Nerea Arrazola burst onto the scene to become one of the top goalkeepers in the NCAA

In any collegiate sport, there are players that get their opportunity as soon as they step on campus and others that have to wait for their time to shine. For Denver University goalkeeper Nerea Arrazola, her chance didn’t come early on in her college career, but she made the most of it when it arrived.

After redshirting in 2018 and playing just a few matches in 2019, Nerea played every single minute of the 2020 season in goal for Denver. The Summit League All-Tournament Team performer was 2nd in the entire country in goalkeeper minutes played and shutouts plus 24th in goals against average.

“To make sure I was successful when my time came to play games I always tried to bring my very best effort into every training,” Arrazola told BGN. “I knew that at some point I would be out on the field and it was important to me that I was as ready as I could be physically and mentally.”

The redshirt junior added, “I think the time not playing was actually very beneficial as I was able to learn by watching the team from a different perspective. Also, by playing behind Brittany Wilson my first few years I was definitely challenged to be more competitive in practices which really helped me improve my individual game and mentality overall.”

How cool was it to see her name amongst the best goalkeepers in the country? “It was super cool to have such a successful year defensively for our team and to have been recognized for the work we’ve put in regarding that aspect of the game,” she responded.

Her abilities in goal are even more impressive when you consider that she’s only been a goalkeeper since 2014. “Honestly, the switch to goalkeeper from playing on the field was a very last minute decision,” Arrazola explained. “My family has a history of goalkeeping, with my dad playing competitively in Spain and my brother playing college soccer. A goalkeeper spot on a more elite team opened up, and my dream was to play college soccer.”

“Knowing I wasn’t very great at outfield, my dad proposed that I look into the position change. After training for a few weeks before tryouts, I made the team as the goalkeeper and it kind of stuck!”

Does that previous time as an outfield player help her at all as a goalkeeper? “My experience playing on the field definitely helps me in goal since I can better understand what is going through an attackers mind during a game helping me get a better read on the play,” she answered. “My experience also helps me empathize with my teammates in the sense of being able to know what they want from their own goalkeeper and knowing how I can make their jobs easier for them.”

Regarding the communication between goalkeeper and defense, Nerea explained, “The relationship between me and my defenders is extremely important and crucial when speaking of a successful team. My defenders and I need to be able to effectively communicate during the game at all times and in all situations.”

In addition to having experience as an outfield player and a goalkeeper, Nerea also has a diverse background in sports. She was a three-sport athlete in high school, adding swimming and tennis to the mix with soccer. “My events in swimming were mainly backstroke and distance events – I did 50m backstroke, 200 IM, IM relays, and the 500m freestyle which was really not a fun event,” she said. “Out of the three, I would rank them as soccer, swimming and tennis from best to worst in terms of my ability.”

Discussing the never-ending debate of playing multiple sports vs. specializing in one, Nerea stated, “Personally, I am so glad that my parents put me into so many different sports programs. At some point, it did get overwhelming which led me to choose soccer, but before then it was so fun and I gained so many skills out of it that I now have for a lifetime.”

She’s also been able to gain valuable knowledge watching her favorite goalkeeper throughout the years. Nerea said, “My favorite goalkeeper is (former Real Madrid and current PSG GK) Keylor Navas since I’ve watched him since I was young and I always related more to his style of play as a goalkeeper.”

When it comes to her skillset in goal, she said, “I think my best trait in my game is shot stopping – I was never the strongest or biggest keeper, but diving and quick reaction saves were always my favorite part of goalkeeping.”

After her breakout season in 2020, Nerea’s started off 2021 on the right foot as Denver won both of their matches in the Colorado Cup and outscored their opponents 6-0. Arrazola made six saves combined in the two clean sheet wins, earning Summit League Defensive Player of the Week honors.

In regards to how she can improve on her 2020 form, she said, “I think in order to improve for this year we are going to need to continue to build off of the concepts that we worked on so much in training that have helped us be are most successful.”

“Individually, I’ve been looking to improve my communication, distribution, and dealing with high balls from crosses and set pieces.”

From a team perspective, Arrazola has high hopes for 2021. “This year’s team can be absolutely amazing and that is due not only to the individual talent that we have but also due to the closeness of the team,” she said. “Our priority as a team is being a family, and I think our positive team culture off the field really translates into how we play together on the field and how we are willing to work for each other everyday.”

Tomorrow, Arrazola and the Pioneers will look to make it three straight wins to start the season when they host Utah at 7 PM MT (watch it live HERE).

Carson A Merk

Reporting live from Sin City, I have covered both RGVFC and Las Vegas Lights FC since their inceptions. I also write profiles to highlight players from the NCAA to USL to NWSL and everywhere in between.