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Primack, Nyenka take on leadership roles for Holy Cross soccer

Like most athletes, Holy Cross sophomore goaltender Taylor Primack has role models who inspired her to play her chosen sport. For Primack, those players are Hope Solo and Carli Lloyd, both of whom played on the 2015 US Women’s World Cup team. 

Unlike most collegiate athletes, however, Primack waited until the 4th grade to begin playing soccer competitively. The love of the game came almost instantly, with Primack going all in after the women’s team won the World Cup in 2015.  

Primack has been a goaltender almost her entire athletic career, realizing that she loved the position from her first game in net.

“I just love flying through the air … I love getting the rush of taking a girl 1-on-1, throwing myself in front of the ball and being able to guide my back line,” she said.

Primack is just a sophomore, but she has been starting in net for both years for Holy Cross, recording 24 starts in 24 games. While some might be nervous to start as a freshman, Primack was ready.

“I kind of knew going into it that what it was going to be, but for me, it didn’t change anything,” she said. “I’m never going to sit here and be like, oh it’s good enough just because I am starting, just because I’m playing”.

Though there were some adjustments to the college game (Primack says her biggest adjustment was the change in intensity and speed), Primack recorded an strong first year in net. In her 16 starts, she faced 124 shots, allowing just 14 goals for a save percentage of 88.7%. She recorded eight total shutouts (a school record) and had a record of 8-4-2. 

The performance was good enough to get her onto the CCAC All-Conference Second Team.

Primack has maintained a good save percentage this season, allowing 11 goals on 58 shots (81%), and has recorded three shutouts. 

Primack attributes the difference in performance to a combination of things, injury being among them. Nevertheless, she is not letting it stop her or her team.

“The biggest key with that right now is just to let that go because we can’t change it,” she said. “It’s gone, we’re in conference play.”

The season has not been going the way the Saints would have liked.

“We have been a little frustrated,” she said. “We know how good of a team we are; that is not a question, the talent on the team … that’s not questionable.”

Primack believes that the squad is capable of solid play and can make a turnaround on the season.

“I expect us to make the tournament, I fully do,” she said. “I think we are fully capable of it, I expect nothing less.” 

With a 2-0 win against Governors State last Saturday, a game in which Primack recorded a shutout, that turnaround might have just begun. 

Also boasting a win over Governors State is the HCC men’s junior forward Gabe Nyenka. Unlike Primack, Nyenka has been playing soccer from a young age.

“I was born in Liberia. Back home kids used to play soccer, just kicking it around, as soon as you can walk,” he said.

Even from a young age soccer has always been Nyenka’s passion. As child, Nyenka played soccer year-round, mostly casually with friends and family. 

Upon arriving at Park Center Senior High School, Nyenka tried out for his high school soccer team as a sophomore and made the varsity team.

“When I first joined people thought I wasn’t going to make the team, I ended up starting,” he said.  

Playing in Minnesota, Nyenka met a Holy Cross alum on a Sunday league team and connected him to Coach Gallo. Once Nyenka met Gallo on a recruiting trip in November, he knew where he wanted to play.

“When you talk to other coaches, you can feel the difference when it is just about soccer and when it’s about the person,” Nyenka said. “When I talked to Coach, it was more about him seeing me as his son.”

Starting for the entirety of his career in high school was a trend that Nyenka brought with him to Holy Cross. In the past two seasons, he has started in 23 games of a possible 23. In that time, Nyenka has recorded 11 goals (the 10 he scored in the year prior led the team) and 8 assists. 

Though Nyenka is a consistent starter, that is not what matters most.

“If I’m starting, I’m helping the team, if I’m not starting then the person trained better than me that weekend, so that person is the better person for the team,” he said. “I know me playing is going to help the team win so I work hard to be in the starting lineup.”

Despite the team starting 2-2, Nyenka feels that the team is poised to perform better in conference play (where they are 1-1-1) mainly because the team is connected, like a family.

“We are more connected, because of Coach Omar, and our captains me and [senior Kamoy Creary]. 

This season’s emphasis has been off-the-field bonding, which was not as strong in years prior, according to Nyenka.

“Get to know the person first before soccer so you guys are able to bond,” he said. “When you are on the field, you play harder you work harder for that person, because now that person is like a brother to you.”

Nyenka, a business major, stated he has ambitious plans after graduating from Holy Cross.

“I really want to open a business back in Liberia,” he said. “I’m thinking more like on the sports side as well, creating a school for kids to come to school and play sports, but focus on academics as well. The hope of that is to bring kids over to the United States to play in college so they can earn a college degree.”

Contact Tom at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu