Eight years ago Nicole Larson was introduced to a game called soccer. She had never played before but the call of competition sucked her in and hooked her instantly. Her Turlock Youth Soccer Association coach Jim Tejeda recognized her passion—and her talent—and made a bold prediction.
That girl is going to play in college someday, he said.
The idea of playing soccer at the collegiate level resonated well with Larson, and just like that a dream was born. Soon Larson was out of the recreation league and in the world of competitive soccer with the Turlock Tornadoes and the Modesto Ajax. She honed her skills with her travel teams and by the time she was a freshman at Turlock High she was ready to play with the varsity girls.
Things seemed to be going well for Larson when suddenly, at the age of 16, her path was altered and her dream was jeopardized. Larson tore a ligament in her knee and was forced to watch from the sidelines as her travel and high school teams competed without her.
But Larson refused to let her dream die and chose to turn her misfortune into inspiration—for herself and for others. After a year of rehab Larson was back on the field for the Bulldogs where she helped lead her team to a Central California Conference Championship and the Division I SJS semi-finals. Now, as she prepares for her final year at Turlock, Larson has seen the fulfillment of her dream and the affirmation of her former coach’s prediction with her signing with California State University, Stanislaus.
“The competition there is right where I want to be. It would be an honor to play with that type of intensity with those girls and that team,” Larson said of the Warriors. “I’m really looking forward to playing with girls who have been playing for four years; their skill is great. It’s going to be great to play with a bunch of other girls who feel the same way about soccer.”
Larson’s passion for soccer is what allowed her to bounce back from her knee injury. It was also a motivational force in last season’s success with Turlock as seen by her team’s decision to vote her Team Captain, Defensive MVP and Most Inspirational. Larson has also taken her passion and drive off the soccer field, delivering speeches about self belief and hard work.
“The biggest thing that anybody with an injury deals with is the mental game of it. Being scared of being hurt; scared of everything,” Larson said. “Getting past that is the key and if you can get past that you’re just as good as you were before.”
That kind of mental fortitude is what attracted CSU Stanislaus and others like Cal State L.A. and UC San Diego. It’s also what the Bulldogs are counting on as they attempt to break into the Division I SJS Finals this season.
“Last year we were the underdogs, so this year we have a name we have to hold up,” Larson said. “It’s going to come down to being as intense as we can be on the field and working together as a team.”
“There’s a light at the end of the tunnel now for college and I know what I’m doing and what I need to do,” she added. “This high school season is just an opportunity to keep my foot on the ball, get some touches in, and for me to play with some girls I’ve been with since my freshman year.”