Anyone who has ever played a sport at any level will tell you how important communication and camaraderie are to a team’s success. Coach Jessica Giegucz and player Emma Yoder take that to the next level.
Yoder will be the first one to tell you she and her teammates have a tight bond.
2018 was Yoder’s first season with The Rock, where she started four games and was able to accumulate three shutouts. It didn’t take long for that team to gel and perform well, as they won six of their first seven games on their way to a 12-4-2 regular season record.
“I’ve never felt that with a team until I’ve been at Slippery Rock,” said Yoder
Yoder was able to start all 22 games during her sophomore year, and 2019 showed to be a year of growth for both Yoder and Slippery Rock women’s soccer. The Rock improved from last year to a 15-3 record. Yoder accredits her teammates’ ability to cooperate and several different players showing vast leadership capabilities.
“We had a lot of leaders on the field that year. There were just a lot of people who were passionate about soccer but then also passionate about just being great human beings,” said Yoder.
East Stroudsburg had shown to be a pesky opponent for The Rock, with both regular season matchups in 2019 being decided by one goal, and each team claiming one win. On top of that, there had been a narrative being pushed that the PSAC East, East Stroudsburg’s conference, was stronger than the PSAC West, Slippery Rock’s conference. Lo and behold, after beating the Indiana University of Pennsylvania in round one Slippery Rock women’s soccer was set to play East Stroudsburg. Leading up to the game expectations were high and tensions were higher.
“Everything was crazy,” said Yoder.
Even with all of the pressure, Yoder didn’t allow a goal and saved seven shots on the way to a 1-0 victory that propelled The Rock into the PSAC Championship game. All that was left was to beat Edinboro.
The championship matchup proved to be a close, defensively minded game. The Green and White took a 1-0 advantage just over 20 minutes into the game. The Fighting Scots tied it up around 70 minutes in, but the tie didn’t last long as Kayla Swope sunk the go-ahead goal with under 20 minutes to play. It appeared as if the Fighting Scots would continue the quick scoring trend as they lined up for a penalty shot. Yoder set her feet and got ready to do what she had done her whole life, only this time with a PSAC championship on the line. Just as she had done her whole life; she saved the shot.
Yoder tied her career high with nine saves as Slippery Rock women’s soccer went on to win the game 2-1, concluding the whole PSAC tournament. Yoder would be named PSAC tournament MVP after allowing only two goals and recording 13 saves.
“That season just seemed to go perfect,” said Yoder.
The emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 added an unforeseen obstacle right as the Green and White were getting ready to try for back-to-back PSAC championships. That didn’t mean the work was going to stop. Yoder mentioned how Coach Giegucz has the team set goals for each season at the beginning of the year. She continued this tradition even when the season was canceled. These goals were simple. Succeed in online classes and stay prepared for getting back on the field.
Yoder admitted that online learning isn’t one of her strengths and she has always preferred in-person interaction, but she used some of the values she learned while playing soccer to her advantage. No matter how poorly a game is going, you have to play it out. Yoder already understood that sometimes you need to adapt to situations you may not want to.
“It was hard to stay motivated…you just have to adjust.”
The same applies to staying in soccer shape, especially for a team with PSAC championship aspirations. The rules had changed, but everyone on the Slippery Rock women’s soccer team was eager to keep working and get back on the field.
“I think all of our players were back up here working in whatever sense that we could.”
In the 2021 season, Yoder continued her growth as a player and as a leader as she was named a captain. She once again started every game in goal while accumulating a .771 save percentage on 64 saves. She also led the Rock defense to a PSAC-leading +1.65 scoring margin. Yoder’s best game may have been against Gannon on November 6th when she tied her career high in saves with nine.
As a graduate student, she wasn’t expected to stay and help the team again in 2022, but she made the decision to return after COVID-19 canceling the 2020 season gave her an extra year of eligibility.
“I guess I chose to come back another year because I wasn’t ready to stop playing with this team, I love Slippery Rock women’s soccer… I wasn’t ready to give up on the memories,” said Yoder.
Yoder took the opportunity to compete for one more year as a chance to continue working with Coach Giegucz and help the younger players develop.
“I just wanted to come back and help the team however I could,” said Yoder.
Coach Giegucz had always emphasized personal growth in addition to growing as a soccer player. Yoder had seen this in action since joining the team with all the kindness and leadership capability she had been shown over the years.
“I think one of the things that makes Jessie an awesome coach is that she cares about things off the field as well. She’s trying to not only shape soccer players and teach soccer players but she’s also trying to teach her players to grow into women,” said Yoder.
That personal growth is being tested so far in 2022, as the Green and White have already seen several early disappointments. Despite maintaining solid play, they started out with five ties and two losses by one goal in a seven-game stretch. Yoder commented on how impressed she has been by her teammates mentalities even though they hadn’t been rewarded early in the season.
“There’s not one attitude that has gotten down,” Yoder said.
Yoder then gave everyone a reason to keep their chins up, as a dominant 4-0 Slippery Rock victory over Clarion was headlined by none other than Emma Yoder breaking the all-time saves record for women’s soccer at Slippery Rock, but at the time all she was focused on was the game.
“I didn’t realize it until someone on the team had mentioned it to me after the game… The team’s success is more important to me than individual success,” said Yoder.
This is coming after a 1-0 victory over Edinboro. The winning streak has propelled the Green and White to a satisfying, albeit strange, 3-2-5 winning record. Yoder has made sure to show love to all her teammates, especially the newest players, for their perseverance.
“The freshmen this season have stepped into the team and are immediately contributing and not just on the field. Like they mesh really well with the team. They’re super supportive and they just, they define what it means to be a Slippery Rock women’s soccer player,” said Yoder.
Yoder and The Rock look to continue their strong play at Pitt-Johnstown this Saturday, October 15th.
While it may be a bittersweet thought, Yoder is a graduate student and her time playing soccer here at The Rock is nearing its end. Throughout her collegiate career, she has truly encapsulated what it means to be a student-athlete. She has carried this mentality into created goals for her somewhat near future. She is studying for her Master of Education and aims to teach secondary math. She would also like to work closer to home if given the opportunity.
“The dream for me would be to be a high school teacher and a high school, you know, soccer coach,” said Yoder.