Nicinski Balances Life at Bucknell with Polish U-19 Team Duties
Oct. 10, 2011
By Becky Hart, Bucknell Athletic Communications
It's a hard life for Evelyn Nicinski. Over the course of a couple of weeks, the Bison freshman has played soccer in three different countries and toured the Estonian capital of Tallinn. A few months ago, she was sightseeing in Austria, practicing yet again with the Polish U-19 national team and preparing for her first semester at Bucknell. Yes, Nicinski has it rough.
"Most people are jealous," she says with a small laugh after returning to the United States from a week of playing in Europe. "They're always like, `That's awesome. You just go on trips around the world, you miss school. You get to play soccer, do what you love.' There's no complaining about it ever."
Nicinski certainly wasn't complaining in mid-September when she rejoined her team from Poland to prepare for the first qualifying round of the UEFA Under 19 Women's Championship in Estonia. It's a post she took up in 2009 while still at Clarkstown North High School in her home state of New York, made possible in part because her parents, Dariusz and Jolanta, are from Poland. Nicinski also has Polish citizenship, making her eligible for the team.
A midfielder with the Bison, Nicinski has spent the last two years helping Poland to the second round of the UEFA championships. Her latest stop came in Estonia where convincing wins over the host team, 4-2, and Cyprus, 5-0, sent Nicinski and her teammates on to the next stage. Only a 1-0 loss to the Czech Republic kept Poland from winning its group.
"I think it went well, definitely in comparison to previous tournaments," she says of her team's success in the first qualifying round. "We definitely picked up our game and got a lot of new players that were really good. We dominated every game even though we lost the last one, which in my opinion we shouldn't have. It was just an unfortunate goal."
Team Poland won't find out where it will play next until the draws for the second qualifying rounds are announced in November. One host nation will be picked from each of the four groups of six teams for April's second stage, and the winner of each group will advance to the July finals in Turkey. Nicinski is hoping Poland will be among the final eight - Poland's first and only trip to the finals came in 2007 - but it won't be an easy task.
"I think it will definitely be hard. The second round is always a lot harder," she predicts. "Usually if you're placed in the lower bracket first, then you have to play higher teams like Germany, which is incredible. Or teams like Norway. But I definitely think that if we make a few changes, then we can do well. And I think that we are going to do better than in previous second rounds.
"I'm looking forward to it. I'm excited," Nicinski continues. "It's a long time away, but I definitely always look forward to it. It's what I wait for every year."
One of Nicinski's new challenges this year has been balancing her commitments to her Polish team with those of the Bison and her academics at Bucknell. Still in her first semester with the Orange and Blue, she faced the difficult decision of whether or not to leave Lewisburg a mere month into her studies.
"It's been my dream to play, so I didn't want to give it up. But I knew that I'd have to think about it because of school."
Making the choice easier was the support she received from the Bucknell community, including Bison head coach Ben Landis, teammates and professors.
"The first thing I made sure of was to ask Coach, and he was all for it," Nicinski says. "It was hard leaving the team, especially when you get close to them. It was hard not being here, especially when all the crowds are here and everyone's here supporting us. It's hard leaving them because it's like you're letting them down. But at the same time, Coach said to do it because it's a great opportunity."
Nicinski missed three games with the Bison, all of them at Emmitt Field. Missing time in the classroom is an obstacle that, although never easy, Nicinski has gotten accustomed to. Fulfilling her academic obligations while traveling has become routine.
"It's a lot of studying on your own and really making sure you keep up with your work. All the professors here are really helpful with it and understanding, which is good," says Nicinski, who hasn't declared a major yet. "It's just a great opportunity to be able to travel and play soccer.
"I started off pretty good with the semester, making sure I keep up on my work. I even got ahead in some of my work to make sure that I was okay to travel."
The Polish team is undoubtedly glad that Nicinski was okay to travel. She has tallied a handful of goals for the squad during her tenure, including one against both Estonia and Cyprus in September, but few of her goals have carried as much weight as what turned out to be the game-winner against Macedonia in the 2010 first round. While leading the host team 1-0, things nearly got out of hand for Poland until Nicinski stepped in.
"One of the (Polish) girls, I don't know why, she bit one of the other girls. She got a red card, so they had the momentum. Then we had a corner kick and I ended up scoring the game-winning goal," Nicinski recalls. "It's an amazing feeling knowing that you just won the game for your team. It was a great celebration, too. That was probably my favorite, just running around the field. I was so happy."
Poland went on to defeat Macedonia 3-1 in that contest and earn a spot along with Switzerland in the second round.
Not all of Nicinski's highlights from her travels have come on the field, however. Over the last few years, she has been to Serbia, Greece, Turkey and Austria in addition to frequent stops in Poland. It was her time away from the pitch in Estonia that ranks at the top of her list, though.
"We had a really good team chemistry this time," she says. "Everyone always meshed together. We were always spending time together, no matter what, whether it was watching movies together or just hanging out in the lobby on the internet."
Nicinski is just one of two American-born players with Poland, making Polish the language of choice on the field. Although she does speak Polish, the switch adds a new level of difficulty to the game when it's communicating in English that is so second nature to her. But as with everything else, Nicinski has proved she can make the adjustment. Just don't expect her transition back to be instantaneous either.
"The other day, I almost yelled on the field in Polish," she says of her first week back in Lewisburg. "In Spanish class, I almost always start speaking in Polish."
While Nicinski might not need Polish on Emmitt Field, she has brought back some valuable lessons from her time playing internationally. Her European opponents often have a better knowledge of the game and play is faster than what she sees in the college ranks. The expereince will only benefit Nicinski as she moves on in her career, whether it's in Pennsylvania or overseas.
"Every time I come back, my confidence is just so much higher. You know that you're good enough to play. If you're good enough to play there, then you can definitely play here."
With Nicinski just getting her career in the Orange and Blue started, the Bison can hardly wait to reap the benefits of that confidence over the next four years.
Note: This story appeared in a recent edition of the Bucknell Football Gameday Program.