Emily Knous admits it was a little scary when she found out she was starting in Arizona’s spring season opener.
She had never played at the collegiate level before, and the Wildcats were about to take on the Arizona State Sun Devils in a Pac-12 rivalry game, where she would be competing against players who were older, faster and more skilled than those she faced in club soccer.
But Knous’s fear subsided before kickoff. She had worked too hard to be afraid.
“I was like, ‘I know I have prepared for this my whole life, so I’m more than ready,’” she said.
You see, Knous is not a typical freshman. She graduated early from Long Beach Poly and enrolled at the UA last winter when most people her age were still wrapping up their senior year of high school.
Knous had to make sacrifices to put herself in that position, though she doesn’t necessarily look at it that way.
“I wasn’t the type of person that was all about my high school years, so missing prom and grad night and things like that wasn’t a huge deal to me,” she said. “I cared more about my future and getting that head start.”
By enrolling early, Knous got the winter, spring and summer to prepare for her freshman season. Not only did that give her more time to get acclimated on the field, but in the classroom as well.
“Instead of having to make the transition from club (soccer) to college in three weeks, I got six months,” said Knous, a pre-business major who got straight A’s in high school.
Arizona has 11 freshmen, but Knous was the only one to enroll early, meaning she was the only newcomer in the spring semester. That would be a daunting situation for most, but Knous’s personality allowed for an easy transition.
“She’s kinda a little too mature for her age,” joked midfielder Kennedy Kieneker.
Some examples: Knous is known to help her older teammates with their schoolwork. She also had an impromptu sitdown with Kieneker, a senior, to discuss her teammate’s future. Knous saw how much Kieneker loves soccer and wanted to know if she planned to continue playing after college.
“She can have such a deep conversation with you out of nowhere,” Kieneker said. “She made me really rethink my life — in a good way.”
Arizona’s coaching staff noticed Knous’s astuteness when they were recruiting her. That, plus her blend of skill and athleticism, is why they floated the idea of enrolling early in the first place.
“When you’re recruiting freshmen in high school, you’re generating conversations most of the time where you’re doing most of the talking. She was someone in the beginning who it was back and forth,” said head coach Tony Amato. “She was asking good questions and she was engaged in the process. So you knew from that point that she was a little bit different and you see that now.”
Amato laughed when he heard about Knous’s conversation with Kieneker.
“None of that would surprise you if you got to know Em,” he said. “She’s going to look at all that stuff, almost to the point where you probably have to nudge her to take a deep breath and have a little fun.”
Oh, don’t worry, Knous’s freshman season has been a blast. The midfielder has started in all eight games and has emerged as one of Arizona’s best playmakers, tallying four goals and two assists.
“It’s been awesome,” she said. “I grew up in a good club team (Legends FC) so I had a good foundation, and the transition was pretty smooth and I’m learning things every practice, every game and getting better. I think it’s gone really well for me.”
Knous was recently named to TopDrawerSoccer’s National Team of the Week after notching two goals and an assist in a win against Baylor.
“I think her enrolling early really helped because she was able to practice with us for a whole semester, she was able to play college soccer before all the other freshmen came in, and she just has a maturity level on the field where she’s not nervous on the ball,” said UA defender Morgan McGarry. “She’s able to withstand some pressure and I think just having her as an attacking center-mid or outside-mid and being able to connect (passes) and also work back and back-press and defend, she’s been a great addition.”
The quartet of Knous, Kieneker, Kelcey Cavarra and Amanda Porter gives Arizona a talented, versatile midfield. Knous and Porter are extremely skilled players, while Cavarra is a grinder and Kieneker can do a little bit of everything.
“We all play different styles, which can be beneficial,” Knous said.
Most importantly, they all work hard.
“And Em has not missed a beat on that,” Amato said. “She’s stepped right in and you look at the numbers in terms of how much she works and runs, and all three of them cover a ton of ground and she’s fit right into that.”
The Wildcats have reaped the benefits, entering Pac-12 play with a 7-1 record. They have won seven games in a row, their longest winning streak since 2004, and are on track to make their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance in five years if they hold their own in conference play.
Arizona is an up-and-coming program, and Knous is intrigued by the opportunity to take it to even greater heights.
“This program, they haven’t won everything yet and I wanted to come to a school and build a legacy and make my mark,” she said. “They had the foundation and the coaching staff to put it all together so I came here with a chance to do something new and great at this school, and I think it’s going to be a great place to do it.”
Which is why Knous committed to Arizona all the way back in 2015 and took every step imaginable to enroll early.
“I have played soccer my whole life,” she said, “and just putting in the extra hours of training, not partying in high school, getting good grades, it all adds up to wanting to do well and the bigger picture, and I think finally getting here and watching that pay off is exciting.”