Karina Gutsche takes pride in tradition.
While some may rebel against it, the 19-year-old center back for the University of Florida women’s soccer team is defined by it.
Soccer has been in Gutsche’s family for generations. It is a tradition for the father figure of the family to teach his children the game and to keep the family active.
The tradition of playing soccer started with her grandfather’s desire to perform, playing soccer with friends to stay active for a life defined by fitness.
Gutsche’s grandfather, better known to her as ‘Opa,’ left Germany decades ago to start a family in Rochester, N.Y., with her grandmother.
The grandparents created their own circus act, ultimately making them popular enough to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show during the 1960s.
Gutsche said when she was a kid she would tag along with her grandparents after shows in the circus tent and meet the performers.
She even got an unexpected surprise.
“I was able to sit on top of a baby elephant that they were training for shows,” Gutsche said. “It was so exciting being so young and around all these animals.”
But the real passion Gutsche’s grandparents passed on was their love of soccer.
Her grandfather taught her father, and he passed down the passion for soccer to Gutsche and her younger brother and sister.
“My dad loves soccer,” Gutsche said. “He really wanted us [Gutsche and her siblings] to play, but if we didn’t want to we didn’t have to. I just knew it was in my heart to play.”
Starting soccer at age 3, Gutsche played for a YMCA youth team in her hometown of Valrico, Fla. Her father coached her throughout her youth soccer days, and her ‘Opa’ was at every game cheering from the sidelines up until his passing in 2001.
“I was still in recreational soccer when my grandpa passed away, and I remember it was really hard for me to play because he was always at my games,” Gutsche said. “Whether he knew what was going on or not, he was still there.”
The then 8-year-old athlete had bouts where she thought about giving up the game.
“There were times where I wanted to stop and not play, but luckily I had my parents keep telling me ‘you shouldn’t, you love it, it’s who you are,’” Gutsche said.
Despite the tough times, Gutsche worked hard and got on roster for the Newsome High School girls’ soccer team.
Her father still kept her focused, coming to every game and reminding her of the tradition.
“Any success I’ve had on the field was impacted by my Opa and my dad,” Gutsche said. “We would say a prayer before each game to remind us of his [Opa’s] support.”
Florida head coach Becky Burleigh recruited the college-bound athlete in 2011.
The five-foot-five sophomore has since become a staple on the soccer field. Stepping up from outside back to the leading defensive role of center back during the Fall 2012 season, Gutsche took her tradition and made herself an unstoppable force.
“It’s my pride,” Gutsche said. “I always have to be the one who defends leaving nothing behind. That’s kind of the mindset I’ve always had.”
Since Gutsche traded up, Florida only allowed one goal in the first five games she played.
The sophomore has played 832 minutes on the field, a total of 17 games in Fall 2012. In nine of those games she led the defense in the center back role.
Gutsche said being a leader in her position inspires her to become a leader for the team as a whole.
“Center back was a leadership position that was thrown upon me, as Becky [Burleigh] would say,” Gutsche said. “I want to be a more vocal leader on and off the field.”