In the field of athletic competition overcoming adversity is paramount to the success of a team or an athlete. Former Naugatuck High soccer player Nicole Sambrook has stared adversity in the face and come out a winner.
The Westfield State University forward, known to her teammates as Colie, stands at 5-foot-3 but looms a lot taller based on the odds she has overcome. The junior was instrumental in the Owls’ 2012 MASCAC championship run that led them to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Sambrook was born with a condition called a horseshoe kidney (medically known as a renal fusion anomaly). This condition occurs in about 1 in 500 children but the birth defect went undetected until her high school sophomore season. Her parents, Ron and Patti, sought medical advice for their daughter after a bruised rib injury.
“I couldn’t play because if I got hit in that area there would be complications,” Sambrook said. “A specialist made me a brace to protect the area and I was cleared to play again in my junior year. It took quite a while to get used to it.”
Sambrook’s brace was designed to protect her lumbar region. She went on to play in the Naugatuck Valley League championship game all four years of high school, and in her senior year she was a captain and led the team in scoring to earn All-NVL honors.
During her senior NVL tournament, Naugatuck scored eight goals in two games — Sambrook deposited five of those goals into the net. She was recruited by Division II and III schools and could have walked on at Division I Central Connecticut.
Nicole spent many years playing in the offseason for a premier team under the tutelage of former Team USA coach, World Cup champion and Olympic gold medalist Tony DiCicco. But her ultimate dream was to play soccer in college.
Sambrook chose to attend the University of New Haven and played 59 minutes in three games as a freshman for the Chargers. Unfortunately, her season was cut short due to a bout with mononucleosis.
Her academic interest changed heading into her sophomore year and she transferred to Westfield State, just outside of Springfield, Mass. In 17 games last fall she scored seven goals and had one assist for the Owls, who went 18-1-1 en route to the conference title. Sambrook scored the winning goal that sent Westfield State to the NCAA tournament.
“Things are really working out and going great right now,” Sambrook said. “My freshman year of college I missed almost all of the season with mono, but I was not giving up. We had such an incredible year last year and to score the game-winning goal to send us to the NCAA tournament has been the highlight of my college career.”
The Owls are favorites to repeat this season as champions of the MASCAC, the nation’s oldest Division III conference. Westfield State is off to a 5-4 start on the season and 1-1 in the conference. Sambrook has taken seven shots and is averaging 60 minutes per game as the Owls gear up for the teeth of the conference schedule.
“There definitely is a little bit of pressure going into the season as we have a title to uphold,” Sambrook said. “We have such an awesome team and all the girls love the game and we get along great. Obviously we would like to win another conference championship and make the NCAA tournament again — and hopefully go a little farther this year.”
Sambrook has already begun thinking about her future after college, too.
“I’m majoring in elementary education,” Sambrook said. “It would be nice to come back to Naugatuck to teach and hopefully coach, giving back to the game that has given me so much.”