Lake Norman & Mooresville

Skilled goalkeeper leads Huskies in first season

Before every game, Hough's Emily Rusk walks up to her goalpost focused on not having to take any balls out of the back of her net.

The junior goalkeeper's approach worked, as she only allowed 19 goals this season on her way to being named I-Meck girls' soccer Player of the Year and all-state for a second consecutive time.

Hough coach David Smith was glad to have the talented Rusk on his team.

"I've had quality keepers before, but never keepers who I never had any doubts about," he said.

Rusk, an aggressive shot stopper who is gifted both in the air and on the ground, led the first-year Huskies to a 22-4-1 record and to the 4A state semifinals, where they lost in penalty kicks to state runner-up Ardrey Kell.

Against the Knights, Rusk showcased her talent, gracefully blocking several one-on-one attempts and keeping her Huskies in the game.

"It was an exiting run," said Rusk about Hough's inaugural season. "Not having any seniors, there's definitely a chance that we'll also do well next season."

Coming into the year, Rusk had high expectations surrounding her. She was transferring to the new Cornelius school after helping North Mecklenburg win the 4A state title, being named the championship game's most valuable player, last spring.

Hough had a lot of potential, inheriting Rusk and five other starters from the Viking championship team, but there were questions about how the team would come together.

"You never know, especially with how the younger girls would react," said Smith. "But we grew up a lot."

The Huskies finished the regular season tied for first place in the I-Meck, outscoring conference opponents 59-6 along the way.

Smith said Rusk, who was dominant at goal during that stretch, also helped the young back line mature and allowed the defense to play aggressively knowing that she could back them up at goal.

"They basically have a brick wall behind them," he said.

Rusk began goalkeeping in sixth grade when tendinitis on her foot forced her to move back to the post. She said she quickly fell in love with the position.

While some play the sport for the glory of a goal, Rusk enjoys keeping those goals out of her net much more.

"I love coming up big in times of pressure," she said.

Rusk's success didn't happen overnight, as she spends a lot of her free time year-round honing her skills.

"I'm kind of a perfectionist, so if something little is wrong with my technique, I'll spend hours trying to fix it," she said.

During the season, Smith said he would often see Rusk stay after practice or come to the stadium with her father or other Huskies, including all-state teammates Allison Stearns and Hannah Robinson, on weekends to train.

"That's what sets her apart from other kids," said Smith.

In the summer, Rusk plays club soccer with Charlotte Soccer Academy. She goes to goalie practice at 7 a.m. during the week with her club coach aiming to continue getting better.

The work Rusk has put into soccer is paying off, as she attracted the attention of college programs early. She verbally committed to Alabama before the season.

"It takes a little bit of the pressure off - not having college coaches at my games because that's pretty intimidating," said Rusk. "But it makes me want to work harder because going into Alabama I don't want to be that one freshman who's the weakest. ... It's almost pushed me to work even harder."

She will attend the Crimson Tide's soccer camp in late June and compete in club tournaments during the summer, but Rusk is already thinking about her senior season.

"We matured a lot as the season has gone on, so coming back next year with everybody will make us better," she said.