Conor Hockett

After a Sept. 2 game against IPFW, Ball State's sophomore forward Nicole Pembleton posed for pictures outside the locker room with an opposing player named Sydney Hoareau.

Hoareau is a sophomore midfielder at IPFW and, up until Pembleton came to Ball State, the two were teammates on Brams United, an Ontario-based club team, for four years.

"She played on my club team, and her dad was my club coach," Pembleton said. "[Hoareau's family] came to watch the game, too, so I decided to take pictures because we were both in different jerseys."

The picture serves as just one reminder of the Canadian influence on the Ball State soccer team and other mid-major schools throughout the Indiana area.

Pembleton and sophomore defender Victoria Jacobs are the only Canadians on Ball State's roster, but they help make up a group of nine players (five on IPFW, one on Valparaiso and one on Butler) from that country on local teams.

Canadian talent has been an area of interest for coach Craig Roberts since he took over the Cardinals before the 2010 season.

"When we're competing against a school like Indiana or Purdue, we kind of lose out on some of the kids from Indiana," Roberts said. "If we want kids of equal value, we're going to have to go out of the state to get it. Canada is not saturated with the domineering of bigger schools against us. It evens the playing field there."

Roberts is just one of the Indiana-based coaches who has taken advantage of talent up north, but Pembleton said it takes more than interest. Teams from Canada must be willing to play in the U.S. for players to get noticed.

"In Canada, they base [recruiting] more around your program and where you want to go," Pembleton said. "Depending on where your club team showcases - we went to Indiana - that's why our club was recruited by those schools. I know Victoria Jacobs' club team showcased in Indiana as well."

Even with her team playing throughout the state, Pembleton said she hired an agent to put a highlight video together to send out to college coaches. That's how Roberts first saw her, and, without all her efforts, Pembleton said she might not have been playing soccer in the U.S.

"The high school team in Canada is more like an intramural league, while the club team is the more serious one," Pembleton said. "I would never be able to be scouted at my high school because it's just not competitive."

Luckily for Ball State, Pembleton made the tape and came to Muncie. Through the Cardinals first seven games, she leads the team in goals and points with two and five, respectively.

All that production has come primarily off the bench. Pembleton hasn't started a game since the season opener at Marshall, but Roberts said her impact is just as important.

"She's willing to take the shots that we've been encouraging," Roberts said. "Nicole has been very hardworking in the games. She's causing a lot of problems with her speed and strength."

The same enthusiasm wasn't always there. Last season, Pembleton said she struggled to transition to America and missed home often.

"It's a 100 percent difference this year," Pembleton said. "I wasn't even worried about the soccer issue when I came for preseason last year. Mentally, I was totally not here and was scared. This year, I came in with a completely different mindset. I just wanted to work hard and do well, and I think it really paid off for me."

Part of Pembleton's increased comfort level comes from having a friend from Canada in Muncie with her.

Jacobs said she and Pembleton played on the same club team from age 10-12 before switching teams. It was a pleasant surprise for both of them when they found out they'd be teammates once again at Ball State.

"Closer to when school started, I found out [Pembleton] was coming," Jacobs said. "It's fun playing on the field with her and reconnecting from when we were young."

When Pembleton was younger, coming to the U.S. wasn't always her dream. She had a chance to train with the U-16 Canadian team for two months but gave it up because she didn't take soccer that seriously.

After rededicating herself to the game in high school, Pembleton said she made a difficult choice to play down south. If her game-winning goal against Xavier on Aug. 26 was any indication, Pembleton made the right decision.

"It's a big deal in Canada to come here [to play college soccer]," Pembleton said. "A lot of players just stay in Canada and play college there because it's easier. The competition is still good, but it's more competitive in Division I here."
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