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Saint Louis University’s Karsen Kohl passed the ball past the University of Iowa’s Samantha Cary during the game at SLU on Aug. 16. SLU lost to Iowa 1-0.
Saint Louis University’s Karsen Kohl passed the ball past the University of Iowa’s Samantha Cary during the game at SLU on Aug. 16. SLU lost to Iowa 1-0.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Soccer players mix athletics, academics, faith

SLU women’s team includes five members from Catholic schools in the archdiocese

Though currently teammates, five Saint Louis University women’s soccer players competed with or against each other as Catholic high school students in St. Louis. They say they share a faith perspective that helps them as premiere student-athletes.

St. Louis University's Jess Preusser battled for the ball against Iowa's midfielder Natalie Massa during the game at St. Louis University on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
The five — Jess Preusser, Karsen Kohl, Emily Puricelli, Emily Groark and Lyndsey Heckel — were familiar with each other way before they came to SLU, where the team has found much success. Saint Louis University returns 20 players, including all 11 starters, from its 2020-21 team that finished 15-1-1, won A-10 regular-season and tournament titles for a third consecutive season, and made a third straight NCAA Championship appearance.


In high school, the two Nerinx Hall grads, two St. Joseph’s Academy grads and the Incarnate Word grad hated playing against each other, rivals til the end. Jess Preusser recalled a key game between her Nerinx team and St. Joseph’s that was decided by penalty kicks. “It’s just weird knowing that in a couple years, we’d be on the same team,” Preusser said. “Games like that we’ll remember a long time.”

Preusser, a sophomore midfielder who attended Nerinx Hall, was influenced by her high school’s mission to develop empowered women who know themselves and the world. It helps Preusser — studying health sciences as a pre-physical therapy student with a minor in psychology — have confidence to be herself and leave her mark on the world.

As an athlete, she relies on her religious background anytime she struggles. “If I’m having a hard time, I can always go back to God and my faith and get strength from that,” Preusser explained.

Being part of the Billikens team — something so much bigger than herself — is “such an awesome thing,” said the parishioner of St. Francis of Assisi in Oakville. “Not a lot of people get to experience that in their lifetime. It’s a special thing and a ton of fun being with everyone every day. We all depend on each other to reach our goal and climb that mountain.”

• As a freshman, played in all 17 games and started 14.

• At Nerinx Hall, was second-team All-State, All-Region, first-team All-District and first-team All-Conference as a sophomore and junior; made the All-Metro second team and was Nerinx’s Most Valuable Player as a junior; team captain as a junior and senior; first honor roll student every year, carrying a 4.0 GPA.


Karsen Kohl, a junior midfielder who’s a St. Joseph’s Academy grad, appreciates her Catholic high school education “with good, strong morals and good people around me because it created an environment that made it easy for me transitioning into college with a lot of people with different backgrounds,” she said.

Her faith helps her in pushing herself to do her best. “Balancing school and soccer, you always have to have that strong faith and beliefs,” said the St. Alban Roe in Wildwood parishioner.

Players on a soccer team have different positions and training, but are all pulling for the same goal, she said. “We each have our own talent individually that makes the team better as a whole. The main thing is to reach our goal together and have fun with it.”

Studying to be an athletic trainer, Kohl enjoys the Jesuit background of SLU, the coaches and her teammates.

• Named to the Atlantic 10 Commissioner’s Honor Roll as a freshman and and sophomore; Played in all 17 games and started 16 as a sophomore.

• First-team All-Conference as a sophomore and senior at St. Joseph’s Academy and helped lead the team to the state semifinals her freshman and sophomore years; Spanish National Honor Society president and won the St. Joseph’s Academy Sportsmanship Award.


Emily Puricelli, a sophomore goalie from St. Joseph’s Academy in Frontenac, takes her high school motto “Not I, But We” with her on the field and off the field. “On the field, it’s not just one person, everyone is working together. Off the field, learning about different cultures, learning about different people, making yourself uncomfortable so you have a better outlook on the world.”

The Holy Infant in Ballwin parishioner and business major said, “You can lean on God in bad times, but it’s also good to lean on Him on good times and thank Him for allowing me to get in this position I’m in and have the things I have in my life.”

As a goalie, she feeds off the team energy, she said. SLU is aiming for the NCAA tournament and winning there. “We’re not overlooking anything, but still striving for success,” Puricelli said.

• The goalie begins her sophomore season tied for eighth in wins (15), 10th in saves (52) and tied for 10th in shutouts (eight) on SLU’s career lists; named Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year and to the All-Conference first team.

• At St. Joseph’s Academy, was second-team All-State, first-team All-Region and first-team All-Conference as a sophomore and junior; had a combined 0.15 goals against average as a sophomore and junior


Emily Groark, a senior midfielder from Incarnate Word Academy in Normandy, found her school’s modular schedule helped her transition into college.

The St. Joseph in Cottleville parishioner’s faith helps her as an athlete, she said, as she goes onto the next step of her development “because I know He’ll be with me.”

St. Louis University's Lyndsey Heckel passed the ball during the game against Iowa.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
The communications major added that SLU’s team provides “a feeling of oneness and family. We all work for each other, and I think you can see that on and off the field.”

• As a junior, was All-Conference second team; scored seven goals (third on the team), including two game-winners; fourth on the team in points

• As a sophomore, third on the team and tied for eighth in the A-10 with five assists.

• At Incarnate Word Academy, registered 22 goals and 11 assists as a senior and was a United Soccer Coaches All-American, Class 3 first-team All-State and state Co-Offensive Player of the Year as the team reached the state final; earned the North team’s Most Valuable Player nod at the Missouri Athletic Club All-Star Game; Class 3 Regional Player of the Year and All-State as a sophomore and junior; four-time All-Conference choice


Lyndsey Heckel, a sophomore defender and forward who is a Nerinx Hall grad, said the teachers at her alma mater prepared her for college. “You could always go to them if you needed anything. I really relied on my teachers.”

A member of Messiah Lutheran Church in Weldon Springs, she said she and the fellow players from the Catholic schools live their faith through God.

Not only is she playing soccer, but the health information management major said she is “getting a great education so I have something to do when I can’t do soccer anymore.”

She thrives on competition, Heckel said, and as a team “we don’t like to lose. If we lose, we’re striving for the next level and be better, to win every game after that.”

• As a freshman, named to the All-Conference first team and A-10 All-Rookie team; started all 17 games and led the team by playing in all but 15 minutes.

• At Nerinx Hall as a junior, was Class 4 All-State, region co-Offensive Player of the Year, first-team All-Metro, first-team All-Conference and her team’s Most Valuable Offensive Player, with 17 goals and 17 assists; also in basketball scored more than 1,000 career points.

Saint Louis University goalie Emily Puricelli defended a shot during the game against the University of Iowa.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston

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