Harper women's soccer standout Nicolette Kruczek (Wonder Lake, Ill./Woodstock North) knew she wanted to play soccer after high school. However, the opportunity to do so was challenging because the Woodstock North grad was not heavily recruited by four-year schools and the nearest community college, McHenry County College, did not have a women's soccer program.
So she took a bold step and choose to start her college career at Harper College, away from the comforts of home. With nine goals in the team's first seven games, Kruczek's choice is paying off for the Hawks, as she has been named the fourth Harper College Athlete of the Week for the 2013-14 school year.
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Kruczek scored 10 goals her senior year at Woodstock North in 2012 and was named All-Conference for her efforts. Over the past summer, she trained at a field by her house in preparation for her first college season, but she wasn't prepared for the fact that the Hawks' season would be in jeopardy before it even started.
At the end of the summer, she moved in with her aunt and uncle, who live in Arlington Heights.
At the beginning of the school year, Harper had to cancel its first two games because there weren't enough girls on the team to compete. One more cancelled game would likely mean no season. Kruczek described it as 'a stressful time', but her and her teammates sprung into action.
At the Harper Hullabaloo on Sept. 10, they set up a table with flyers and recruited girls to play on the team. The recruiting effort paid off, as they were able to get a few girls to join the team.
The next day, the Hawks opened their season with a 7-3 victory over Milwaukee despite dressing only eight players. Kruczek spent a little time in goal, but she did her damage out on the offensive attack, recording a hat trick in her first college game.
Three days later, she scored two more goals to lead the Hawks to a 3-1 win over Century College. The roster also began to grow in size and now stands at 18 players.
"She puts in the work, and every game she gives everything she has," said Harper head coach Dwayne Cruz. "She's one of the few kids over the years who just has a great work rate."
In Harper's most recent games, Kruczek netted two more two-goal performances -- Sept. 25 in a 3-2 win over Triton and Oct. 4 in a 7-0 win over Milwaukee. She missed the team's most recent game, a 4-2 loss at DuPage, due to illness but should be ready when the Hawks open postseason play and make another push for nationals.
"With the core group of players intact, we have a really good chance of going to nationals and making it far," Kruczek said.
Athlete of the Week: Nicolette Kruczek file
The Hawks have made it to the region final the last five years. This year, it could once again be a showdown between Harper and DuPage to determine who goes to nationals.
"A lot of it will depend on us being healthy or not," Cruz said. "We were unhealthy the whole year last year until the playoffs, and we won the region as a result. We know what we have to fix for playoffs."
Kruczek is currently undecided on her major, but she's glad she choose Harper because it's giving her the opportunity to figure out her career path while improving her soccer skills, with the hope of getting looks from four-year schools. Cruz also thinks she would be a great fit at a four-year program down the road.
"She has the mentality, work rate and fitness to do it. We will keep working on her technical ability to get her ready for that," Cruz said.