (N.C.) and Longwood.

Friday, Kruse will be back on the field in Northern Virginia as the Rams visit George Mason.

While Kruse thought she left her soccer-playing days behind upon graduation, her Forest Park coach David Cresswell believed otherwise.

Cresswell’s daughter Allison was a student at VCU during Kruse’s freshman year and also played on one of the school’s club soccer teams.

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