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DiGiacomo and women’s soccer team look to overcome postseason snub

Nicholette DiGiacomo hopes to help lead the DU Pioneers to the NCAA Tournament after an epic snub last year.

Being a rookie to the whole college soccer scene, Nicholette DiGiacomo figured the news had to be some sort of cruel joke.

The Pioneers had compiled a 19-2-1 record — including a perfect 11-0 mark in the Sun Belt Conference. Sure, DU had suffered a shootout loss in the finale of the conference tournament, but their credentials still appeared to be sparkling.

DiGiacomo, like the rest of her teammates on the DU women’s soccer team, figured a berth in the NCAA Tournament was well in hand.

Alas, the tournament selection committee didn’t agree.

Left out of the 64-team field in stunning fashion, DiGiacomo was forced to watch her record-setting freshman season end not with her first NCAA Tournament appearance, but with a locker room full of sorrow.

“At first I thought it was a joke,” DiGiacomo says. “I was in class and got the text that we didn’t get in. I thought it was a complete joke. I went to the locker room and everyone was crying. I didn’t understand what happened.”

For DiGiacomo, the tournament snub dampened only slightly the remarkable freshman campaign she turned in for the Pioneers.

DiGiacomo, a Golden, Colo. native, set a DU single-season record with 15 assists — a mark that led the Sun Belt Conference and ranked second nationally. DiGiacomo also led the Pioneers with 35 shots on goal and shined in Denver’s 2-1 win against in-state rival Colorado, recording an assist on the Pioneers’ first goal and scoring the winner on a penalty kick in the waning moments.

DiGiacomo’s feats turned heads across the conference and the nation as well. She was a first team all-conference selection and was named the league’s co-freshman of the year. DiGiacomo also earned a spot on Soccer America’s all-Freshman second team.

DU head coach Jeff Hooker knew he was adding a dynamic playmaker to the Pioneers’ roster — one expected to make an immediate impact.

Setting records and collecting an impressive array of hardware, however, became pleasant surprises.

“She has leadership qualities on the field and she didn’t care that she was only a freshman,” Hooker says. “If you look at our whole attack … we had a young core of players who scored at least a goal in every single game except that last game of the season. Her passing ability, her vision, I think it’s a little bit of unselfishness, too. For instance, the game we played against Washington State on the road, they couldn’t get the ball off of her feet no matter what they tried to do. To have a player that can hold on to the ball and look at the same time and get the ball where it needs to be is a pretty special quality.”

Despite her inexperience at the collegiate level, DiGiacomo nonetheless shares a unique bond with several of her teammates on the Pioneers’ attack, a quality that perhaps has helped the group produce goals at a rate beyond their years.

Sophomore midfielder Jessy Battelli, who scored two goals during her freshman season, was DiGiacomo’s neighbor in Golden and club teammate for 15 years. Sophomore Shannen Johnson was a high school teammate of DiGiacomo’s in Golden and sophomore Kristen Hamilton — recipient of several of DiGiacomo’s pinpoint assists last fall — spent about 15 years as a club teammate of DiGiacomo.

“I’m not the fastest player in the world, so I have to change that and make something work,” DiGiacomo says. “The vision, and the people I play with, are probably the biggest things for me … it’s easy when I get down there. I know exactly where they are going to be. And off the field, we’re best friends.”

Since the season ended, the motivation driving DiGiacomo and her teammates continues to be the sour taste left from the conclusion of the 2010 season, not the many accomplishments they shared along the way.

Hooker says another infusion of freshmen this fall likely will make yet another immediate impact and may even prompt a move for DiGiacomo to a defensive midfield position, which likely would reduce her assists total.

DiGiacomo is game to play anywhere — just as long as she gets an opportunity to cleanse the bad taste left by the NCAA snub.

“If there was ever one year when you thought you were going to get there, last year was the year,” says Hooker, whose team will be one of the league favorites as the Pioneers embark on their final season in the Sun Belt. “To have 19 wins, only two losses and not get there … I think everyone expected it, so it hit a little harder.

“As a coach you are going to use motivation whenever you can, and all we talked about for the last few months is that we are either going to have a fun preseason where everybody comes back fit and we can play, or we’re going to have to spend the preseason getting them fit. And nobody wants to do that. I think they’re all looking at ‘How can we guarantee ourselves getting in the tournament?’ And it all starts with what they are doing in the summer.”

DU begins their season on August 19 at CIBER Field in the Colorado Cup, an event featuring Colorado’s four main collegiate soccer programs. The Pioneers battle the University of Northern Colorado at 7 p.m. The Colorado Cup moves to Prentup Field in Boulder, Colo., on August 21, when DU meets Colorado College at 12:30 p.m., and Colorado hosts UNC at 3 p.m. Watch the the Aug. 19 game on Pioneer Vision. For tickets, call 303-871-2336, visit or visit the Ritchie Center Box Office. DU students are free with a Pioneer Card.

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