March 26, 2010

BOSTON, MA - In today's sporting world, athletes change teams all the time. Be it via a trade, free agent signing or even a transfer, athletes are donning new uniforms constantly. Sometimes a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered. Just look at UMass Boston senior Maria Nasta (Andover, MA). After a disappointing freshman campaign with the New England College Women's Hockey team, Nasta knew it was time for a change. The rookie forward felt trapped in the system, buried on the bench and wanted out. After a year on the fourth line with only seven points on five goals and two assists, a mediocre record of 13-13-1 and a sour taste in her mouth, Nasta decided to pack her bags and transfer to the University of Massachusetts Boston.

"I just never fit in at New England College. Playing on the fourth line was frustrating when all I wanted was a chance to prove myself to someone," said Nasta.

That chance came almost immediately when UMass Boston Women's Hockey head coach Maura Crowell invited Nasta to join the 2007 squad for pre-season workouts.

"That's kind of where it all started," said Nasta. "Everyone in pre-season was very welcoming and wanted everyone on the ice to succeed together. It was the first time I felt like I was part of a real team because everyone was helping the person next to them become a better player. I knew that I'd have a chance to get better here [UMass Boston]."

Little did Coach Crowell know, not only would Nasta get better, she'd develop into a three-time All-Conference player in the ECAC East, collect over 100 career points, break the school record for single season assists and finish third all-time in career points, goals and assists. Not bad for a fourth line freshman.

"After losing the program's top two all-time leaders in points in Andrea [Ciarletta] and Bel [Melissa Belmonte] to graduation, we had some pretty big holes to fill," said Crowell. "We were certainly concerned about what our offensive production numbers would look like but then Maria just exploded onto the scene as such a pleasant surprise to everyone. She was our own little untapped resource that, given the opportunity to play at UMass Boston, gained confidence in her game which she embraced and ran with. She never once looked back and just continued to get better and better, becoming a more complete player every season."

In her first season with the Beacons, Nasta burst onto the scene on fire, netting 11 goals to go along with six assists in her first nine games. She finished the year with 20 goals and 25 assists, both team highs, while her 45 total points ranked third all-time for points in a season only behind Ciarletta's 56 points and Belmonte's 53 points in the 2003-04 season. Nasta was named to the ECAC East Second Team for her performance that year.

"My teammates really helped out with those numbers," said Nasta. "If they don't finish the puck, I'm not going to have so many assists, and then on the flip side, if they don't set me up with great passes, I don't score as many of those goals. All of my stats can be attributed to the hard work from my teammates; I couldn't have put up those numbers without them."

The secret was out on Nasta after her brilliant sophomore season but that didn't stop the forward from having another incredible campaign as a junior. In her second season with the Beacons, Nasta set the school record in assists with 27 to go along with 11 goals for 38 total points and a First Team All-Conference selection.

"Maria could do a little bit of everything, exactly when you needed her to," said Crowell. "She could score, kill a penalty, set up a goal or be a leader at any given moment. That's what made her such a special and versatile player."

During her final season with the Beacons, Nasta reached the echelon that all collegiate hockey players strive to reach; the 100 point mark. Not only did she hit the plateau, she did it twice!

On Jan. 2, 2010 in the first round of the Third Annual Women's Codfish Bowl vs. a nationally-ranked Lake Forest College team, Nasta notched a goal and an assist for her 100th overall career point in the Beacons' 3-1 upset victory. Two weeks later the senior collected her 100th career point in a UMass Boston uniform on her third career hat trick in the Beacons' 8-0 win over Castleton State. She became only the third player in UMass Boston history to reach 100 points in a career.

"Reaching the 100 points mark in a Beacons uniform was the greatest feeling ever. Nothing can compare to it. I had a great high school career and put up big numbers then but I'll never forget the game when I got my 100th point in college. It's an incredible feat but also a testament to my teammates," said Nasta.

Over her career, the Andover native saw action in 96 games, while racking up 125 points on 56 goals and 69 assists. Since transferring from New England College, she totaled 118 points for the third-most in school history, while netting 51 goals, 67 assists and seven game-winners to place third as well. Her six career short-handed goals are a school record, while her 13 power play scores rank fifth on the UMass Boston career ladder. Only two Beacons have more career multiple-point (37) and multi-goal (13) performances than Nasta.

So how do you replace a player like Nasta?

"You don't," said Crowell. "She's just one of those types of athletes that you can't replace. We can chip away at it here and there, but we'll definitely miss her presence on and off the ice."

As her storied career as a collegiate hockey player comes to an end, Nasta believes that it's only a matter of time before she's back on the ice. The UMass Boston senior is currently pursuing options to potentially continue her career at the pro level in Europe as well as get involved in the high school coaching circuit.

"All I know is that hockey has become such a huge part of my life that I'm not ready to give it up. I'd love to keep playing professionally and if that doesn't work out, I'm going to do everything I can to get into coaching because I love this game too much not to be involved in some way," said Nasta.

Crowell believes that Nasta has the ability to play at the next level as well as be a successful coach.

"Maria is definitely good enough to play overseas," said Crowell. "She is also smart and knows the game well enough to make a great coach one day. It might be a tough adjustment to be behind the bench and not on the ice, but she's been able to adapt as a player, so I believe she could do the same as a coach when she's ready to."

Nasta joined the Beacons family as skater with something to prove. 44 wins and 118 points later she leaves having made her point. Crowell may have put it best when she said, "the classes before Maria helped put UMass Boston women's hockey on the map, but she elevated the program to a new level."