Prior to an early September match between the Springfield College and Western New England University women’s soccer teams, a dark haired, dark skinned, athletically built player emerges from within a tunnel of enthusiastic teammates to shake the opposing coach’s hand and take her place at center field for the National Anthem.
Not too long ago, the local product from Ludlow, Mass. would have been jogging out wearing Golden Bear navy blue and yellow. WNE head coach Ron Dias jokingly fake spit into his right hand prior to greeting the Pride’s starting striker, for Nina Vital was formerly on his side of the ball.
Twenty-six minutes into playing against her former teammates, Vital sneakily stole the ball in the WNE defensive zone, evaded two defenders and buried a shot just inside the left post, marking the beginning of an eventual 4-0 victory for the Pride. Vital finished the game with two goals and one assist against not only her old team, but also Springfield’s biggest rival.
“That was the best game this year,” says Vital. “Last year I didn’t get to play them because I was hurt, but this year I was so excited. I was so comfortable because I have practiced and played with most of them. It was different because I was on the other side, but it was fun.”
Prior to graduating from Ludlow High School in the spring of 2010, Vital knew that she wanted to stay local and play soccer at the next level. With two premier soccer teams in the area, the Ludlow Lion star was faced with a decision between city rivals Western New England University and Springfield College.
“Initially I wanted to come to Springfield for the Physician’s Assistant program,” said Vital. “But I ended up applying to Western New England for the Pre-Pharmacy program and was accepted.”
Vital’s freshman campaign for the Golden Bears was nothing less than what was expected from the heavily recruited high school star. With eight goals and picking up The Commonwealth Coast Conference (TCCC) Player of the Week honor along the way, the future was bright for the freshman stud.
Following her first year on Western New England’s campus, Vital had a change of heart. She elected to focus on her career outside of soccer and transfer into the Physician’s Assistant major at Springfield College. After contacting Springfield head coach John Gibson notifying him of her future plans, Vital never looked back.
“We recruited Nina originally for various reasons, but she ended up at Western New England,” commented Gibson. “She decided that she would come here after all. I’m so happy that she is here.”
The now junior has had an experience with her new team like no other.
“I love it,” says Vital with enthusiasm. “It’s a lot different from WNE. The girls, the whole atmosphere of the team is a lot better. Everyone is so close.”
The Pride have welcomed her with open arms, for the crafty striker is on her way to piecing together quite a career with Springfield. After battling injury in the 2011 season, Vital came into this season healthy and strong. The 5-foot-3 junior has sparked Springfield to a 6-4 record, leading the team with four goals and an assist.
During this past summer, Vital fine-tuned her skills playing for Lusitano Football Club back in her hometown of Ludlow. Playing alongside D1 players such as Michelle Baj of UConn and Taylor Hartmann of UMass Lowell, Vital competes against the best talent around, preparing herself for this season. Also playing for Lusitano F.C. is Springfield alum and Ludlow native, Sue Silva.
“Nina is a hard worker,” said Silva regarding her teammate. “She will be dribbling a ball and get it taken away, then bounce back and steal the ball back. She is aggressive and I love playing with her. The other team doesn’t touch her because of her physical style of play.”
Vital, Gibson and the rest of the Pride will look to close out the season on top of the NEWMAC Conference and advance into postseason play.
“I think that we are going to go really far,” said the hopeful Vital. “Every team that we’ve played we can keep up with, and we are definitely not someone to look past. Hopefully, we can go to NCAA’s.”