For five years — that’s right, five years — Nikki Zurawski has been a staple of the Mattituck High School girls soccer team. As an eighth-grader, Zurawski was brought onto a powerful Tuckers team. “I was a little munchkin on the team,” she recalled.
But she was a “munchkin” who could play. Zurawski not only played that season, but she started all but one game.
“We were very powerful, and Nikki came up as an eighth-grader and fit right into that team,” Mattituck’s athletic director, Gregg Wormuth, said. “So we knew at that there was something special, that she was going to be a special player for Mattituck.”
And she has been. Over the past two seasons, playing as a central defender and as a defensive midfielder, Zurawski scored 10 goals from 89 shots and had 8 assists in 33 games. She made the all-state second team last season.
But the Tuckers will face a major void this coming summer. When the time for preseason training arrives in August, Zurawski will be with the Sacred Heart University (Conn.) team. Wearing a gray and red Sacred Heart shirt and a happy grin, Zurawski signed a national letter of intent, committing herself to the NCAA Division I team on Friday.
Zurawski had verbally committed to Sacred Heart last March, but with several strokes of the pen, she made it official during the signing ceremony at the Mattituck High School Library. Her parents, John and Patricia, were at her side and joined in the session along with Mattituck coach Malynda Nichol and Wormuth.
“It’s a big day,” Zurawski said. “It’s exciting.”
Zurawski is known for her tenacious play, her free-kick ability and her versatility. She is not sure where Sacred Heart will play her, but it may not matter too much. She can, and has, played just about every position except goalkeeper although she said she is most comfortable as a central defender. That is the position she plays for her club team, Brentwood United. When the Tuckers needed offense, though, they didn’t hesitate to move Zurawski forward.
“What strikes me the most about Nik is her intensity, her passion and her ability to shut down players,” Nichol said. “She could really play anywhere. Anywhere I needed her, I could put her there.”
Despite her defensive responsibilities, Zurawski still had 4 goals and 4 assists last season for the Tuckers, who went 9-6-2 and reached the Suffolk County Class B semifinals before losing to Port Jefferson.
Zurawski also showed an ability to drive long free kicks into the opposing team’s penalty area or on goal, a skill she developed as grew older and stronger.
“I’ve hit some pretty far out shots,” she said. “Some of them are lucky. I’m not going to complain.”
Although Zurawski had also considered Stony Brook, it was Sacred Heart’s location that helped sway her final decision. “I wanted Sacred Heart because it was a little bit away, but I could still go home easily while Stony Brook was right on the island,” she said.
But Zurawski said there was no doubt that she wanted to play at the Division I level.
“I always wanted to play D-I,” she said. “I set my mind, I was going to go to a D-I school. I never looked at anything lower. I kept my standards high because it was a goal of mine.”
Nichol said she was “happy, but sad at the same time” watching her star player go through the process of preparing to move on to the next level. Zurawski was a difference-maker. Her leadership and knowledge of the game made her a quasi-assistant coach, said Nichol. When Zurawski spoke, the coach said, her teammates were all ears.
“Her overall desire, that’s what we’re going to miss the most,” Nichol said. “There were games where we were tied or down and you just saw a wave come over Nik, and I knew that she was just going to score on a direct kick or put the ball in play or make an amazing tackle to get us to tie the game, a game that we probably should have lost.”
After signing her name to the document and posing for photos, Zurawski said: “It’s official. There’s no going back now. … We’re signed, sealed and delivered, ready to go.”