One last ride for UH soccer’s Emma Clarke
In the last four years, senior defender Emma Clarke has grown tremendously into a cornerstone player of the Houston soccer team.
The Christchurch, New Zealand native, entering her fifth year with the program, has donned the scarlet and white with pride on and off the field.
Her significant role on the Cougars’ backline paralleled her outstanding leadership on a Houston team coming off its best season in program history, earning her a spot on the preseason American Athletic Conference All-Conference First Team, the only Cougar to be honored on the list this season.
“It’s a little different for me because I’m not really used to getting recognition,” Clarke said. “It’s just really nice. I’m a fifth-year (player) so I’ve put in a lot of work over the years, so to be recognized is really special and I’m really happy to represent our team.”
Entering her last collegiate season, Clarke has supplied four years of exceptional play, leadership, and a large pair of shoes to fill, setting an example for her teammates and defenders who will have come after her and will attempt to become the next backbone of the Cougars’ defense.
“This season is my fifth year so I’m really just going all in,” Clarke said. “There’s nothing to lose and I’m putting everything on the line and I’m trying to have the biggest season possible. I love that now as a fifth-year (player), I can kind of just try and set an example for the freshman coming in and the classes below me. Just really enjoying my last year.”
Clarke, who has seen countless teammates come and go both in her half-decade with the Cougars, her playing days at St. Margaret College and previous experiences representing New Zealand with the U19s and U20s, has always been a team player.
Possessing the caps and experience she holds in her back pocket, Clarke has a clear idea of what approach she and this team want to take heading into the season.
“This year we are really focusing on having an all-in mentality,” Clarke said.” That goes for players who play 90 minutes, those who don’t get any minutes. We’re all a family and we are in this together. Having an all-in mentality and becoming mentally tough is something that we’re really working on as a team. That’s exciting to see.”
This Cougars team is coming off one of the best seasons in program history with an overall record of 13-5-2 and a dominant home record of 9-1-1. Starting in 19 of 20 games last season, the Cougars posted 10 clean sheets with Emma Clarke heavily involved in leading the backline.
Setting the bar high in 2021, the Cougars welcomed first-year head coach Jaime Frias to the program after former head coach Diego Bocanegra announced his retirement at the conclusion of last season.
With the appointment of Frias as head coach announced in February, this team got the chance to work with him, adding ease to the start of a new era for Houston soccer.
“Jaime came in the spring, which is our offseason, and he really fit right in,” Clarke said. “He got to know every player on a really personal level, he worked really hard to understand the girls, to start implementing his specific style and how he likes to play a team in the spring. It just gave us a huge head start for our actual season this fall so at this point it has felt like he has been here for years. It doesn’t feel like he’s a new coach at all.”
Five games into the season and sitting at 2-2-1, UH are coming fresh off a 3-1 victory against Rice, where Clarke recorded her second career goal for the Cougars as they prepare for a two-match road trip before opening up conference play at home on Sept 15 against South Florida.
During Clarke’s last ride, she is prepared to empty the tank this season as her collegiate career nears an end. Despite the wins and losses, Clarke values what it means to be a team and everything that encapsulates being a team player.
The memories, the relationships, the accolades, and the love for the game that will always stick around once the true final whistle has been blown on an exceptional career.
“For me, being a part of a team is really special,” Clarke said. “I know that a lot of people take that for granted and this might be my last year that I’m playing on such a close-knit team. I think this year, I really want to be there for my teammates and support them as they support me. I want to create those friendships and those bonds that last way beyond playing college soccer.”