[follow id = “JLauing”]
Elise Krieghoff needed a bike.
The sophomore women’s soccer player doesn’t have a car, so she sought a new mode of transportation at an unlikely retailer: a thrift shop.
There she found it: a rusty old-fashioned cruiser, color decayed from years of wear and tear but parts still intact. The Schwinn two-wheeler didn’t look like much, yet Krieghoff couldn’t help but gravitate toward it.
At its crux, this bike was perfect.
The team has plenty of down time between its summer practices, so the players often occupy themselves with various summer projects.
Krieghoff made the bike hers.
After two-a-days on the soccer field, she’d spend hours on the back deck of her house, spray painting the bike, installing recently purchased parts and perfecting her new ride.
“When she puts her mind to something, it’s like that is going to be done, almost just that attitude that it will get done,” roommate and teammate Robin Mertens said. “There’s not a question about it. If obstacles come up she just figures it out.”
What started as a rusty hidden gem has now become the complete package.
If Nike is looking for a new spokesperson, Krieghoff may be the perfect candidate.
After all, her character is synonymous with Nike’s trademarked tagline; the forward always finds a way to “just do it” and, during the interview, sported the slogan on her shirt.
Krieghoff possesses an extraordinary level of focus, to the point where things like mononucleosis, known as “mono,” or the probe of college soccer’s national spotlight don’t faze her.
That spotlight has found its way to San Luis Obispo this year because Krieghoff has quietly become one of the nation’s premier strikers.
Quietly, because by just talking to the Clovis, Calif. native, you’d never know that she leads the nation with 15 total goals and 1.25 goals per game.
“She’s quiet, unassuming and just a pleasant person to be around,” head coach Alex Crozier said. “You say, you’re gonna talk the talk, you gotta walk the walk. She walks the walk but she doesn’t really talk about herself. She just gets the job done.”
The Fresno Bee Player of the Year as a senior at Buchanan High School, Krieghoff led the Bears to three Central Section Division I titles and scored 100 goals during her tenure.
Plenty of NCAA Division I soccer powerhouses showed interest in Krieghoff, including UC Irvine, Fresno State, Vanderbilt, USC and Cal State Fullerton. But coming to Cal Poly was a no-brainer.
“Every time I came to Poly, I just felt like this was where I was going to be able to succeed,” Krieghoff said. “Meeting with coaches a lot, (Crozier) was always honest and upfront with me, he always told me how it was. I felt like, at other places, they were just trying to sell me.”
Krieghoff had only one concern with Cal Poly at the time: now the nation’s top scorer, she plays on far from the nation’s best team.
“At the back of my mind I always thought like, ‘Wow, could I have maybe gone to a different place, like bigger and better?’” Krieghoff said. “At the end of the day I think I’m here for a reason. I can become a leader here more so than just another player at a big Pac-12 school.”
Her collegiate soccer career welcomed her with open arms, but soon rejected the embrace and gave her the cold shoulder.
Krieghoff believes she came to Cal Poly last year with mono, though the disease didn’t completely take over until early in the season.
But in her signature style, she brushed off the infection and played through it, scoring a goal in her collegiate debut at Loyola Marymount (LMU).
“You almost wouldn’t be able to tell,” Mertens, a Cal Poly centerback, said. “We had our game against LMU, we get on the bus and she’s like, ‘Listen, I’m really not feeling well.’ But none of us would have been able to tell after seeing her play. She was really comical about it. She would send us Snapchats of her at home with mono and stuff like that.”
Pale and exhausted, Krieghoff was sidelined for three games during the nonconference schedule. She had to sit back and let mono, a self-limiting disease, run its course.
“I kind of just let it happen,” Krieghoff said. “It’s mono. It takes a while to cure anyway. I didn’t have time to think about it I guess. Once I found out I had it I was just like, ‘Well, I’m just going to go with it at this point.’”
Krieghoff’s entire freshman year was hindered by the virus, as she didn’t fully recover until after the season. She’s clearly at 100 percent this season, though, having scored 15 of the Mustangs’ 21 goals through 12 games. Now, health is something she never takes for granted.
“Last year was such a mess for me,” Krieghoff said. “Having mono and always being sick or not feeling well was really hard to play with. I wanted to make a difference last year and I didn’t really have time to take care of myself. This year I don’t have anything to play through. I just get to play.”
The Mustangs came up just short of an NCAA tournament bid in 2012, losing by one goal to Cal State Northridge in the Big West Conference tournament semifinals.
The whole team had its fair share of injuries, so it remains to be seen what a healthy Cal Poly can do with a healthy Krieghoff. The current sample size, though impressive, is so small that the future is uncertain.
“I think she’s a player that has the potential to be an All-American,” Crozier said. “For Elise to do what she can do really well, which is score goals, our team needs to be in a better attacking rhythm. As the season progresses, we’ll see more and more of what Elise can do with a good team around her.”
Krieghoff is the prototypical goal-scoring machine, but the trials and tribulations of being a forward don’t get to her head. That impenetrable focus is in full force on the soccer field.
“Oftentimes you’ll see a player take a shot and put their head down and think about that for a while,” Crozier said. “With Elise, a shot doesn’t get in and in her mind, it’s like; ‘Well, I’ll go get the next one.’ You can see that in her. It doesn’t bother her. She just goes back and does it again.”
Teammates respect her humility more than anything, Mertens said. Though Krieghoff’s soft voice won’t always grab the attention of other players, she leads by example and her teammates follow, gravitating to her modesty.
“That’s her attitude towards goals, too,” Mertens said. “She’s like, ‘I don’t know, I just shoot it and it goes in. There’s no special thing to it. Just get lucky and it happens to work out.’”
She manufactures goals naturally and battled mono like it was a mosquito bite. Krieghoff has a unique way of just going with the flow, accepting life’s challenges and facing them head on.
“That’s who I am,” Krieghoff said. “That’s kind of my character in life in general. I just gotta do it and go through it, but be positive about it.”
As Krieghoff evolves, so does her bike.
And she isn’t looking to build a standard cruiser, either. She’s adding a motor that will take the two-wheeler up to 50 mph, allowing her to weave in and out of traffic on campus, battle San Luis Obispo’s daunting hills and reach her destination before anyone else.
It may be unassuming in appearance and nature, but something about that bike makes it stand out. Quicker and more powerful, it effortlessly glides around any barriers in its path, almost as if there are none at all.