BRISTOL - While Nina Zwolinski grew up loving the game of soccer, discovering where she belonged on a soccer field took some time.
“I didn’t start there [Farmington Sports Arena] as a goalkeeper,” Zwolinski said. “I was a part-time goalkeeper and I think about when I was 10 or 11, I started playing goalkeeper full-time and I really enjoyed it because I really loved getting on the ground, getting dirty and making the big time save.”
For St. Paul, Zwolinski is one of the best prospects the program has ever seen. Her four years at St. Paul may pave the way to a long and successful soccer career.
As a goaltender, confidence is extremely important and Zwolinski doesn’t lack in that department. She already has her eyes set on playing Division I soccer and going professional after that.
The talent level is there to do so.
“I think she has unlimited potential,” St. Paul head coach Jim Husbands said. “She could very easily be a four-time NVL all-star and it would not surprise me at all if she’s a multiple All-State performer in goal.”
For now, though, her future plans are the last thing on Zwolinski’s mind. She’s just focused on doing her best to represent the St. Paul soccer program in a positive light and has done so thus far, winning the first two games in goal against Holy Cross and Portland.
With the strong core group still intact for St. Paul, the added presence of Zwolinski isn’t going overlooked by the experienced upperclassmen. They are pleased to have such a reliable netminder behind them.
“She’s been developing into an amazing goalkeeper and she’s going to grow up to be really good,” junior center striker Julia Dess said.
For Zwolinski, having that strong supportive cast in front of her has really helped the transition to the high school level. All members of the team share one goal in mind, winning the state tournament.
“It [winning the state tournament] would give me a lot of confidence,” Zwolinski said. “I really just think it’d be a great experience because a lot of the girls are graduating, so it would be awesome to help them win states before they graduate.”
With a strong offense, Zwolinski brings balance to both ends of the field for St. Paul.
“Our defense isn’t as good as our offense, so I think Nina is going to do a good job saving a lot of our mistakes,” Dess said. “She has been doing that in scrimmages and in our first game she did amazing.”
Zwolinski particularly shined in her first varsity game against Holy Cross. She held Holy Cross to just one goal and was impressive in doing so.
“She made some saves in the first half of the Holy Cross game that I don’t think we’ve ever had a goalie here that could have made those saves,” St. Paul head coach Jim Husbands said.
Against Portland in the second game, she once again had a strong showing, allowing just two goals in a big non-conference game for St. Paul.
Already, Zwolinski has drawn comparisons to former St. Paul boys soccer goalie Zach Federowicz. He was one of the best goalies the St. Paul boys soccer program has ever seen and committed to Quinnipiac University before chasing a dream to earn a professional contract.
Like Federowicz, Zwolinski expects herself to play at a Division I soccer program.
“Without question she can be a Division I goalie,” Husbands said. “With her only being a freshman, it’s going to be interesting to see if she has any more growth spurts and gets any taller, because if she does, she’s really got a lot to offer, because from a technical standpoint she’s the best goalie we’ve had here I think ever on the girls side.”
Not many freshmen are known to lead, but that isn’t the case with Zwolinski.
“I think right now she may be the best leader we have on this team when they’re out on the field,” Husbands said. “She’s in control, in command, she’s very loud and vocal, which I want out of my goalie.”
With all of the expectations surrounding her, Zwolinski isn’t letting that get to her head.
For her, she’s just enjoying the moment and the opportunity to start as a freshman.
“I’m excited for her and excited for St. Paul soccer for the next four years with her back in net,” Husbands said.
“I love the game of soccer in general, but as goalie it’s just something different,” Zwolinski said. “I feel it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Now, years later, it’s clear that Zwolinski has found where she belongs, in goal.
Dan Orencole can be reached at 860-973-1811, or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @OrencoleDan