Nottingham’s Ivonne Vasquez kicks the ball around West’s Aaliyah Dennis during a September 2016 game. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)
Nottingham’s Ivonne Vasquez kicks the ball around West’s Aaliyah Dennis during a September 2016 game. (Photo by Suzette J. Lucas.)

Ivonne Vasquez has always played in the midfield, and ever since she could remember has been making a significant impact on the soccer field.

She wasn’t sure, though, to what extent she could help the Nottingham High School girls’ team. She should have known history would continue, as in two seasons, she has left quite an impression.

“I knew about her from the previous coach,” said first-year Nottingham head coach Christie Fink. “I knew that she was definitely going to be a promising player for us, and she had a great freshman year for us. She was definitely a very strong leader for our team, and she’s only a sophomore. I’m really excited about her future and for our team.”

Vasquez is the leader of a Northstars team that will return all but lone senior Brynn Wilfing next year. This year’s squad went 6-13, and won its first-round Central Jersey Group III state tournament game—tremendous progress from a two-win 2015 season.

“We had a great season,” Vasquez said. “We might not have had a winning season, but we definitely did better than last season.”

Having a player of Vasquez’s ability helped. At this season’s conclusion, Vasquez was recognized for her outstanding play when she was named a third-team All-State selection.

“I was so happy,” she said. “I’m very proud of myself for making it. I didn’t think I’d be able to make it considering I’m a sophomore. I was surprised. Maybe I did well, but I feel like I could do better. There are a lot of kids that deserve that kind of award.”

Vasquez opened eyes with a huge increase in offensive production. After filling more of a playmaker role out of her center midfield position last year with two goals and six assists, she jumped to 14 goals and two assists this season to factor into nearly half of all Nottingham’s goals.

“I think I did well this year,” Vasquez said. “I had more support. One of my teammates, Emily Midura, she really worked with me in the middle. We learned how to play together to get the ball to the outside and make plays.”

Nottingham’s goals jumped from 21 in 2015 to 35 in 2016, and the Northstars simply were more competitive. Their offense revolved in great part around Vasquez.

“Most of our goals, she was involved in, whether she got the direct assist or the assist to the assist,” Fink said. “When she was involved in the attack, she was dangerous. It was lucky to have her. There were some nice first-year kids that came in and complemented her well, which was helpful for her. A lot of girls stepped up for her, which was nice.”

Vasquez has always been more of a scoring midfielder. She also plays center midfield for her club team, the New Jersey Rush, and plays a big role for it as well. Keeping her in the middle of the action ensures that she has the chance to impact the game the most.

‘Next year, I believe that we’re going to have a stronger team.’

“We try to keep her higher at center mid so she can score,” Fink said. “I’d really like to put her up top as a really high center mid/center forward. She’s so dangerous up top, she controls the ball well, so it’s hard to leave her out of the center mid sometimes.”

Fink sees a lot of potential for Vasquez to be an even more prolific scorer. She has all the tools to score in a variety of ways.

“She takes a very nice direct kick, so she scored a few goals off direct kicks that were nice,” Fink said. “She gets herself in the attack. She knows where to be when she’s up there. She gets herself in really good offensive position. A lot of her goals were from around the 18 area. She’s definitely not afraid to shoot, so she’s a very dangerous person in the midfield.”

Vasquez credits her increased numbers to having more scoring chances this year. She led a quartet of solid scoring options for Nottingham. Kelly Beal scored 10 goals, Giuliana Pocino delivered five goals and Midura had three goals and three assists. The Northstars see potential in them and in other younger players.

“I encourage them a lot to do their best,” Vasquez said. “We have little pep talks before the game, and I tell them I believe in them and they have to pull through and play for one another.”

Vasquez was happiest to see how far the attack came this season. They made strides in practice that showed up in the game.

“There are these drills where we pass,” Vasquez said. “And we used them in games, and we would connect a lot. We’d connect our passes and move forward as a team.”

Moving forward is a theme for this Nottingham group. Having a young team forced the Northstars to adapt and grow up quickly. Four of their six wins came in the second half of the year.

“Overall, I thought we definitely got better as the year went on and started to fix a lot of our issues from the start of the season,” Fink said. “We definitely came a long way, and the girls grew together as a group. We had a very young group, and our older girls were really good leaders and helped them. At most points, I had seven or eight freshmen or sophomores on the field. They’re the nicest girls I could ask for, so that made it totally enjoyable.”

The Northstars are looking forward to continuing their progress next season. They have a tight-knit group that figures to have solid chemistry again.

“Next year, I believe that we’re going to have a stronger team, especially with some of the girls that are coming next year that I’m familiar with,” Vasquez said. “I’m pretty psyched. Hopefully next year we’ll be a stronger team and have more scoring opportunities and get more wins than this year.”

Until then, Vasquez is shifting her attention to basketball, where she hopes to help Nottingham’s girls basketball team build on a .500 record from a year ago before she jumps back into her top sport of soccer in the spring.

Vasquez was thrilled to see progress with the Northstars on the soccer pitch, and is optimistic that she can do even more to help them continue that trend. She will be asked to be a more vocal leader, and she is already asking more of herself.

“I feel like sometimes I didn’t have the best games, and I knew I wasn’t playing good,” Vasquez said.