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Musto prepares for first pro season in Greece

King Kekaulike graduate grateful for opportunity ‘to keep doing what I love’

Nikki Musto, a 2015 King Kekaulike High School graduate who plays for AE Larissa in Greece, handles the ball during a pickup game. Photos courtesy of Nikki Musto

Nikki Musto “never imagined” she would one day be competing abroad.

But after navigating the possibilities and requirements, the 2015 King Kekaulike High School graduate arrived in Greece on Sept. 12 with a one-year contract with AE Larissa, a professional women’s soccer team in the Greek A Division.

“Being in a country where soccer is the most popular sport is a wonderful experience,” Musto said in an email to The Maui News on Thursday. “I knew that I wanted to ultimately play professionally but didn’t know the path to get there.”

Musto said that “everyone has been super welcoming and the culture here is similar to Maui; everybody knows everybody and the entire city supports the women’s team.”

Due to COVID-19, the season was postponed to Nov. 1 and is expected to run through May, she said. In the meantime, Larissa has been playing friendly pickup games every weekend to prepare for the 20 league games that are scheduled.

Nikki Musto holds the scarf of her new team, AE Larissa, after arriving in Greece last month.

Other than the typical health and safety regulations imposed by the country, Musto said “life here is moving forward and at 23 I am very grateful to have this opportunity to keep doing what I love.”

Now as a professional athlete, her days consist of multiple training sessions.

“In the morning I do crossfit and in the afternoon I either go for a run or back to the gym to ride the bike,” she said. “In the evening I go to training at the field for team training.”

“We hope to win the league and go on to play in the Champions League against other European champions,” she added.

King Kekaulike girls soccer assistant coach Ken Hayo said that it’s very exciting to have players from the Valley Isle competing at high levels internationally; Musto joins 2014 Baldwin graduate Brianne Cremer, who is competing in Hungary, as Maui women playing professional soccer in Europe.

“What an experience for her,” Hayo said of Musto. “I always remember her as extremely talented and she absolutely loved the game of soccer.”

Musto was a multiple-year captain for Na Alii and played primarily central midfield, which is where she is positioned now for Larissa.

“She was a good student and athlete and came from a soccer family as her father coaches and both brothers play as well,” Hayo said.

After graduating from King Kekaulike, Musto signed a full soccer scholarship with Idaho State University, where she played for two years as a starter before finishing her collegiate career at San Diego State.

She set out to find an avenue to continue her playing career.

“Unfortunately, playing abroad is not as easy as everyone thinks it is,” Musto said. “I was presented with an opportunity during my senior year at San Diego State to pursue my master’s degree in England while continuing my soccer career. I attended the University of Nottingham and played soccer there.”

The plan was to stay in England after trying out for the soccer team, but then the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season.

Sometimes things happen for a reason, though. When Musto returned home, another opportunity arose to sign her first professional contract in Greece.

“Due to the fact that I am not a European citizen, playing abroad is much more complicated but we made it happen,” she said. “I hope that I can continue to play at a high level internationally and after building a resume, I hope to return to play in the U.S.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com.

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