Compared to most other athletes heading into their senior season of high school sports this school year, Emilia Wunderlich was not able to prepare much for her last ride with the Jackson girls soccer team.
In August, Wunderlich was forced to have surgery on her femur to remove a benign tumor that caused Emilia to have a stress fracture. While the surgery went well, Wunderlich had to have a plate put in her leg with a few screws.
For the next six weeks post surgery, Emilia used crutches and wasn’t able to play a full-contact sport like soccer for almost five months. Wunderlich still couldn’t do any type of physical activity for another six weeks after she was on crutches.
Even though Emilia was unable to play, she could still work with the ball and other things of that nature. It wasn’t until a week before Jackson started practice for the spring season that Wunderlich cleared for full contact.
“That was pretty tough, and I didn’t get to play club, so I was out for a whole year,” she said. “That was hard, too, because it was the first time I ever had to go without playing soccer for that long. I was scared I was going to come back and not be as good as I was before, but I came back, worked hard and have gotten better.”
Once Emilia was back to playing full-go, she said it didn’t take long for her to feel like her normal self. In fact, it would be hard for people to tell that a physical center back like Wunderlich entered this season coming off a major surgery.
Along with her relentless style of play and skill on the pitch, Indians head coach Justin McMullen said his team has and continues to heavily rely on Wunderlich’s poise and calming presence in any given situation. Emilia said this just happens to be the person she is.
“I don’t know how I do it — it’s just me,” Wunderlich laughed. “I’m a lot like my dad, and he’s a lot like that. What I’ve learned from him is don’t take anything too seriously, get back at it and work hard. Be the hardest worker.”
This season, Emilia has already led the Indians to record four shutouts through their first 10 games. Jackson currently has an overall record of 9-1 while only allowing six goals (no more than one in a single match).
In her previous two seasons as a starter, Wunderlich helped the Indians produce 29 shutouts (17 in 2021; 12 in 2022), while only allowing 26 goals in 43 matches (0.6 per game).
“My mentality as a defender is to not let the other team score and to get the ball out,” Wunderlich explained. “When you’re playing in the back, you can see everything and help be a leader. Help everyone and tell everyone what’s going on back there.”
Emilia has also helped out the Indians offensively, scoring a total of two goals and recording one assist for five points. Fellow senior defender Maci Wendel has also produced two goals along with two assists while helping Emilia shut teams down in the backline.
“Really all of the seniors are good leaders and bring something to the table,” she said. “[Maci] really helps us — she’s always there.”
These two have assisted a player like starting goalkeeper sophomore Camryn Alsdorf in her first year as a starter. Camryn recorded a season-high four saves in the Indians 2-0 win over Kickapoo in the Kickapoo Tournament two weeks ago.
“Well she’s been doing great — I’m very impressed with her,” Wunderlich said. “I think we’ve helped her a lot. We’ve all been working really hard, and we’re doing really well. I think I’ve improved on my leadership, talking and just helping the team.”
Ever since the sixth grade, Wunderlich has been a defender and mostly played club soccer with St. Louis Scott Gallagher. Emilia, who signed with Mineral Area College to play collegiately, was joined on Scott Gallagher for the past few years by fellow Jackson senior and Southeast Missouri State signee Justi Nelson.
Nelson is currently the Indians leader in total scoring with 29 points as she leads Jackson in both goals (nine) and assists (11). Other Indians who have scored more than two goals include freshman Rudi Klund (five), junior Olivia Klinkhardt (four), sophomore Maya Domian (four) and sophomore Rilee Monighan (three).
“This program is amazing, and McMullen is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had. I listen to him well — when he yells at me, I just listen better,” Emilia laughed. “I’m really going to miss it, and I’m sad this is going to be my last year here. Nothing will probably ever top playing here at Jackson.”
Throughout Wunderlich’s high school career, Jackson has won back-to-back SEMO Conference and Class 4 District 1 championships. Jackson has now won five district titles in a row and is hoping to make its first trip back to the state final four since 2018.
“I think we have a pretty good chance if we keep working hard and getting better at practice,” Wunderlich said. “I don’t want to say it puts pressure on us, but maybe also it does to keep that streak alive and keep winning.”
No matter what happens this spring, though, Emilia will still play soccer after this season at MAC. Wunderlich got in contact with her future head coach Dan Martin last fall and visited the campus, which led to her signing back in November.
Emilia is unsure of what she wants to do career wise, so she figured a junior college like MAC would be the perfect place to start after she graduates from Jackson.
“I can get my basic studies out of the way at MAC in two years,” Wunderlich said. “Also, it’s a good place to get my college soccer career started — a stepping stone — and then I get to go to the next level after that. What I love about soccer is the team and the people — they’re all great. Just getting to play when you’re out there on the field takes everything else away.”