Nunez Proud of Her Accomplishments and Growth Along the Way
Sam Tapper – Sports Writer
Student athletes come from all parts of the world for the chance to play sports at a collegiate level. At Southern, some players come from around the corner, and others, like senior Paula Nunez, come from overseas.
Nunez, who is an international student-athlete from Spain, has left her mark on the Owls’ women’s soccer program, as her teammates and coaches have nothing but good things to say about her, as well as great memories.
“She’s unlike anyone I’ve ever met before,” said midfielder Kaitlyn D’Amico, a sophomore. “She’s energetic, positive, always in a good mood. Even if she’s not in a good mood she gets herself in a good mood. You have to smile when you’re around her, that’s the kind of person she is.”
Nunez has lived her whole life in Spain, growing up in the Basque Country, an autonomous community in northern Spain. She said that there is a strong culture in the Basque Country and that soccer is one of the culture’s headliners.
“When I was a kid, I used to play soccer in the park all the time,” Nunez said, “and it’s pretty different from America, because actually, everyone lives in apartments, everyone lives in big buildings, so it’s way more collectivistic in a way. I thought it would be similar to America but once I got there, I realized it was pretty different.”
Living with her two parents, younger brother and dog in Spain, her soccer career began at five years old because it was such a big part of the culture and she wanted to be like the people she saw and interacted with.
“I cannot tell you why [I started playing]. I guess it’s because I wanted to follow what other guys did, like what other boys did,” said Nunez. “And everyone plays soccer here, but I can tell you at five years old I joined the team of my elementary school, from that I went to another team and then to a club team.”
Once Nunez really started to get into soccer, she said she realized she was ahead of the other players on her teams. From there, she played for her high school team of Basque Country National for the U-16 and U-18 teams, which would be equivalent to playing for a high school team consisting of players all-across and representing the State of Connecticut. S he also helped her team secure the Basque Cup Title six years ago.
After high school, Nunez originally attended a two-year college in Spain: The University of Duesto, where she was a member of the soccer team and graduated in 2018. At this point, her career really began to take shape.
“We valued way more tactics and techniques, so I learned so much about that,” Nunez said. “That feeling of loving soccer and the feeling of valuing the ball is something I’m going to value forever.”
After graduating from The University of Duesto, Nunez kept her options open, and had heard some good things about Southern as a soccer program and a university as a whole. So, in 2018, Nunez packed her bags and traveled to the states for the first time in her life, using the final two years of her eligibility playing for head coach Adam Cohen.
“Honestly, I knew some people that went to Southern Connecticut and I had heard some good reviews about it, and then Coach Cohen made me feel like he cared about me and he wanted me, and that was the main thing,” Nunez said. “Also, where Connecticut is located was very important to me because I wanted to go to a place that it’s kind of open minded in the states. I had never been [to the U.S.] before but I wanted to go to a place where I was going to feel safe.”
Cohen had the ability to travel overseas at the time to do some of his recruiting and upon first seeing tapes of Nunez’s play on the field, he made the journey to see Nunez for himself.
“She fit a need for us perfectly. We needed an attacking left back and that’s exactly what she was,” said Cohen. “If we created a player profile for that position, she would fit that profile exactly.”
As a junior in 2018, Nunez appeared in 19 games, recorded two assists, and registered two total points. However, as a senior, while her playing time was sparse, she became a key contributor to the Owls’ postseason run to the NE10 title game.
In 2019, she scored two goals on six shots on-goal in eight games played. One of those goals came in the NE10 tournament semifinals at American International, which was the lone goal scored in that outing that ultimately sent the Owls to the championship match.
“This year has been so important in my life,” Nunez said. “I was sharing my playing time with another teammate who I appreciate so much. I think she’s a great player. I’ve always been ambitious, I’ve never given up and it happened, somehow, at the end of the season. That made me feel like soccer was so important in my life and I wanted to keep that feeling. We had an amazing team with amazing people.”
While Nunez was not one of the many athletes whose season or career was ended by the COVID-19 pandemic, being an international student living on campus, the impact was still felt on her immensely, as she was forced to pack her bags and head home before she even knew what was happening.
“For me, it was so crazy how my life changed in two hours. I was in class, I didn’t have my mobile phone on, and then I realized I didn’t know where I was going to sleep that night,” said Nunez. “And then the day after we had a meeting with all the international students, and everything went so fast. In two days, I was booking a flight back to Spain. In less than a week, my life changed.”
While her time at Southern has come to an end sooner than it originally should have, Nunez’s mark was left. In the winter and spring before school shifted to online, Nunez served as a volunteer assistant coach for Cohen, helping with offseason training and other business.
Nunez says while she lives more of her life in Spain, she will continue to follow the Owls “every game I can next season” via online streaming. While she will receive a degree in school psychology and counseling, in her immediate future she has signed with an agency and hopes to play professionally.
“I feel like I’m way more mature now to fight for my dreams and fight for my professional career,” Nunez said. “I’m proud of what I’ve experienced and I’m proud of the learning I’ve taken. You never know how things would have gone if I had done things differently. I’m proud of who I am, no doubt about that.”