Soccer's Ruppert Up To Elbows In Defense For The Camden County College Player, Aggression Is Nine-tenths Of Her Law. Opponents Are Left Flailing.

Posted: October 11, 1999

It was business as usual, almost, for KrystinRuppert in a recent Garden State Athletic Conference women's soccer game.

The Camden County College stopper was harassing the opponent's leading scorer to the point of distraction, then frustration. Suddenly, it reached a new level, and Ruppert found herself on the receiving end of an elbow in the face.

``That really hurt,'' Ruppert said, able to laugh about it a few days later. ``They usually don't swing at me. They'll push me sometimes but never take a swing. That was a first.''

Maybe not the last, however. The 5-foot-3 sophomore has a knack for getting inside an opponent's head and under her skin with dogged marking.

It's something Cougars coach Cheryl Burns has come to expect.

``Sometimes I take her for granted,'' Burns said. ``She did something in a game the other day, and all of a sudden it hit me I won't have her next year. And I turned to someone and said, `God, I'm going to miss her.' She's just so good, sometimes you forget how good.''

Ruppert's efforts have helped Camden County to a 9-3-1 start. The Cougars have given up six goals.

The defense will be further tested in the season's stretch run - goalie Ali Marinucci is out for the season with a knee injury. Ruppert is still there, though, using her own brand of defensive psychology.

``Girls don't always like to have someone on their back all the time, and in their face and always pushing them,'' Ruppert said. ``I think I aggravate them a lot. I like when I aggravate them, because then you know you have an advantage over them.

``But I don't like getting hit,'' she said with a laugh. ``Go ahead and push me, but don't hit me!''

Ruppert credited her father, Jack, for instilling that aggressiveness. Jack Ruppert signed his daughter up for a coed league when she was young, and she immediately became a defender.

``I know I can't shoot. As soon as I get up toward the goal, I pass it off to a forward,'' said Ruppert, who did score in Camden County's 2-1 win over Middlesex on Saturday.

After playing four years at outside fullback for Washington Township, Ruppert figured her soccer career was over.

``I knew I wanted to go to college,'' she said, ``but I didn't want to play soccer if I had to go to a bigger school, because it's too time-consuming. At college, you have to work at your studies.''

Burns had other ideas, though, and sold Ruppert on the benefits of junior college.

``I knew someone who played softball with her, and the word I got was how incredibly athletic and fast and aggressive she was,'' Burns said. ``All she did in high school was chase the ball and kick it out, so I'm not sure if they were getting the most of her abilities.''

Burns' efforts paid off, and Ruppert decided on Camden County ``because I could play competitive soccer, but it's still fun. I love playing soccer, but no way I'm getting up at five in the morning for practice like they do at some schools.''

Camden County went 11-7-1 and reached the Region 19 playoffs last season, with Ruppert earning second-team all-region honors. This season, her reputation precedes her.

``When we played Gloucester, their coach [Dan Roberts] was telling me before the game: `If we can just get past Ruppert, I think we'll have a chance,' '' said Burns, whose team won, 3-0.

Ruppert said her determination to prevent goals was more a case of loyalty than pride.

``I just don't want to let my team down or let myself down,'' she said. ``I just try not to let them get by me or turn their bodies, then I try to get it to the front line. Sometimes I can't even find the ball; I just kick it without looking.''

Which is why Burns does not play Ruppert at sweeper.

``She's so aggressive that she gets a couple calls each game for fouling,'' the coach said. ``I couldn't have her that deep in the box committing fouls.''

The coach will take those fouls, though, as long as the tenacity comes with them.

``She just never gives up,'' Burns said. ``She will play until she drops, and you can't ask for more than that from a player. She'll keel over before she stops, and she runs through people.

``She's only 5-3, but she's got muscular legs. I always like when I hear people watching the game going, `Look at that little No. 4. She's fast, she's good.' ''

Ruppert intends to transfer to a four-year school, but she believes this could be the end of her soccer career.

``I have to start working and get some money,'' she said. ``It's kind of rough to go to classes, work a job, and play soccer.''

Burns hopes she will reconsider.

``I'm trying to remind her that she didn't want to play here two years ago, but she's kept her grades up and still played,'' she said. ``She's a really good player.''

As long as she can avoid those elbows, of course.

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