Love of baseball may have saved MU soccer goalie's life

ST. LOUIS -- Natalie Kulla is a gifted student-athlete at Marquette University, with a bright future. Soccer is her sport of choice, but her love for baseball may have saved this soccer goalkeeper's life after a tornado ripped through her hometown of St. Louis, Missouri while she was home on break.

Kulla is a fifth-year civil engineering student at MU, and though she hasn't graduated yet, she's already secured a highly-coveted position with Boeing Defense in St. Louis, Missouri. "I am pretty excited about it. It is going to be a new experience for me. It will definitely be a challenge. It's a very different industry - a military industry, and it's something I'm not familiar with. I think it's near to learn new things," Kulla said.

The classroom isn't the only place Kulla has put her analytical mind to work. A talented soccer player, Kulla sits in the Golden Eagles' goal, where she orchestrates the defense, and strategizes for their success. But soccer wasn't the first sport to capture Kulla's attention. In fact, she was dribbling a basketball long before a soccer ball, but it was baseball that she loved first, and that's no big surprise. She grew up just minutes from Busch Stadium in St. Louis. "My family grew up Cardinals' fans, and my dad is a big baseball fan. I remember watching games at my grandpa's house," Kulla said.

On a day off from school eight months ago, Kulla, her brother, and her boyfriend were taking in a Cardinals game. Kulla was home in St. Louis on Easter Break, waiting out a rain delay at the stadium, when she got a call from her dad. "My dad called and said our house was gone. You don't really know what's going on. You know that the weather's bad, but tornadoes are so common, and I didn't even process what he was saying until he said 'I'm looking at your brother's room and there are no walls,'" Kulla said.

An EF4 tornado ripped a 21 mile path of destruction across several counties, and Kulla's neighborhood was destroyed. "The whole family and neighborhood went into a mode of, everyone's fine, let's just get what we can out, and we'll move on from here," Kulla said.

This is where the engineer in Kulla took over. Her family wasted no time worrying about what was lost, instead surveying the scene, and making plans to rebuild. In the months since the tornado, the Kulla family has rebuilt with constant support from her Marquette family, and while Kulla's analytical attitude likely contributed to her resolve, her friends joke that it was actually her love of sports and the St. Louis Cardinals that saved her life. "You know, it's probably true to a certain extent. I don't know what I would have been doing on a Friday. Knowing that it's Friday and you're home for break, there's a good chance I would have been upstairs in a house that was demolished," Kulla said.

Kulla's work on the MU soccer team helped lead the team to the second round of the NCAA tournament, for the second year in a row.