Emma Unterkoefler scored a goal in the last game of her Columbia High School career. She was disappointed that the Cougars’ season came to an end with a 2-1 loss in the NJSIAA state playoffs to Franklin High School. But the daughter of Alex and Lori Unterkoefler isn’t finished with soccer; the center-midfielder has earned a scholarship to play at Fairfield University. She is the first player from the girls’ program to earn a Division I soccer scholarship in two decades.
“I like to be creative and have the freedom to make decisions and make plays and I am so excited that I will be able to keep playing in college,” she says. “The high-school season got off to a strong start,” she says. “We were playing tougher teams, better than past years, out of the conference.”
Emma shares her thoughts on soccer and her future:
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN PLAYING SOCCER?
I started when I was probably five or six. I played South Mountain Soccer for a year and Cougar Soccer Club for a year and then I started playing for a few club teams. Right now, I play on a team called World Class. They play near the New York and New Jersey border, and the girls are from all over. In practice, sometimes it will be New Jersey against New York, but we all get along. I have played against some of my teammates there in high school; I would say they are probably from Montclair and Pascack Hills or Wayne Hills.
WHO HAS BEEN MOST INFLUENTIAL IN DEVELOPING YOUR GAME?
My coaches from club teams, but here in Maplewood-South Orange, I would have to say that Roger Texiera and Sharif Elvein have been the best. I have a brother, Willie, who is a junior player on the boys’ varsity soccer player. He’s a center-midfielder, too, so we work out against each other.
WHO WINS THE FAMILY BATTLE?
Well, that’s debatable. I guess it depends who you are talking to! He says that he doesn’t want to play in college, though.
WHEN DID YOU THINK YOU COULD PLAY AT THE COLLEGE LEVEL?
I think it was probably during my freshman year. College coaches start coming to games to scout the players. Some of the girls said to me, ‘Hey, you’re pretty good.’ That motivated me to stick with it and pursue my dream of playing in college. Then I started contacting coaches and asking them to come to my games.
DID YOU CONSIDER ‘DREAM SCHOOLS’ AND GOOD SOCCER PROGRAMS?
It was a bit of both. I was doing research and said, “Well, that school sounds interesting. I wonder if I could play there?” I got the list down to five: Dartmouth, St. Joe’s, Bucknell, Manhattan College, and Fairfield. Fairfield, of course, was the big one to me. I really love Jim O’Brien, the head coach at Fairfield. Then I went up for a visit, and I just fell in love with the campus and the area. Of course, the academics are important, too. It’s the perfect fit for me.
HOW HAVE YOUR TEAMMATES HELPED YOU ACHIEVE YOUR DREAM?
My Columbia teammates and the teammates at my club team have been really supportive. They have always believed in me and helped me. They showed me that I can do this. My Columbia teammates, they understand it all from a friend’s perspective; they know that I don’t get to hang out with them a lot on the weekends because of my club obligations.
WHAT ABOUT YOUR COACHES?
My World Class coach pushes the entire team. He wants us to show our best during games. He pushes us because he knows that we can do well. With Columbia, we had a new coach, Ashley Carino, this season. I think she is good for the team, but part of the reason that we played well this season is that we moved down in the conference. I like Coach a lot, but she doesn’t know certain things, so me and the other seniors have helped her along. We adapted well to what she asked of us. I don’t think any of my teammates want to play in college, but we had a good season.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE THING ABOUT COLUMBIA?
Um, I know everyone says the diversity, but it sets it apart. I am friends with everyone, everyone has their own group, but we all get along. It prepares us all for real life.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE SUBJECT? WHAT WILL YOU MAJOR IN IN COLLEGE?
My favorite class is biology, Miss Biasucci. I think I want to major in biology or something along those lines at Fairfield, but I have time to decide.
WHAT MAKES YOU SUCH A GOOD PLAYER?
I think probably my decision making and my work ethic. I am always thinking about how to make the smart plays. I like playing center-midfield because I am moving up and down the field and always am in the middle of the action.
HOW WILL YOU JUGGLE SOCCER AND COLLEGE WORK?
I know at Fairfield they have mandatory study-hall hours for athletes. I am pretty good about getting my work done now and that will help me stay on track.
WILL YOU PLAY ANY MORE SPORTS AT COLUMBIA?
I used to play lacrosse, but I won’t play in the spring. But I might do winter track this year to get in better shape for college. I don’t know.