Nicole Davis signing

Pocatello High School graduate Nicole Davis, center, shakes hands with Central Wyoming College head soccer coach Brooks Paskett after signing to play soccer at CWC on Thursday at the Pocatello Stake Ballfield.

POCATELLO — Nicole Davis has always wanted to be a Division I college soccer player.

She swore she’d give up on soccer if she didn’t accomplish that goal.

Yet Davis will start her post-high school soccer career at a junior college. Her perspective was altered after a serious medical issue put soccer on hold, delaying her recruiting process and forcing Davis to miss stints of her seasons.

Division I is still where Davis plans to end up.

The recent Pocatello High graduate signed to play soccer at Central Wyoming College on Thursday at the Pocatello Stake Ballfield. She can make an immediate mark on the first-year soccer program and use the next two years as stepping stones to reach her ultimate goal.

Davis turned down offers from Division II programs to sign with Central Wyoming, citing an ability to jump straight from junior college to D-I without sitting out the one season the NCAA requires when transferring between four-year institutions.

“I didn’t want to take a year off of soccer, and I didn’t know if I wanted to be stuck far away from home or across the country,” Davis said. “I wanted to see as far as I could go. I didn’t want to just stop myself for four years. I knew that I could keep growing and continue to progress and get better.”

Davis scored 15 goals for PHS as a senior, earning all-state, first-team all-conference and second team All-Area accolades. Seven of those goals came on free kicks as the midfielder helped the Indians finish fourth in the 10-team 4A District 4-5 regular-season standings.

“Nicole is a really smart player. She’s a very athletic girl, tall, strong, motivated,” said Central Wyoming coach Brooks Paskett, who attended Davis’ signing. “I’m basing a lot of my team on her. I think she’s going to be my rock and my anchor. She’s going to hold down the middle, because she has a really good soccer IQ. She can see a lot of the field really quickly.”

Paskett helped draw Davis to Central Wyoming. He’s a native of Riverton, Wyoming, where Central Wyoming is located, and is leading the school’s men’s and women’s soccer teams through their infancies. The men’s team is also preparing for its inaugural season.

Paskett was previously an assistant women’s soccer coach at New York University and an assistant men’s soccer coach at Hunter College, a Division III school in New York City. He said he talked with Davis and her parents for nearly five hours during their recruiting visit, when he sold them on his uncommon philosophy: wins don’t matter.

“I don’t care about winning,” Paskett said. “Everyone has a burning desire to win, to do their best, and that’s what I said: We’ll always compete against ourselves individually, to do our best. Best touch, best pass, best shot, and more often than not (that will) yield a win.”

A full-ride scholarship to Central Wyoming may have seemed like a consolation, even a failure, to a younger Davis. But at the end of her sophomore year at PHS, Davis fell seriously ill. She was ultimately hospitalized, diagnosed with a defective kidney and underwent surgery to help clear kidney stones and relieve Davis of nausea and extreme abdominal pain.

The illness and procedure caused Davis to miss two semesters of her junior year, which coincided with a key period in college recruiting. Davis said she was too sick to respond to emails from coaches and knew her chances of landing a Division I scholarship straight out of high school were bleak.

But her plan hasn’t changed. She took another step toward her goal Thursday.

“A lot of people said, just quit,” Davis said. “They were like Nicole, why would you continue to do this? It’s going to be hard on your kidneys, it’s going to be so much harder for you than anyone else. And I was like, I love this game. I’m not quitting it.

“It feels really nice to be like, ‘I made it.’ And I’m going to keep going, but I made it here.”