By Cameron Martin
Norwalk’s Nic Zuniga picked a good time to score his first goal of the season for the UConn men’s soccer team, netting the game-winner in the No. 4-seed Huskies’ thrilling 2-1 double overtime victory over No. 13-seed New Mexico in the third round of the NCAA tournament last Sunday in Storrs.
Zuniga, a freshman at UConn and a 2012 Norwalk High School graduate, was playing the position of right midfielder when UConn stole the ball in the second sudden death overtime. UConn midfielder Carlos Alvarez was controlling the ball in front of New Mexico’s center backs when UConn forward Mamadou Doudou Diouf made a run down the left side of the field and drew defenders towards him.
That left the right side open for Zuniga, who accepted the pass from Alvarez and put it far post past New Mexico goalie Victor Rodriguez with 5:42 left to advance the No. 4 seed Huskies (17-3-1) to the third round. They will face No. 12 seed Creighton Sunday at 1 p.m. in Storrs.
“As soon as it happened, my heart started pounding like crazy,” Zuniga said.
Several members of his family, including his parents and brother, were in the stands.
“To tell you the truth, as soon as I kicked the ball I just started celebrating,” Zuniga said. “I didn’t really see the ball go into the net.”
UConn, the 2000 Division I NCAA soccer champions, advanced to the round of eight for the second straight year.
Last year Zuniga led Norwalk High School to the FCIAC’s best record (13-1-2) for the second straight year, and the Bears reached the state semifinals for the first time since 2004. He had 17 goals and 10 assists and was named to the all-New England, all-state and all-FCIAC teams.
This year the Bears completed some unfinished business — winning a share of the FCIAC championship and then winning the CIAC Class LL state championship last Friday against Fairfield Prep.
“I’m so happy for them,” Zuniga said of his former team. “They’ve worked really hard all year, and we’ve worked hard in past years. I’m just glad that they got this win this year.”
Zuniga’s minutes have increased over the course of the season and he’s now averaging 15-20 minutes of play per match.
“I’ve had my fair play,” he said. “It’s definitely increasing since the beginning of the season, because I’m getting more comfortable and the team’s getting more comfortable with me.”
A finance major, Zuniga said he’s felt right at home with his new team.
“We’re having an overall good season. I love this team. They make me feel like I’ve always been here and I belong here.”
He anticipates coming off the bench once again in Sunday’s quarterfinal match against Creighton. But Zuniga said he’ll be ready whenever UConn coach Ray Reid calls his number.
“Whatever’s best for the team at the moment, we’ll see how practice goes this week,” he said.
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