It’s been 13 years since Nicole Jacobson last suited up in an Anteater uniform in 1998, which for her, is hard to believe. She went by Nicole Bucciarelli at the time, and the Anteaters’ soccer stadium was located where the baseball team now plays at Cicerone Field. Students used to barbecue on the top level of the Bren parking structure pre-game; Coach Scott Juniper was a senior at the University of Bristol in England; and current women’s soccer forward, Natalia Ledezma, was 6 years old.
Nicole’s college recruitment came down to UC Irvine, Washington and Pepperdine. After a frigid recruiting visit in Seattle, Washington was out of the picture. Her decision was made much easier when the Waves’ coach, George Kuntz (now UCI’s men’s soccer coach), left Malibu to accept UCI’s men’s soccer position. After sitting down with former athletic director Dan Guerrero for 45 minutes and touring the campus, she knew Irvine was the right place to call home for four years.
“The years go by fast,” Nicole said. “I haven’t been back in a while, but I’m going to try to come back to play in the alumni game.”
Today Nicole is 34 years old, a wife and a mother of two. After playing professionally for one season in Italy, she returned to UCI to be a graduate assistant and earn her teaching credential before marrying a fellow soccer player — Syracuse University alumnus Michael Jacobson, in 2004. Eight years married, they now have a 4-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. The Jacobsons live in Redondo Beach, 30 miles north of where Nicole grew up in Van Nuys.
Michael is an assistant coach for Cal State University Los Angeles’ men’s and women’s soccer teams. Nicole coaches the South Bay Force, a 9- and 10-year-old club soccer team, governing the sidelines in the early evenings after serving as a math specialist for children grades kindergarten through sixth in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Her maiden name – Bucciarelli – is strewn across UC Irvine’s record books. She was the first and only women’s soccer player to be inducted into the Anteaters’ Hall of Fame in 2006. It was a no-brainer; Nicole is hands-down the most productive women’s soccer player in school history. She contributed 129 career points from 1995-1998; the next closest, Tracie Manz, had 76. Nicole netted 56 career goals; Manz had 30. As a sophomore in 1996, she scored 37 points on 17 goals, both all-time Anteater marks.
“I was playing every game, but I didn’t think about records,” she said. “When I was [at UCI], I didn’t realize [my records] would be longstanding. I was just doing my job.”
By the time she graduated in 1999, Nicole had played 83 career games, starting 82. The only game she didn’t start was her first, a road matchup at the University of Hawaii. Then-coach Marine Cano (1994-2005) brought Nicole off the bench. Right off the bat, she scored. Nicole’s father hadn’t made the tropical road trip to say aloha to his daughter after her first game and first goal; he wouldn’t make that mistake again, traveling to Oregon, Washington or wherever the team went in order to greet his prolific daughter after wins, losses and ties.
For 82 straight games, she started as forward for the Anteaters. No teammate could unseat her, and not even a broken nose or a broken right wrist inspired her to stay on the sidelines. Nicole once wore a mask to protect a broken nose. After being razzed by teammates, she flung the apparatus and played without it. And when she broke her wrist, she continued to play physically on the offensive end, refusing to leave the game.
Those weren’t the only injuries she had suffered. Nicole also broke her left wrist in seventh grade, her right femur as a freshman in high school and her right arm the following year.
She has scars to show for her physical career, but at 5 feet 3 inches, Nicole insists that she was never handed respect; she always felt the urge to earn it.
“I didn’t come in as a superstar, I worked my way up,” she said. “My coaches never let me think I was good. It made me think I had to prove myself to have a starting spot. I was constantly trying to get better.”
Two children later, she returned to a competitive soccer league last year after playing recreationally for years.
“I wasn’t the tallest or strongest player, so my passion and aggressiveness helped [in college],” she said. “After so many years, I can’t run as hard as I used to, so I have to play a lot smarter [now]. That aggressive personality has lessened, but when I got back on the field [after years], I realized I still have it in me.”
Studying for psychology and social behavior while training for the soccer season was her balancing act in the ’90s; it was practice for the balancing act she must now pull off as a mother.
She describes Michael as a great father to their children and their relationship as understanding. Michael recently made a road trip down to San Diego with Nicole to watch her coach the South Bay Force in the Cal South State Cup. Likewise, Nicole is always in the stands watching CSULA play when Michael is on the sidelines, and she understands what his recruiting schedule entails.
A breakaway used to take her breath away on the pitch; now it’s maintaining a hectic schedule and raising two children. Making sure her son has his cleats tied properly at baseball practice and her daughter is securely fastened in her midsized vehicle are a must.
Her daughter loves dancing and princesses. Last year, her son was on the T-ball Diamondbacks in the Redondo Sunset Youth Baseball League and in the fall he played AYSO soccer. Deep down Nicole hopes they choose soccer, but will be satisfied if they play any sport, because she appreciates the importance of staying active, learning how to be a good teammate and how to balance time wisely.
Nicole doesn’t understand the intricacies of baseball, but she still sits in the stands watching her boy round the bases, pleased that he’s involved in a team-building experience. But when it comes time for his soccer practices in the fall, she’ll have tunnel vision once again; after all, when the ball is in play, she always gets focused and fired up, whether she’s in the game or on the sidelines.
She enjoys meeting up with newly married friends, many of whom have young children that allow for play dates. The Jacobsons go to the beach, the park or anywhere outdoors that keeps them active.
A year ago, Nicole’s 1-year-old daughter jumped out of her crib. To any mother, it’d be frightening, and it was for Nicole; but she also saw visions of the child she used to be.
“I see a feisty little kid in her that reminds me of me at a young age,” she said.
Nicole started playing soccer when she was 5 and was coached by her father for her first seven seasons. She doesn’t know whether she’ll coach her son, daughter or both, but she plans to show them what she knows. Nicole was never coached by a woman, which inspires her; she sees it as a perfect opportunity to relate to young female soccer players.
“I used to train with the fastest girl on the team and I’d push myself to stay with her,” she said. “I try to encourage my girls to find someone faster than themselves and stay with them.”
Take note Kuntz and Juniper: A couple of prospects named Jacobson might be on recruiting boards across America if they choose to follow Nicole and Michael’s soccer lifestyle.