NORWALK, Conn. – It's rare for a freshman to get significant minutes in college competition but Norwalk’s Nick Zuniga is not only getting significant playing time for the University of Connecticut men’s soccer team, he is making a dramatic impact.
Zuniga, a midfielder who played at Norwalk High, scored the game-winning goal for the Huskies in a 2-1 win over New Mexico in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies host Creighton on Sunday at 1 p.m. in the quarterfinals.
The goal was the first of the season for Zuniga, who has played in 12 games and started one for the Huskies.
“It couldn’t have come at a better time,’’ Zuniga said. “It’s pretty crazy that it came in overtime of an NCAA playoff game. I was waiting all season to get that first one.”
Zuniga’s playing time has increased gradually throughout the season, and now he plays a little less than 50 percent of the time for the Huskies (17-3-1). Zuniga said the speed and physicality of the college game is more challenging than the high school level. His brother, Jake, a sophomore at Fairfield University, helped him prepare himself mentally for the transition to college.
“He talked to me a lot about how it’s a big adjustment to the college game,’’ Nick said. “But even if people tell you about it, there’s no way to prepare for it until you actually play it. I think Jake was pretty much dead on when he told me I could expect.”
UConn has one of the nation’s most decorated men’s soccer programs. Coach Ray Reid directed the Huskies to the 2000 national title, and the Huskies frequently advance deep into the NCAA Tournament.
While Zuniga’s focus is on the Huskies, he also kept tabs of the Norwalk High soccer team and the Bears’ run to the state championship.
“I was following them all season,’’ Zuniga said. “They deserved it, the coach deserved it and the program deserved it. I’m happy for them.”