Rui Pinheiro didn’t have to wait long to get a taste of college action when he joined the Tufts University men’s soccer team last fall.
While the former Princeton Day School star had been working as a reserve midfielder in the preseason, an injury to one of the squad’s veterans thrust Pinheiro into the starting lineup for the season opener against Middlebury.
“The coaches told me a day or two before the game so I would be prepared,” recalled Pinheiro.
“It was awesome. I adapted pretty well. The depth of the team is so competitive; the practices are hard.”
Pinheiro did run into some hard times after that start as he was slowed by an injury.
“I took a knock and had a contusion on the back of my hamstring,” said Pinheiro, who came off the bench for much of the fall. “My athleticism was not there, it took a while for me to get my legs back.”
The skilled midfielder did make it back into the lineup, starting the last five games and helping Tufts go 9-4-4 as the Jumbos advanced to the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
Next week, Pinheiro will start preseason for his sophomore season, determined to build on the progress he made in his debut campaign.
“I am looking to start every game, play hard, and help the team do well,” said the 5’10, 150-pound Pinheiro, reflecting on his personal goals for the 2013 season.
In assessing the transition to college soccer, Pinheiro noted that it was like playing a different game.
“You have to step up with the physicality and the speed of the game,” said Pinheiro, who had one assist in his 15 appearances in 2012.
“In high school, you have a range of players. You have club players and others who are good athletes but not soccer players. In college, all the players are well-rounded, physical, and good soccer players. Everything is so quick; you have to be quick with the ball and make good decisions.”
Teaming up with former PDS teammate Maxime Hoppenot, a rising junior forward with the Jumbos, helped Pinheiro develop more quickly.
“We had a great connection,” asserted Pinheiro, who teamed with Hoppenot to help the Panthers win both the Mercer County Tournament and state Prep B tourney in 2010.
“In high school we both played center midfield so we were next to each other and talked a lot. We communicate a lot. I like bringing the ball up the field and getting it to him.”
Over the course of the summer, Pinheiro has worked hard to get better.
“I played Super Y this summer with PSA (Princeton Soccer Association); it is good to get more game experience in the summer,” said Pinheiro.
“The Tufts coaches give us a program with strength training, with lifting, and fitness work.”
In Pinheiro’s view, the Jumbos possess a strong blend of chemistry and skill that should serve the program well this fall and beyond.
“We had a really young team, by the end of the season, it was mainly freshmen and sophomores starting,” said Pinheiro.
“We showed improvement last season; we can only get better in the future. I think the camaraderie is awesome. We are all great friends; we hang out off the field. We are unique for an NESCAC team; a lot of the teams are physical and win that way. We have a lot of kids who are small and quick; we like to keep the ball and string passes together.”