By JOHN NASH
HOUR STAFF WRITER
NORWALK — Nick Zuniga has never backed down from a challenge, especially on a soccer pitch. In the always-competitive FCIAC, he always relished the opportunity to play Trumbull, or New Canaan, or Westhill, or anybody who wanted a shot at the Norwalk Bears.
Now, he’s decided to challenge himself.
On Tuesday afternoon, Zuniga verbally committed to play soccer at the University of Connecticut, which came within a penalty kicks loss to making the NCAA semifinals last season, while at one point holding the No. 1 ranking in the country.
The Huskies finished at 19-3-3 last season, which means Zuniga is joining a team loaded with talent.
“It’s definitely going to be a growing process,” Zuniga said. “I know I’m not going to go there and just start because I had a couple of good (high school) seasons. The level of play is much higher, so I’ll have to work my way up. I’m really going to take that challenge and try to push myself to get to the highest level.”
Norwalk High boys soccer coach Chris Laughton expects Zuniga to rise to the challenge. “Nick is somebody who has high standards and expectations of himself,” Laughton said. “Being his coach for four years, I’ve seen him grow and mature, not just as a soccer player, but as a young man. He has the ability to go to UConn and excel. He knows it won’t be easy, but if anybody can do it, it’s him.”
UConn heard of Zuniga’s interest and saw him play over Christmas break in Florida.
Instantly, they were interested, Laughton said.
Zuniga, who plays for the Beachside Soccer Club, had a lot of interest from schools in the early going, but many fell off once they realized how important it was for him to stay in-state.
“That was a big factor,” Zuniga said. “I wanted to stay home so my parents had a better chance of seeing me play more games. In the end, the two choices I had were UConn and Central (Connecticut).”
In the early going, Zuniga didn’t know where he was headed. It wasn’t until he went on his official visit to the Storrs campus that he knew he had a found a home.
“It was a pretty tough decision, but after I went on my visit, it made it a lot easier,” Zuniga said. “I met with the whole team and they were one of the most welcoming teams I’d met.”
Zuniga had attended a number of UConn’s games this fall, so he’s plenty familiar with the Huskies style.
Now comes the challenge: Pushing himself to play at the level of one of the top programs in the country.
© 2012 The Hour Newspaper.