It was a brisk Saturday afternoon in November in the latest place she’d never been and the crosshairs were on Camilla Kuever.
It was the biggest game thus far of the Boyertown girls soccer team’s remarkable season, a PIAA quarterfinal at Cumberland Valley against high-powered District 7 champion North Allegheny, and the Tigers had two goals: one was to win; the other was to use any means necessary to stop the Bears’ junior exchange student from Germany, who happens to be a member of the U-17 German women’s national team.
In a game officiated with an ‘anything goes’ baseline, the effects were there to be felt by Kuever, who had worked tirelessly in the midfield all game despite constant triple-teams.
The Bears survived a North Allegheny barrage to reach overtime, but the Tigers’ goals remained. Early in overtime with the Bears trying to rally, Kuever received a painful boot to the ankle from Tigers’ midfielder Hannah Kirkpatrick and crumpled to the ground. She let out a whimper, the tears ready to flow if only she’d allow them.
And really, what was Kuever fighting for? These weren’t her dreams.
A Pioneer Athletic Conference championship or a Pennsylvania state championship didn’t even exist in Kuever’s consciousness prior to coming to Boyertown on Aug. 9, four days before preseason training camp.
But as she was quickly embraced by the Boyertown girls’ soccer team and made fast friends, their dreams became hers.
“I heard them talking that it’s their dream to win PACs or get into the state final, so I just kind of picked it up,” Kuever said.
With that level of commitment to the collective, the knocks and bloody knees were no match.
“I wouldn’t let that stop me. That was not an option,” Kuever said. “I didn’t want any team to stop me from playing. The other girls on my team wouldn’t let anything stop them either. They would always keep going. I just felt like that’s what I have to do. No excuses.”
That strong mentality won out in the 3-2 overtime win over North Allegheny, as Kuever collected herself, brushed off the bruises and minutes later passed to Samantha Goffice for the game-winner. It won out when Kuever headed in a corner kick in the final minutes for a 1-0 win over Hempfield in the PIAA semifinals.
And it certainly won out on Nov. 15 when Boyertown won its first PIAA championship, winning the 4A title game over Conestoga 1-0 in overtime, the climax of an irreplicable season in Boyertown, made possible by the best ‘new girl’ a school or team could ever hope for.
With game-changing ability on and off the ball, deft weight of pass and a 5-11 frame that made her the favorite to win every aerial ball, Kuever was the missing piece to turning the Bears’ fortunes from jilted in 2018 to charmed in 2019, a performance worthy of Mercury All-Area Player of the Year honors.
By meeting and surpassing every challenge thrown her way, Kuever helped deliver Boyertown PAC and PIAA championships (the first for the league since the Owen J. Roberts girls in 2003) in a 26-2 season that saw her score 22 goals with 12 assists.
“We knew she was a very talented young lady on the soccer field, and her resume speaks for itself, but she made the conscious decision to adapt and compete and adjust to our environment and culture,” Boyertown head coach Bill Goddard said. “It attests to her mentality and her character, and the type of warrior that she is.
“I think all of us that were fortunate enough to spend every day with this young lady realized that not only is she an extraordinary player, she’s an even better person. Her character, her attitude, and her work ethic, all those things spoke for themselves.”
* * *
Camilla Kuever’s soccer journey began early, in the outskirts of Frankfurt, where she still resides, with a slightly unlikely coach: her brother Finn, only three years older.
“He’s the one that made me play soccer. As soon as I could walk, he was my coach down in the basement,” Kuever said. “He would set up obstacles for me to kick the ball over, run around. He was a really tough coach, but he’s always supported me.”
The second of Frank and Eva Kuver’s three children (in German her surname is spelled Kuver, the U with an umlaut), her basement beginnings turned to playing with the older kids – ‘I would play soccer with his friends in the streets,’ she said – to club play in the years to follow.
The thing that put her on the watch list of players and coaches around Pennsylvania – Kuever’s inclusion in the German youth national system – was not a personal goal. In truth, it was entirely unexpected.
She was selected to a regional team in 2016 destined to play in a showcase tournament with national team scouts on hand.
“I was the youngest age group and it’s not normal that they want to have you (youngest age group players) on their team. I wasn’t that confident. I was really surprised,” Kuever said of being invited to enter the national team player pool. “I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go there once, and then they’ll kick me out, but whatever, it’s a fun experience.’ But they kept me there, and they liked the way I played. That’s when it all started that I got really motivated.”
A normal ‘day in the life’ back in Germany would be attending the Carl-von-Weinberg School, an athletics-incorporated educational institution (in the vein of IMG Academy in the U.S.) where training would be a part of the school day, traveling home, and later practicing for two hours with her club soccer team, 1. FFC Frankfurt, where she is a member of the second team (the senior team plays in the first division women’s Bundesliga).
* * *
“I could have been placed anywhere in the country and I was placed here,” Kuever said.
Camilla was intrigued about doing a semester abroad and her brother’s enjoyable experience put it over the top.
“My brother also did a semester abroad and he really liked it,” she said. “Besides that, I always liked the USA and I wanted a new experience, meeting new people. And I wanted to know what soccer is like here.”
