Riverside-Brookfield student-athlete Emily Graham has already made a trip to state. For cake decorating.
“I’m involved with the FCCLA (Family, Career & Community Leaders of America) and I did competitive home economics,” Graham said with a laugh. “I went to state for cake decorating. I know it sounds funny, but it was really fun.”
Apparently, eclectic tastes run in the family. Her twin brother, Luke, is a state-ranked chess player at RBHS.
While Graham savored the cake-decorating experience, she has a more important trip to state in mind. That’s the Class 2A state finals in soccer on June 1 and 2 hosted by North Central College in Naperville.
With the Bulldogs off to an 8-2 start, the senior goalkeeper’s aspiration appears possible. Graham, a Purdue commit, is regarded as one of the best goalkeepers in the Midwest. She had 161 saves and eight shutouts as a first-year starter in 2017. The Bulldogs finished 11-7-1 that season.
This year, Graham has set a stingy tone once again with four straight clean sheets to start the season and only three goals allowed through the first seven games.
Although RBHS lost a pair of matches recently at the PepsiCo Showdown, expectations remain understandably high this spring.
“I hope that we win a regional championship and move past a sectional this year,” Graham said. “No team has ever done that in the history of the program, but this is the team that could do it.”
Graham’s confidence stems from her work ethic.
“I’ve always put everything I have into every practice and game,” Graham said. “I expect the same effort from my teammates and coaches. I’ve been very happy with how hard everybody plays. We are confident because we work hard all the time.”
At 5-foot-9, Graham is a natural athlete who has dabbled in a variety of sports, including gymnastics, football, basketball and volleyball. She’s found her niche, however, as an almost impregnable backstop for the Bulldogs.
The Brookfield resident shares the spotlight, however, with her teammates. Senior Claire Switek and sophomores Taylor Jurgens, Sophia DiForti and Evie Roth comprise a defensive backfield that meshes well with the communicative Graham.
“These girls are some of the best defenders I’ve played behind,” Graham said. “They talk and work together really well.”
Add midfielders Mazzy Marcucci, Megan Rirodan, Karen Valdez and Abigail Higgins plus high-scoring forwards Grace Larson (team-high 9 goals in 2017) and Allie Kucera (30 goals in 2016), and RBHS talent all over the field.
Senior Vanesssa Fragoso, a St. Xavier recruit, and Gabby Tarrant are other seniors who provide additional leadership in support of Graham and Kucera.
The road to success wasn’t always smooth for Graham. Although a four-year varsity player, she didn’t start until her junior year.
“When I started with the varsity, I was very nervous,” Graham said. “[Former RBHS coach] Danny [Makaric] wasn’t the most nurturing coach and he could very negative at times. [Current RBHS coach] Ivek Halic is such a change of pace. He’s always positive and looking forward to the next game. Being coached by him has been a great pleasure.”
The feeling is mutual for Halic.
“She is phenomenal,” he said. “She has kept us in games so many times. She’s doing wonderful. Her communication organizes the back line and she facilitates a lot for us.”
In addition to Halic’s influence, Graham credits a lot of her development as a player during her time playing on the Lyons Township Club Soccer team. She won six league titles with the program.
“I started with LT Club Soccer when I was 9 years old,” Graham said. “I spent my entire club soccer career with them, which is rare. The coaches are fantastic and have a real passion for teaching soccer. They taught me how to be a goalkeeper and love the game.”
While her focus is on her final high school season, Graham can’t help but express excitement about attending Purdue next fall. After putting her name out to various recruiting websites, persistence paid off for Graham by finding a match with the Boilermakers.
Graham verbally committed at the end of December and signed her letter of intent on Feb. 7.
“I wanted to play at a school that had a nursing program, my intended major,” Graham said. “When I contacted the Purdue coaches, they weren’t looking for another goalkeeper. A few months later, they sent me an email out of the blue and told me they think I’d be a really good fit.
“I went to one of their camps, met with the coaching staff and fell in love with the campus,” she added. “The incoming class had a bunch of super nice girls who are fantastic players.”
Purdue head coach Drew Roff can’t wait to have Graham on the West Lafayette campus.
“Emily is a fantastic addition to our goalkeeping group,” he told purduesports.com. “Her ability to shot stop and organize the defenders in front of her really stands out. She is always looking for opportunities to improve as a player, and she brings a great mentality to the position. I look forward to Emily positively impacting our program on the field and off.”
A four-year A Honor Roll student and member of the National Honor Society at RBHS, Graham should excel in both the classroom and on the soccer field at Purdue.
“I’ve always had the drive to want to get better,” Graham said. “I never understood people who reached a certain level and felt satisfied. I’ve never reached that point. I always feel like I can go to one more practice, go on one more run or make one more save.”