Ahead of the game

Tanner Harding and Victoria Rutigliano

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For most 16-year-olds, life consists of driving exams, sweet sixteens, and prepping for SATs. But at that age, Canada native Nadya Gill has already graduated high school, taken the soccer field for her country, and is now a leading force on Quinnipiac’s offensive line.

Last year, the Quinnipiac women’s soccer team won just three games all season and struggled to score. But with Gill, who has already notched three game-winning goals in her first few games with the Bobcats, it seems the team’s offensive problems may be a thing of the past.

“Their team hadn’t done so well last year,” Gill said.  “And I wanted to be that player that was going to step up and help the team out and kind of be there and just pretty much make a difference and score goals.”

In her first six weeks on the Quinnipiac roster, Gill has quickly learned how different soccer is played in the U.S., as compared to Canada.

Standing at a mere 5 feet 2 inches, physicality has proven to be the biggest difference for her.

“At home it’s more, I don’t want to say skilled but almost like technical, like you have a little more time on the ball and you can look up, think, and dribble,” Gill said. “Here it’s like if you get the ball and you dribble too much someone’s gonna knock you over and fouls and just the kids here are so much bigger.”

Being the youngest player on the team also has its ups and downs. While on the field no one can tell that she is 16, Gill knows it’s in the back of everyone’s mind.

Photo: Rebecca Castagna

Photo: Rebecca Castagna

“Just the fact that everyone knows is mentally tough. Just because no one actually sees you as another freshman, they’re like, ‘Yeah, it’s a 16 year old,’ not, ‘Yeah, that’s just another freshman,’” Gill said. “So in that sense it’s been kind of tough mentally because I didn’t want anyone to see it that way.”

So far, support from her 27 teammates has really helped–and both Gill and the freshman class may just be the players the squad needs to improve upon the team’s record last season.

“We added 13 players, 11 who are playing,” said Dave Clarke, head coach of the women’s soccer team. “Players like Nadya, Jess Gargan, Alex Pelletier, Maddie Boroweic, I mean there’s talent in that class that can score goals and that was key.”

The team went 2-7-1 in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference last year, so this year, Clarke’s hopes for the season are simple.

“It’s three wins,” he said.

Clarke keeps an index card in his office that shows last season’s record as a constant reminder of what he and his team are working past. He hopes Gill, along with the rest of the freshman class, will be a crucial part of that change.

But even though the team is relying on her, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that soccer actually became a large part of Gill’s life.

“I always played it for fun and I always liked it,” she said. “But we started out with a provincial program and that started going well and then the national program and then I started thinking of the future.”

This idea for the future drove Gill straight to Quinnipiac, but not just for the soccer.

“I wanted to do the three plus three law program here, so three years business, three years law,” she said. “Many [Division I], big schools … for them it’s like soccer is first.”

Gill said the difference here is that Clarke lets academics be first priority. While many other universities stress the importance of soccer over school, Clarke lets his players skip practice or leave practice early for academic purposes.

While classes are her top priority, she still has an impressive past on the field.

Gill has experience playing at the highest levels of competition. As a member of the Canadian U17 National Team, she has taken the field against teams like Tobago, Guatemala, Germany and Japan. She has worn her country’s colors on her sleeve while playing in front of thousands of screaming fans at the U17 World Cup. Stepping out onto that field, she said, was one of the most memorable experiences for her.

“It’s like that feeling when you get on the field and you’re representing your country and you have so many fans and so many people behind you,” Gill said. “It’s just something you can’t really forget.”

Gill was only 15 years old when she competed in the U17 World Cup. Now, a year later, she is competing on Quinnipiac turf wearing a Bobcat on her sleeve and her country in her heart.