Kuever enlisted in the Academic Year in America (AYA) program and was placed with Jeff and Jena Shontz, of Gilbertsville. Hosting an exchange student is nothing new to the Shontz family – Camilla is their seventh exchange student in the past 10 years.
The AYA program runs even deeper for Jena Shontz. Her father, Hugh McMullen, has been a local coordinator for AYA for over 25 years, helping to place foreign exchange students in local high schools all over the country. AYA has high standards for qualification: students need to have 4-5 years of English and be honor students.
“When deciding which student to host, we do not typically have a ‘type,’” Jeff Shontz said. “We usually look for activities or hobbies that the student is interested in, based on what our family is involved in. We like that the students are active in the community.”
The Shontzs are the community coordinators of the Healthy Kids Running Series in Boyertown and liked that Kuever was interested in soccer, especially with their children, Kensley, 7, and Hudson, 4, entering the ages of playing youth sports.
“When reading Camilla’s profile, there was some information about her soccer experience, but it was not until after we selected her, then spoke with her, that we realized she was a part of the German national team,” Jeff Shontz said. “Even when we knew, we could not have imagined how the transition would go for her.”
* * *
Watching Kuever glide past a pair of defenders or swipe the ball from an opposing player, it could be easy to overlook that this was a shy 16-year-old girl nearly 4,000 miles from all her family and friends.
She felt welcomed by seniors Mattie Gallagher and Maddie Monka, both fellow All-Area first team picks, on a tour and lunch the day after she arrived, and equally welcomed by the entire team when she met them.
The love and acceptance made all the difference.
“It was a really big factor,” Kuever said. “Of course it took me some time to get used to everything … I was shy and I’m still shy, I really didn’t talk a lot, but they were just so nice to me. I just felt like I could be myself around them, I didn’t have anything to worry about with them. That played a huge part, the atmosphere around the team and the chemistry all throughout the season was a big part of our success.”
When preseason started, it didn’t take long for Kuever to impress.
“Our girls were in awe of her. The first day of preseason practice, we’re doing fitness tests and she’s just blowing people away,” coach Goddard said. “So right away, and I’m a big believer in actions speak louder than words, and this young lady just put it in another gear.
“And we knew right then and there, this kid is special.”
The Bears were not immediately worldbeaters as the team adjusted to many new circumstances: a forward (Emma Elwell) playing defense, a group of underclassmen seeing significant varsity minutes, and Kuever adjusting to the physical demands, both in game play and frequency of games, of high school soccer while moving to a new position as an attacking midfielder (most of her career has been spent as a defensive midfielder or center back).
By late September, things fell in place and the Bears were blowing teams away, scoring at least three goals in 14 straight games, including a run through the Pioneer Athletic Conference playoffs that featured a 4-0 win over Upper Perkiomen in the semifinals and 3-0 dismantling of Spring-Ford in the title game where Kuever scored two goals in two minutes on assists from junior All-Area first team forward Samantha Goffice, turning a tight game into a runaway.
As the margins got tighter through the postseason, the Bears’ unity tightened. That included their best player giving total commitment to a team she’d only briefly known.
“I always try to give my best for the team,” Kuever said. “I don’t give the best for myself or say, ‘Oh, this is my show.’ I’m just giving my best for whatever the team needs. Because that’s what everybody else does; everybody gives their best for the team so that’s what I try to do.”
Boyertown went 9-1 in the postseason (their only loss in the District 1 championship to Pennridge, 1-0), a remarkable run enjoyed simultaneously with the Boyertown boys reaching the PIAA semifinals in a special season for the Boyertown community.
The run to the PIAA championship was rife with special wins, including the come-from-behind 2-1 win over Nazareth where Goffice, nursing an ankle injury, came off the bench to score two goals in two minutes (both assisted by Kuever) and the season-defining 3-2 overtime win over North Allegheny in the state quarterfinals.
“I don’t think we’ll ever face a player as good as she is,” Mattie Gallagher said after the PIAA quarterfinal win. “We’re lucky that she’s on our team. And we’re lucky to call her a friend, too.
“I don’t think I’ll ever play with someone as talented and hard-working as her.”
Gallagher’s words held true in the 1-0 PIAA semifinal win over District 3 champion Hempfield, won on a Kuever header with 4:11 to play and again in the PIAA championship game with Conestoga, where the Bears gave everything defensively and were made champions on junior All-Area first team defender Mikayla Moyer’s free kick in double overtime, made possible when Kuever was fouled on the edge of the penalty area off a throw-in.
Kuever will return to Germany in January upon the completion of her five-month stay with a PIAA championship medal and a story you almost had to see to believe.
“It’s insane,” Kuever said. “The season was just so much fun, being with the team, with the girls, all the people that I got to know and all the friends I got to make, friendships that will even last when I’m back in Germany.”
All what’s left to settle is whether Kuever made the greater mark on Boyertown, or Boyertown on Kuever.
“I’m actually so sad that it’s over,” Kuever said. “I love it here. I couldn’t imagine it any better.”
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