THE key to Emma Dwenger’s success as one of the top high school soccer players in Indiana can be traced to long before she arrived at Columbus East High School.
Dwenger, a first-team All State selection this season, was surrounded by three brothers (Mitch, Erich and Sam) and two sisters (Alana and Norah) who weren’t going to give an inch when it came to size, strength or ability on the field of play.
“I grew up as one of the guys,” said Dwenger, who is The Republic Athlete of the Year for girls soccer after scoring 34 goals and leading the Olympians to a 16-2-1 record. “My brothers wouldn’t hurt me, but they would tease me. They would take something from me, and Dad (Rick Dwenger) would say, ‘Go get it back.’”
Dwenger, who now is 5-foot-4, might not have gotten it back, but she would have tried hard. “My dad didn’t raise us as girls or boys,” she said. “We were raised as athletes. We would all play pick-up soccer or basketball games together.”
Mom also was an athlete. “My mother (Martha) was a college gymnast,” Dwenger said. “Gymnastics was my second-favorite sport, but I quit when I was 11.”
Perhaps her gymnastics background explains some of the acrobatic goals Dwenger has scored during her years at East. Dedication to her craft is an even better explanation.
“I have been playing soccer since I was 5 years old,” she said. “I fell in love with the sport the first time I played.”
If she was going to love the sport, she was going to work at it. Her ability to pour goals into the net (she was the state’s leading scorer as a junior with 35 goals and second this past season) wasn’t just a natural ability.
“I have a natural kicking ability, but I’ve worked hard at it,” she said. “I always keep 10 soccer balls in the trunk of my car, and my cleats. I will just pull over and kick.”
But while other players share her tremendous athletic ability, she stands alone when it comes to beating a keeper. She scored 88 goals during her high school career despite a torn ACL as a freshman.
“I don’t know, it’s something I’ve always done,” she said of scoring goals. “I see a ball. I see a goal. That’s my mission.
“Even when I played a defensive position, I always ended up at the other end of the field. My coach would say, ‘You have to get back.’ “
She also had superb help from her East teammates in an offense expertly designed by head coach Ilya Schwartzman. “I don’t know how they found me with some of those threaded passes,” she said. “They put me in perfect position. They knew what I was going to do before I knew.”
It created an offense that was an art form and fun to watch. “This year was my best year as a player,” Dwenger said. “I think I did a lot more for my team.
“We had better chemistry, and we connected better. We were looking more to find open players. I wanted to go far in the tournament, so I wanted to get everyone involved.”
It looked like East was headed to a long post-season run, but an upset loss (2-0) to Columbus North in the sectional finals crushed that hope. “We did well, but you always would like to go further,” Dwenger said. “But I had a good four years.”
Now she is headed to Central Michigan to be part of a team that has won the Mid-American Conference title the past two seasons. She had college opportunities in Indiana but wanted to explore. “I knew I didn’t want to be in Indiana,” she said. “I wanted to be somewhere new. I think I will play a forward there, but I will have to go in and prove myself, see where I fit in.”
Dwenger will study psychology. “I’m interested in people and how they work. The key to understanding people is the key to everything else.”