A Pleasant Surprise

Ryan Thomas

After the women’s first home game of the season, she was nervous; or shy perhaps. Maybe it was a bit of both. The ice-breaker was the adorable Beagle puppy wrapped in blankets and being cuddled in the Beacon-blue hockey office inside Clark Athletic Center. When asked about it, she thought it was cute, and we were on our way.

Maria Nasta was still in hockey mode when she sat down after the game. Her hair messy, her shirt baggy, and her earrings shiny, she talked about the game that was just played. She was modest, explaining that she was just trying to set the tempo for her team and “get the flow going.”

She got the flow going alright. With two goals (one short-handed) in her first game as a Beacon, Nasta set the tempo early this season, both for herself and for her team. Through four games this year, Maria is not only setting the tempo for her team, she is leading them to victory.

In the Beacons’ November 20th game against Connecticut College, Nasta put UMass Boston on her back. She got the first hat-trick of her collegiate career and led her team to a 3-2 victory over the Camels, handing them their first loss of the 2007-08 season. The three-goal performance gave Nasta five for the season, only one behind Manhattanville College’s Amanda Nonis for most in conference. Her six points through four games put her seventh in the ECAC East points race.

What makes Maria Nasta’s hot start even that much more amazing is her relative inexperience at the college level. Last season, Nasta played at New England College and saw inconsistent playing time. Out of a possible 27 games, Nasta appeared in only 17 and started just five for the Pilgrims. She scored five goals and collected only seven points with the ice time she got. Now that UMass Boston head coach Maura Crowell has instilled confidence in the young forward and given her the opportunity to play on a consistent basis, Nasta is thriving.

She has already matched last season’s goal total and needs one more point to match last season’s high. It’s safe to say that Nasta will blow her 2006-07 numbers out of the water.

Coming into this season, Crowell had high expectations for the young, talented Nasta. With UMass Boston’s two top-point leaders graduated, Crowell singled out Nasta in the pre-season, calling on her to carry a majority of the offensive load. “She’s going to turn some heads and score some pretty goals out there,” Crowell said in a previous interview. “She has a real knack for goal scoring. She sees the ice well and that’s not something you can really teach.”

Maria’s first goal of the season was indicative of what was to come from the young scorer. With her team down 1-0 to ECAC East powerhouse Manhattanville College, Nasta was on the ice for a penalty kill. Not known for her defensive game, Nasta explained that playing passive isn’t the way you do things. “I’m just trying hard and being aggressive,” she said. “I mean, you can’t sit back and let [the other team] play around with the puck all the time.”

She let her words speak for her game in this instance. Nasta collected a loose puck in the neutral zone and showed everybody what Crowell had been talking about. She used her speed to get our in front of two Manhattanville defenders until she was all alone with Sophia Kokkonis, the Valiants’s goalie. Coming down the left side, Nasta puck-handled towards the slot, faked a shot blocker side, dragged the puck right and snuck it past Kokkonis.

After that game, Manhattanville’s coaches and players were impressed by Nasta’s two-goal performance. Valiants forward Jessica Zimmerman spoke highly of Nasta. “Two goals is pretty good; for a sophomore especially, playing against a top team.”

The Beacons are lucky to have Nasta but she’s happy to be in a place where hockey is taken more seriously. Nasta had looked at UMass Boston as an option previously, but eager to start school, she attended New England College for two semesters. But once there were coaching issues and a lack of structure at New England College, Nasta saw a new opportunity in Boston to grow as both a player and student. “Here, it’s more structured. When I went there [New England College], our coach was gone and the assistant coach stepped in and it really wasn’t structured at all,” Nasta explained.

But now that she’s here and happy, life is good. “It’s a lot more challenging,” said Nasta. “It’s more hockey and that’s what I like, the competitiveness of fighting for a spot. I like the hockey more [at UMass Boston] and school’s a little harder so it’s more challenging for me.”

The more experience that Maria gets while at UMass Boston, the better she will become. “I liked NEC, but I like it a lot more here,” she said.

Happiness always helps.