The passing of the glovesBy Marquis Munson | 10/11/2015 5:30pm
At the age of four, Emily Rusk wanted to do everything like her big sister Katherine. So when Katherine started playing soccer, little sister Emily followed.
Katherine would play the forward position while practicing her shot in the backyard of their home in Charlotte, North Carolina. The goal was never unguarded, because as Emily got older, she would try her best to stop her sister’s offensive attack.
Her sister didn’t play soccer beyond high school, but Emily had different plans. As a sophomore in high school and successful player for a local club team, she decided she would take her talents through the college ranks and enrolled The University of Alabama in 2012.
Forty-six appearances later, Rusk will step on the fields of the Alabama Soccer Complex for the last time on Oct. 25 when the Crimson Tide faces off against Mississippi State.
“It’s a really weird feeling honestly,” Rusk said. “Soccer has always been a part of my life and I think I’ll always continue to play even in just an adult league. It really weird and sad to know my competitive year is ending, but I definitely want to focus on this next month or two and give it everything I have. Just go out and know that I did everything I could with my soccer career.”
When former four-year starting goalkeeper Justine Bernier stepped off the field for the last time for the Crimson Tide in a 7-1 victory against Kennesaw State, the goalie gloves were left for someone else to takeover. Only a freshman at the time, Rusk took the chance at the opportunity.
“I definitely looked up to her because she had a lot of success while she was here and I wanted to follow in her footsteps,” Rusk said.
During her freshman season, Rusk saw action in four games, with Shelby Church playing the primary start that season. Rusk made six saves in 123 minutes of action and was named SEC First Year Academic Honor Roll. The following season, Rusk got her opportunity when she started 16 games and finished the season with 81 saves.
In her junior season, she transformed into one of the most elite goalkeepers in the SEC. She started 17 games with 64 saves, with her seven shutouts tying for the most in school history. Her save percentage was at .817 ranking ninth in program history. She also became the first Alabama player in school history to receive two SEC Defensive Player of the Week in one season.
Now in her final season with the Crimson Tide, she has played in 11 games with 36 saves and four shutouts. She had a home goalless streak of 492 consecutive minutes starting on Oct. 5, 2014 until Sep. 11, 2015.
“Just to know this is my last time around, I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team be successful,” Rusk said.
Rusk is now the veteran that Bernier once was to her. Behind her is Kat Stratton, a redshirt sophomore from Tupelo, Mississippi. Considered one of the top goalkeeping prospects coming out of high school, Stratton had to watch Rusk and Church share the goalkeeper position in 2013. Although Stratton didn’t play a game that season, she was honored with the SEC First Year Academic Honor Roll.
Last season, Stratton finally got the opportunity to showcase her skills as a backup appearing in four games and starting three with 13 saves and a shutout.
This season, Stratton has started two games as she prepares herself to be the next up at the goalkeeper position. She made her first start of this season against Tennessee Tech where she allowed two goals. She says that’s a game she would like to forget.
“Over time, I have had to work hard to realize perfection is impossible to achieve,” Stratton said. “I am going to get scored on and I am going to make mistakes, but it is how I respond that makes the difference for myself and my team as a whole. Part of being a keeper is being the calm during a storm. Having a big, confident presence in goal can change the way your team plays in front of you.”
Erasing her performance against Tennessee Tech from her memory, she played one of her best games of her early career. Despite a loss to the Auburn Tigers in double overtime, she allowed two goals with five saves.
“Surprisingly I wasn't too nervous,” Stratton said. “I knew I had put in the work at practice to prepare myself. Rusk has been doing a great job for us. I was just happy I finally got an opportunity to play.”
Something that Bernier couldn’t do for Rusk while she was attending Alabama was mentor a young Emily during the regular season. Rusk has taking the opportunity this season to prepare Stratton to carry on the goalkeeper tradition.
This weekend, Rusk and Stratton faced Texas A&M on the road on Friday and Tennessee in Tuscaloosa on Sunday, with Rusk continuing to support the future goalie while leaving a legacy herself.
“I hope to leave a little bit of the name like Justine did,” Rusk said. “Kat I know is going to do awesome things; she is a great goalkeeper. So I definitely have a ton of confidence that she can a successful image of the goalkeeper.”