Family first

By Marshall Haim

Assistant Sports Editor

For many student athletes, going away to college entails being away from your family members.  It can be tough not being able to return home until Thanksgiving or the conclusion of the semester. Others, however, may have the luxury to be closer to home. For Emily Kuta, her home in Mississauga, Ontario – a suburb of Toronto – is only a little over an hour away. But even better, she has a family member that is even closer.

Kuta, a sophomore midfielder for the women’s soccer team at Canisius, has always had an inseparable bond with her older brother, Joseph, who is the goalkeeper for the University at Buffalo (UB) Bulls. The siblings, who are separated by two years, have always shared common interests with one another for as long as they can remember.

“Growing up I was raised as family-first, blood thicker than water,” Joseph said in a phone interview. “Everyone in my family is really close, so having my family and my sister around me is really good. Being a student athlete is a lot of pressure, it’s a lot of stress, and I have a lot going on. Knowing that you have a family member a phone call away, or 10 to 15 minutes down the road is a reassuring feeling.”

Joseph began his collegiate career at Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and transferred to UB after – in his own words – “not fitting in with the program” and wanting “to be closer to home.” His transfer, ironically, coincided with Emily beginning as a freshman at Canisius.

“Everyone asks if he planned it,” Emily said of her brother’s transfer. “Somehow, out of all the places we could have went, we both end up so close to home here. We didn’t even plan it, it just happened that way.”

With attending college in the same geographic area, the siblings are able to share time together while balancing extremely busy schedules. Joseph said that he generally sees his sister once or twice a week.

“We both have cars here, so it’s pretty easy for us to get back and forth to see each other,” he stated. “When something is going on, I’ll go pick her up, we’ll drive around, get a coffee, and hangout for a bit because she’s really close and it’s easy to go do that.”

With being so close to home, Joseph’s and Emily’s parents and grandparents are able to cross the border from Canada to attend games. They aren’t able to make it to all of their games but they do try to make it to most of them. Emily’s parents, Nancy and James, were both in attendance for the Griffs’ 4-0 win against Niagara on Wednesday, in which Emily scored her first goal of the season.

Emily’s goal had more meaning with her father in attendance, since he has not been able to make it to games recently. Having him in the crowd for her first goal of the season was definitely something she won’t soon forget. Immediately following the ball crossing the line, Emily looked directly into the crowd and flashed an ear-to-ear smile.

“It was my parents,” Emily said on the reason for her big smile. “My dad hasn’t been able to come to games in a while. My mom joked around, she said, ‘You’re going to get a goal this game’ and then when I scored, it was just funny.”

“I was very happy with tonight’s game,” said Emily’s father about her play. “She worked really well with the other players, so that’s what I was really impressed with.”

Joseph admitted that it’s an awesome feeling when his family is in the crowd at his games. He also added that it’s much easier for them to come to games at UB, rather than driving all the way down to Pittsburgh.

“They can come to a lot more games and they can be my support system through that,” Joseph explained. “Just knowing I’m close to home is a great feeling because if I ever have to go back home for anything, it’s only a short drive away.”

Not only do their grandparents and parents make it to as many games as possible, the Kuta siblings try their absolute hardest to make it to each other’s games when they can. It’s a difficult task, as Emily and Joseph both need to commit time to schoolwork and practices.

“He had a game the other day, even though I didn’t, so I got to see my family,” Emily said. “I walked outside and my grandparents were all there, too. It’s nice that’s able to happen.”

Emily’s parents are both extremely happy that they are able to make it to their children’s games in Buffalo. When they come south of the border from Mississauga, they often turn it into a full-day trip.

“It’s not far, it’s only an hour and 25 minutes. It’s wonderful,” their mother, Nancy, said. “If Joseph has a game at seven, we’ll come take (Emily) for coffee or she’ll come to the game, and vice versa. We usually get here very early, spend the day with each of the kids.”

Even though Emily and Joseph are currently in the midst of their respective seasons, the two try to stay as connected as possible. Along with seeing each other once or twice a week, they’re always in contact with one another. They’ll communicate about each other’s games shortly after the final whistle and also get advice on other topics.

“She texts me before and after games, letting me know how things are going,” Joseph said. “We’re always talking back-and-forth because we’re so close. If something is going on in Buffalo or in the area, we’re most likely both involved with it. We also talk about our games, how we do, and kind of deal with pressure situations. It’s good to have a sibling close to help with that.”

“We’ve always been super close,” Emily agreed. “I feel like since we both somehow ended up in Buffalo and we’re so close to each other now, we’ve just gotten closer. It’s really nice having that connection with your brother, especially being able to go see him whenever I want.”       

The elder sibling holds an 8-2-0 record for the Bulls this season. Entering Thursday’s games, he ranked 39th in the nation amongst goalkeepers in goals against average (0.80). He opened the season with clean sheets in six of the first seven games. He registered an impressive shutout in UB’s 1-0 win over Canisius on Aug. 28, saving five Canisius shots. In the following game vs. Stony Brook (Sept. 2), he had another clean sheet, saving nine shots (two shy of his career-high with UB).

Emily has appeared in all nine games for the Griffs so far this season and started the first two games (vs. Sacred Heart, and at Kent State). She registered two shots on goal, including the goal, in Wednesday’s win over Niagara. Last season, Kuta found the back of the net twice, one of which was a game-winning goal in an epic double-overtime match with conference foe Marist one year ago today.

“It means a lot. My parents support me all the time,” Emily said. “When they’re here, I feel like I have something [more] to play for. Just my parents being there, I feel more relaxed.”

Not only are Emily and Joseph happy to play collegiate soccer in the Buffalo area, their parents feel exactly the same.

“If they’re having any issues, and we can’t come, they have each other,” Nancy said. “It’s really good. They talk all the time, and they get the U.S. experience and still [get to] be close to home, so it’s awesome.”

 

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