Women’s soccer’s first All-American on her time at Emerson, growth, and more

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Photo: Danny Kennedy

Senior Cali Bruce was pivotal to the Lions’ success in the 2022 Season.

By Leo Kagan, Sports Editor

After starting 56 games, scoring 21 points, earning three First Team All-Conference honors, and winning a NEWMAC championship, senior midfielder Cali Bruce might be near the end of her Emerson College soccer career.

Bruce added another award to her trophy case Nov 30 when she was named United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division III Third Team All-American. But, the selection is likely her last award at the collegiate level as she doesn’t plan on returning next fall. 

Everyone keeps asking me [if I’ll come back],” she said. “If it was financially feasible, I would do it in a heartbeat. It’s a little too expensive”

While Bruce hasn’t fully ruled out the possibility of a return, she’s satisfied with her Emerson soccer career. 

“I feel like I’ve accomplished almost everything I could have dreamed of,” she said. “To be a part of this team’s growth has been so fulfilling.”

The two-year captain achieved plenty while wearing a Lions jersey, but she said the All-American selection—the first ever bestowed upon an Emerson women’s soccer player—was the most surprising. 

“I didn’t believe it,” Bruce said of the selection. “It was surprising especially because we didn’t make it far into the [NCAA] tournament. But it also felt like all the work I put in since I started playing soccer finally paid off.”

Bruce started playing soccer in her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. The daughter of Skye Eddy, a UMass Amherst women’s soccer standout and former professional player, Bruce isn’t sure exactly when she started playing, but she knows the sport has always been a part of her life. 

“I like to say that I was a soccer player before I was even born,” Bruce said. “I always joked that [soccer] was in my blood.”

By the time she was 8 years old, Bruce was a one-sport athlete, focusing all her attention on soccer. At 12, she joined Richmond United of the Elite Clubs National League, where the best young players in the sport competed against each other frequently. The league also serves as a scouting hotspot for college coaches, something Bruce regularly experienced as she got older. 

“If you join an ECNL team, you [get] the opportunity to be in front of coaches,” she said. “By age 14, I’m having big college coaches coming in watching me play, which is arguably crazy.”

Playing in a highly competitive environment, Bruce was destined for collegiate soccer, but it was around this time she began feeling the Division I path wasn’t for her. 

“I always had a loving relationship with soccer, but around 15, it started to feel like a job,” she said. “I didn’t want to quit, but I realized I didn’t want it to be everything that my life was. I want[ed] to live my life, and I didn’t want soccer to be my life.”

Bruce said her path was atypical—most of her ECNL teammates went to Division I schools to continue their soccer careers. At the time, she feared she might not be good enough to compete at the highest levels of collegiate soccer. 

“I was struggling with my own insecurity,” she said. “I didn’t think I was good enough to go to a Division I college. Now, looking back, I know I would have been capable of going to certain Division I schools and getting good minutes. But it was a moment of teenage insecurity.”

Whatever her motivation to forgo Division I offers for Emerson, Bruce feels confident in her choice now. She played out a successful collegiate career in which she won several individual awards and a conference championship, but she also learned to appreciate her own talent in a way she couldn’t as a teenager. 

“The biggest thing I’ve gotten out of these four years is that I’m capable and I always have been capable,” she said. “It’s not like I can kick a ball better now than when I was 17—what’s really changed is my mentality. I’m able to play for myself and for my team now and for the love of the game.”

Another benefit Bruce found in playing for the Lions was Head Coach David Suvak.

“It is really common for a coach to make it about themselves,” Bruce said. “Something I really appreciate about [Suvak] is that he just wants to support us. He doesn’t have his ego in the game. If you make an error, he’s gonna give you feedback, but it’s never pushing you down—he’s trying to lift you up.”

Bruce explained this is rare in college soccer—many of her friends at Division I universities have no such player-coach relationship. 

“I talk to my friends who go to [Division I schools] they’re like, ‘My coach is so mean, I barely talk to [them],’” Bruce said. “That’s just not a dynamic that occurs here with me and Suv.”

Suvak agrees, viewing Bruce more as an ally than an underling. 

“I put a lot of trust in her knowing what she can accomplish on the field,” he said. “She is a student of the game—she’s taking coaching courses and understands what I’m trying to accomplish, the way I’m coaching, and the conversations that we have about tactics. Getting along in the team environment [is about] understanding each other.”

Bruce said she’s also learned a lot about leadership in her time at Emerson. In two-years of captaincy, she developed an understanding of the value of leading with compassion. 

“This season has taught me the importance of having empathy in the way that you lead,” she said. “In all ways of life, if you lead with empathy, everything else falls into place. It gives you the ability to forge really valuable and important and impactful connections.”

The result of Bruce’s career, her hard work and leadership skills, was a historic All-American selection. It serves as proof of her time at Emerson, a capstone to a successful career. 

Bruce, a sports communications major focusing in nonprofit communications, plans to carry her experience, learned confidence, and leadership skills into her career, continuing in the footsteps of her mother in delving into the world of coaching. In moving forward, she is trying to square away the end of a career she doesn’t fully want to be finished. 

“I know my soccer journey will continue beyond this,” she said. “I’ve sort of made peace with it, even though I really wish I could come back. But I’m okay with having to walk away at this moment.”

Bruce recalled one memory in particular as emblematic of what makes it so hard to leave the team she spent her college years playing for, and why she’ll remember her experiences for the rest of her life. 

“We were in the locker room, and someone was playing music,” she said. “Everyone was just singing and dancing and smiling and laughing together. I’m sitting there and I just was overwhelmed with this happiness—this is the community that has been forged among our team. The wins are awesome, and those will stick with me forever. But what really is gonna stick with me is the way the team made me feel.”