Nicole Pugsley | Photo courtesy Michael Reese
At 5-11 and with solid speed, redshirt sophomore Nicole Pugsley can do anything and everything on the pitch.
Her all-around skillset was on display in Thursday’s 2-0 shutout against LA Tech, which vaulted UTEP up to a tie for sixth place in the C-USA standings.
Playing in the midfield, Pugsley used her height off a corner kick to get the Miners on the board in the 30th minute with a powerful header. She added an assist on UTEP’s second goal, but her impact was also felt defensively.
She helped keep LA Tech, which entered the match second in the nation for goals, to just one shot on goal during the match. Pugsley won balls in the air while also showing off steady one-on-one defending to aid in slowing down the high-octane attack of the Lady Techsters. In all, it was a microcosm of what Pugsley brings to the table for a youth-laden Miner soccer team.
“I’d say my role is to be a leader on and off the field for the team,” Pugsley said. “Make sure that everyone is held accountable. It’s really nice getting a shutout, it feels good for the team.
Pugsley, who has started every match of her career, has been used both as a defender and midfielder in 2019. While she can thrive in both, she does have a preference of where to play.
“Probably midfield because I do like going in offensively,” Pugsley said. “As a center back you are not supposed to go forward at all.”
A biochemical science major, Pugsley aspires to get into the pharmacy field once her soccer career is over.
“Academics are very important to me because I do need to get into pharmacy school,” Pugsley said. “I need to keep my grades up.”
She has certainly done that, securing a C-USA Commissioner’s Academic Medal (min. 3.75 GPA) in back-to-back years.
The Texas native features a direct, no-nonsense approach to leadership, one that has her on track to one day be a captain of the squad.
“Consistency is really important in leadership and also not being a hypocrite,” Pugsley said. “If a leader is not doing as they say, then how are you going to trust that leader? And then being consistent, making sure I’m not ever doing what I’m not supposed to be doing.”
Pugsley is a workhouse who has logged the most minutes (1335) of any Miner field player on the year. She is also one of two Miners to start all 15 matches, and has been instrumental to the team’s turnaround in 2019 under first-year head coach Kathryn Balogun. UTEP (8-4-3, 3-2-1 C-USA) has already surpassed both its overall and conference win total from a year ago, and has a legitimate chance to qualify for the C-USA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
“Really buying in to what all the coaches brought in has been key,” Pugsley said. “I think we all did a really good job of that in the spring. It has brought all of our team closer in realizing we were ready for a change and to come in and do what Coach Kat brought us.”
Her UTEP career didn’t start out as planned, with an injury forcing her to take a redshirt in 2017. But even that proved to have a benefit.
“Watching the game from the sideline I learned a lot,” Pugsley said. “Being on the sideline is terrible but recovery is really important.”
UTEP is certainly fortunate to have her back on the pitch now, making plays all over like she did in Thursday’s crucial win against LA Tech. With the regular season winding down, Pugsley remains consistent in her approach and with her goals.
“For us to keep defining how UTEP soccer is played, both offensively and defensively,” Pugsley said. “And then, to ultimately get to the conference tournament.”
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