Emily Kruger could hardly have drawn up a better freshman year as she became the California women soccer team’s primary goalkeeper. But with the Golden Bears set to open their 2011 season today, she’s not at all sure what to expect as a sophomore.
Kruger, who was a four-year star at Woodside High School, quickly stepped in and started 13 games last year as Cal went 9-6-5 and advanced to the NCAA tournament.
But a new year brings renewed competition, and Kruger finds herself battling three other goalies for playing time, with no indication of who will start or even take the field in Friday’s season opener against Pepperdine in Berkeley.
“We’re all at a high level,” said Kruger, who anchored the 2009 Woodside team that went 19-1-3 and won the program’s inaugural Peninsula Athletic League Bay Division title. “It’s really hard to say what the coaches are thinking right now. I really don’t know.”
With only two healthy goalies on the roster last year, Kruger earned the majority of the minutes in net, and Lauren Hein started seven games as a sophomore. Hein is pushing for more playing time this year, and redshirt freshman Kathleen Messinger, injured in 2010, is also plenty capable. The 6-foot-2 freshman Jenna Brennan may need more seasoning but has shown encouraging signs in training as well.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure,” Kruger said of intrasquad battle. “It’s really anyone’s spot to have. I think the competition is great. If you don’t have it, how else are you going to get better?”
The 5-foot-11 Kruger said she never went into a game last year knowing that it would be her game to start, and it seems her coaches may follow the same pattern this year, albeit with a deeper pool of goalies to pick from.
But with the Bears eying another daunting schedule that includes six opponents ranked in the preseason Top 25—five in the loaded Pac-12 alone—Kruger hopes that her experience and savvy may give her an edge over her teammates.
“I know what the pressure feels like at this point,” said Kruger, noting the confidence and composure she gained last year. “I had to figure out how to do it in big games.”
Asked to pinpoint one of her biggest strengths, Kruger spoke of her effectiveness in communicating with her teammates and keeping the defense organized.
Off the field, Kruger said she has gotten the hang of the time management needed for athletes at top academic schools, and that she intends to declare a major in peace and conflict studies. She’s excited to live with seven other girls in a house about a mile from campus this year.
“That’ll be a great experience,” said Kruger, who navigates her busy schedule with the help of a Vespa. “Paying bills, cooking our meals, doing laundry—that’s about to happen.”
With her sophomore season set to kick off, the always upbeat Kruger said she can’t wait to see how a Bears team with “a lot of talent” performs. Cal looks to improve on its 4-4-1 conference record last year that was good for fifth place in the then-Pac-10.
She’s eager to host No. 16 UCLA and former Woodside teammate Chelsea Braun on Oct. 7, and she said visiting No. 2 Stanford in a night game on Nov. 5 is an enticing matchup and a great chance for her to play close to home. Unranked Cal also travels to No. 15 Santa Clara for a non-conference game on Sept. 25.
After a freshman year she called “surreal, to say the least,” Kruger is intent on giving “150 percent” to reclaim her role as Cal’s principal goalie.
“To this day, it’s still crazy to me how much I played last year,” she said. “Hopefully I’ll have that success again. We’ll see.”