Girls soccer: Lockport’s Emma Czech is Herald-News Girls Soccer Player of the Year

Czech had 19 assists as a defender and was an All-America selection

Lockport’s Emma Czech looks to pass against Plainfield Central on Friday, April 5, 2024.

They say numbers never lie, and that’s true. Sometimes, however, numbers need more context.

If you just look at raw individual numbers, Lockport’s Emma Czech may not jump out as the obvious choice for Herald-News Girls Soccer Player of the Year. She scored only four goals, and although her 19 assists are impressive, there were others with that many or more.

But that’s where context is needed. All four of Czech’s goals were game-winners. Additionally, she had 19 assists as a defender, not a position that tends to put up numbers like that. Also consider she was the best defender on a defense that allowed only 10 goals all season and had 17 shutouts. Then consider Lockport won every game it played until falling in the sectional semifinals and never was carded once.

And while numbers never lie, accolades speak a ton of truth. Czech was an Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association All-State selection and a United Soccer Coaches All-American. So while numbers never lie, neither does Czech’s game. She was a clear choice for Player of the Year, despite many other worthy candidates.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “We had a really great season and a really great team, so it was just awesome hearing that.”

A center back, Czech has been playing soccer since she was 4 years old. A Lockport native, she’s honed her skill the past several years with Chicago Inter along with several other Porters. However, she didn’t make her way to Lockport’s varsity team until last year, when she served as more of a role player. Still, her skill showed enough at the club and prep level to earn a Division I scholarship to SIU-E.

This year, however, her level of play would indicate the Cougars may have gotten one of the biggest steals in the state.

To provide more context to the numbers and accolades above, Lockport didn’t give up a goal through the flow of play all season when Czech was on the field. Lockport beat the top-ranked team in Iowa, the third-ranked team in Iowa, the second-ranked team in Wisconsin, and three No. 1 seeds in Class 3A sectionals.

“She’s just heads and tails the best defender that we saw in all of the games that we played this year,” coach Todd Elkei said. “She’s so composed on the ball, her first touch, her defending, her aerial play, the way she distributes out of the back end. She always looks to connect. She’s the real deal, a great player and an Illinois State Scholar. She’s just a great kid.”

It also helps explain how Czech was selected to an All-America team of all the players in the country.

“I was shocked,” Czech said. “[Elkei] told me I was nominated for All-State, and I thought that was awesome. ... After he told me [I was All-American] my jaw just dropped. I was like, ‘Wow.’ It was so unexpected. Being with my teammates when I found out made it so much better. That was really cool.”

That last part is indicative of the mindset Czech takes at all times. When asked about her accomplishments, she praised her teammates. When asked about the Porters’ success, she said it was all about team. Any opportunity she could take to shine a light on those around her, she did.

“All of us get along really well, which makes it easier to do better on the field,” Czech said. “When I don’t have a positive environment around me, I don’t perform very well, so it definitely helped to have those kind of teammates around. ... We had a great year last season, but not losing a game until we were in [the playoffs] was amazing. I wouldn’t have traded those times for anything. I had a great time.”

She says the potential for more great times and a sense of positivity helped draw her to SIU-E. The Cougars won the Ohio Valley Conference in 2021, and Czech hopes to help them get back there soon.

“I love the coaches,” she said. “Their head coach has been there quite some time. Knowing that there’s stability within the program made me really comfortable. I like the resources that they have and the girls I met when I was there. They were really welcoming, so that made it really easy to decide.”

She leaves behind a Porters team with a lot of talent. Heck, she leaves behind an area with a ton of talent. For those striving to reach an MVP-caliber level, she leaves some parting advice.

“All the work will pay off,” she said. “Just keep working and stay confident. It’ll pay off in the long run. … Work hard, have confidence, and it’ll all pay off.”