GCC soccer coach gives birth, coaches team to PIAA final 11 days later

Wednesday, November 17, 2021 | 8:33 PM

Olivia Kruger watched the WPIAL Class A girls soccer championship game Nov. 5 at Highmark Stadium from a hospital bed, shortly after delivering her 8-pound, 4-ounce bundle of joy, James Thomas Kruger.

The baby was born minutes after kickoff.

Just 11 days later, she had a much better view of her Greensburg Central Catholic team’s PIAA semifinal.

Kruger made a surprise return to the sideline Tuesday night when the Centurions played Steel Valley at Elizabeth Forward. GCC won 2-1 to avenge a WPIAL title-game loss and return to the state final in Hershey.

It will be GCC (18-2) and Southern Columbia (18-7) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hersheypark Stadium in a rematch of last year’s championship that was won by the Tigers, 2-1.

Kruger’s presence inspired GCC, which played in its sixth straight one-goal game and advanced to its seventh PIAA final. The Centurions have their eye on their third state title and first since 2013.

Convinced their coach was done for the season and would not be along for the ride in the state playoffs, the Centurions moved on. Turns out, they underestimated the toughness and tireless diligence of their leader.

“She’s a freaking trooper,” said GCC assistant Hope Creamer, who was handling interim duties until she received a text from Kruger on Tuesday afternoon that Creamer had trouble comprehending at first read. “I’m thinking, there’s no way, she just had a kid. How can she coach? That just shows what kind of person she is and how much this team means to her.”

Kruger, 28, the wife of Seton Hill women’s coach Zak Kruger — both are former goalkeepers — left her baby’s side for a few hours to regenerate some normalcy.

She missed three games, including PIAA first-round and quarterfinal wins over Mercer and Freedom.

“I walk out from the locker room, and everybody’s like, ‘Coach Liv is here,’ ” said GCC junior forward Sara Felder, who had a goal in Tuesday’s victory. “I was like, ‘Coach Liv?’ It was exciting to see her. It brought up the energy. It helped us. It showed us she wanted to be here with us, and it gave us motivation to try harder.”

Was the coach physically ready to come back?

“Probably not,” said a visibly tired Olivia Kruger. “The last couple of days have been interesting for us. He had a fun little extended stay at Children’s (Hospital) for a couple of days. It was a good sense of normalcy for the both of us (she and her husband). We both needed this.”

Kruger said Zak also missed coaching time. He emboldened her to cancel maternity leave from coaching and rejoin the team.

This is a soccer family. They need the game like a vinyl record needs a needle.

“He had to miss his last regular-season game, and I think he was disappointed about that,” Olivia said. “He encouraged me to come, and it probably was against everything I should have done … I just can’t keep myself away.”

Olivia (Webber) Kruger is from eastern Pennsylvania. She played at Tulpehocken High School, a Class A school just outside of Reading, and collegiately at Millersville, near Lancaster.

Technically, she is 33-2 in her short tenure. Creamer is 2-1.

GCC won a WPIAL title last year with its only loss coming in the state final.

“It was a hard couple of days,” she said. “It was good to be back out there. These girls are so determined.”

Just like their coach.

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.


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