A Soccer Standout Turns to His Next Goal
Issue   |   Thu, 05/19/2016 - 19:34
Nico Pascual-Leone '16
Pascual-Leone has known since childhood that he wanted to pursue a career in medicine.

Nico Pascual-Leone has become somewhat of a campus celebrity over the past few years. Most people know him as one of the captains of Amherst’s national champion soccer team. In addition to this, Pascual-Leone is an unflappably kind resident counselor and a chemistry major who has long had his heart set on medical school. He has pursued his twin passions for medicine and soccer with a remarkable degree of focus, never losing his warm smile along the way.

The Spanish Influence
While Pascual-Leone has lived the vast majority of his life in the United States, both of his parents are Spanish, and this European influence played a large part in his childhood development. He was born in Washington, D.C., during his parents’ four-month stay in the U.S. due to a job opportunity. When he was a couple months old, he and his parents moved back to Spain, where they stayed until his father was offered a permanent position in the Boston area. At three years old, Pascual-Leone had moved between continents twice. Even though he has no memory of these early years in Spain, Pascual-Leone has managed to visit his home country almost every summer, sustaining this influence on his life. For Pascual-Leone, Spain and the United States are intertwined in more than just a geographical sense; at home, his family speaks a hybrid of Spanish and English, using different languages for specific words and emotions. In addition, it is from his parents’ European influence that Pascual-Leone’s passion for soccer was born.
A Passion for the Game
From a young age, soccer was an integral part of Pascual-Leone’s life. “Growing up, instead of sleeping with teddy bears, I slept with my soccer ball,” Pascual-Leone said. Even though he tried many sports growing up, most notably tennis, he found himself gravitating exclusively toward soccer around the age of 10. The sport soon took up most of the time he wasn’t spending in the classroom — he committed to his club and town team practices during the week and games on Saturdays and Sundays. In surviving this grueling schedule, Pascual-Leone emerged with an excellent work ethic and some lifelong friends.
“I stay in contact with around three or four of my old teammates, and consider them among my closest friends,” he said.
Since a young age, soccer also played a pivotal role in developing the bond between Pascual-Leone and his younger brother, Andres. The three-year age difference between them did not prevent them from constantly trying to one-up each other. Even though they played on the same club team, they were in different age groups, and thus were frequently in different places on the same weekend.
“It made it extremely hard on my parents because they’d have to split up every weekend to see each of us play,” he said.

Beyond the Pitch
In addition to influencing their son’s athletic aspirations, Pascual-Leone’s parents played a crucial role in shaping his academic interests. His father is a physician-scientist, while his mother is a nurse. His parents didn’t push him toward pursuing medicine, but it’s unsurprising that Pascual-Leone found himself gravitating toward the field anyway.
“Growing up, I just found myself liking the sciences more than the other subjects,” Pascual-Leone said.
Many members of his extended family are physicians as well. “A lot of my family, and not just my parents, have supported me in pursuing the sciences,” he added.
Carrying on this tradition, Pascual-Leone planned on pursuing medical school even before coming to Amherst.
When the time came for Pascual-Leone to think about his college decision, his priorities were clear. “I knew I wanted to play soccer and I knew I wanted a good academic experience,” he said. After narrowing his options down to three choices, Pascual-Leone visited Amherst and found that “there was just something about it; I could just see myself fitting in here.”
Beyond the sense of belonging that Pascual-Leone immediately felt upon his visit, he also chose Amherst because he wanted the opportunity to have an impact on the community that extended beyond his on-field contributions. “Nico was recruited by DI schools — he’s a DI soccer player for sure — but he came here because he wanted to be known as a student, as a member of the community,” Amherst soccer coach Justin Serpone said.
Pascual-Leone actively branched out of his athletic role on campus by seeking ways in which he could stay involved in the greater college community. When the application to be a resident counselor opened during Pascual-Leone’s first year, it was pretty much a given that he would apply. “During my first year, I would frequently take care of my friends, and found it really rewarding to do that,” he said.
Driving his desire to care for others, Pascual-Leone also felt that there was much to gain from interacting with the extremely diverse group of people that make up the RCs. “When you’re on a sports team you find that you’re in a bubble and you take it for granted,” Pascual-Leone explained. “If you can get out of that bubble, you find that lots of really cool people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.” As the RC of Cohan, Stone and finally King Dormitory, Pascual-Leone has succeeded in creating communities in dorms that would otherwise lack them.

Breakthrough
When Pascual-Leone arrived on the soccer team his first-year fall, it was very senior-heavy, and thus he didn’t have a chance to take the leadership role that he was used to during his prior high school and club experiences. As soon as the senior class graduated, however, Pascual-Leone almost seamlessly became a leader both on and off the field. Possessing much more than just immense playing ability, Pascual-Leone has the natural disposition and abilities necessary to be an effective captain.
“I think it’d be easy to say that his on field ability gives him a leadership role, but I think given the personality and character that he has, even if he hadn’t played a minute for us, he would’ve been a leader anyway,” Serpone said. Most know Pascual-Leone as an easy-going and likable guy, but he also holds himself and his teammates accountable to the highest standards.
There is little doubt that Pascual-Leone’s experiences as an RC and as a captain have complemented each other, resulting in his phenomenal success in shaping the soccer team’s positive and supportive team culture. In particular, his abilities manifested themselves when welcoming new players into the team. “Even though he always erred towards taking care of the younger guys, he also expected a lot from them,” Serpone said.
Pascual-Leone’s on-field abilities showed on the biggest stage possible, when he scored the game-winning goal in double overtime against Trinity in the Elite 8 this past season. Serpone described it as “one of the biggest goals that’s been scored in Amherst soccer history.” After three years of suffering heartbreaking losses in the NCAA tournament, the men’s soccer team was finally able to break through and win a national championship, with no small help from their captain and leading goal scorer.

Senior Year
Reflecting on his four years at Amherst, Pascual-Leone is happy about all that he has accomplished, but he’s most proud of the way in which he’s developed and how he’s been able to impact others in the community. “I’ve had many mentors: coaches, captains, chemistry professors, chemistry graduates, and they’ve all played their part in showing me how to act,” Pascual-Leone said. “If you succeed, people respect you and like you and want to be around you.”
By virtue of his glowing reputation on campus, Pascual-Leone has undoubtedly succeeded in creating a long-lasting legacy at Amherst. Serpone said he considers Pascual-Leone to be one of his close friends, and will always value the opportunity he had to coach Pascual-Leone for the past four years. “Nico is way more than just a great soccer player — he’s the type of person that makes Amherst special,” Serpone said.
Pascual-Leone will be remembered at Amherst not only for playing a critical role in bringing a Division III national championship to the soccer team, but also for the way he has shaped the Amherst community through his unrelenting efforts to improve the lives of those around him. Following graduation, he hopes to play soccer in Spain while he prepares to apply for medical schools.

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