Latina Sisters' Soccer Talent Energizes College Team


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Bill Sarno

In the team photo for the 2014 Connecticut College women’s soccer team, sisters Nicole Medina and Michelle Medina stand like bookends at the opposite edges of the group.
However, on and off the field, the two first-year students from Hartford are usually a lot closer. They are twins, but not identical.
The daughters of Orlando and Maria Medina, who emigrated from Cali, Colombia about 25 years ago, they are 19 and were born in Hartford. “Michelle’s older by nine minutes,” said Nicole.
This fall, Miche and Nikki, as they are known on New London campus, usually are in close proximity, at least mentally, on the soccer field and are key  contributors to what is emerging as a historic season for the Connecticut College Camels.
The twins seem to always know what each other is thinking and will do during a game. They have what coach Norm Riker calls a”special ESP.”
They also “are a lot of fun to be around,” the coach adds.
The Medinas share a passion for pizza, Colombian steak dinners, romantic comedies and scary movies. But on the soccer field, they are cast in different roles.
Miche is a forward, or striker, and is charged with scoring goals.
“I think my sister’s best attribute,” said Nikki, is her ability to take players on one versus one. She is creative and quick so she’s very good at that.
Nicole plays center midfield and has both defensive and offensive duties. “She never gets tired,” Miche said. “No matter how late in the game, she will always be defending and attacking and she always knows where the next pass should go.”
“Nikki … usually tries to pass the ball to me and I try to score,” Miche said.
And score Miche has — six goals and four assists in the first twelve games.
Moreover, her strikes are timely.  She had the winning goals in recent victories over Bates and Colby and assisted on the game decider in a 1-0 victory over Hamilton last month.
Nikki tallied two goals earlier in the season and rocketed a shot off the cross bar that narrowly missed deciding the Hamilton game.
Winners of ten of their first twelve games, the Camels, who won three games last year, already have a victory total not reached since 2002 and are on their way to heir first winning season since 2004. They also in the running for their first championship in the New England Small Colleges Athletic League.
Nationally, the Camels recently moved into the top 25 in the Division III rankings and have a good chance of qualifying for the national tournament, a feat they only have achieved once, in 1998.
One reason the team is on the upswing during its fourth year under Riker is the blending of freshman and sophomores with a handful of experienced veterans.
Moreover, the twin effect has been doubled. Identical sisters Annie and Cathy Higgins of West Hartford, who are sophomores, are especially adept at playing with the Medinas.
The two sets of sisters are longtime best friends and played together at Northwest Catholic High School in West Hartford where they won two state championships.
During their junior year at Northwest, Nikki and Miche visited the New London campus with their father, a longtime soccer fan,  and really liked the feel of the college, Riker recalled. The  well manicured Connecticut College soccer pitch with its big blue and white “C” at midfield is a far cry from the streets of Cali where Orlando Medina played soccer as a youth.
Connecticut College also was an “easy fit,” Riker said, because the twins wanted to attend a small school that was close to home “but not too close.”
Another plus is that the New London school has a strong academic climate  “Nikki and Miche are excellent students,” Riker said.
“Soccer takes up a lot of our time,” Nikki said, but we are used to it and can manage the busy schedule.”  The wins have not chosen a major yet.
One place where the Medinas are not as close is in campus housing. They live in neighboring buildings.
Another thing different for the twins was the more physical nature of college soccer  “The games are faster and higher in intensity compared to high school,” Miche said.
Another new experience was having to compete for playing time “because all the girls on the team are talented,” Miche said.
Initially, Riker did not put the Medinas in the starting lineup but they did not stay on the bench long. “We usually get about 20-25 minutes a half,” NIkki said, noting, that they “have started the last couple of games as well.”
Although the twins are fluent in Spanish, on the playing field they communicate in English, Nikki said.
“English is our first language… but we usually speak Spanish at home with our parents.”
The twins have visited relatives in Colombia twice, when they were two years old and again about eight years ago. “it was such a great experience spending Christmas with them,” Nikki said.
The young women enjoy Colombian food on trips to New York City.  “One of my favorite restaurants is … called La Pequena Colombia, Nikki said. “They have really good steak and corn cakes called arepas.”
Michelle’s favorite is Pollos Mario.  “I usually get carne asada, a grilled steak, and it comes with rice, beans, sweet plantain and a salad,” she said.
The soccer menu for the Medinas and their teammates in the coming weeks is packed with some challenging courses. However, win or lose, the sisters said they know that their parents are proud of them for both athletics and academics.
Their father works for the Avon school board and their mother is employed at a family home services office and at the state Capitol.
“They just tell us to work hard and never give up,” said Nikki.