Asbury Park, NJ.- Early last week, Nick Gkionis of Jackson left the United States to fulfill a dream. Gkionis will spend the next year playing professional soccer in Cyprus. He signed a contract with MEAP Nisou, which is in the Cypriot Second Division.
“It’s a small, second division team, but it’s a nice foot in the door,” Gkionis said. “From there, you never know what can happen or who might be there.”
Gkionis wrapped up a stellar career at Stevens Institute of Technology last fall, his senior year. A center-back, Gkionis was named First-Team All-American on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Adidas Men’s Division III team. He also made the All-Metro Region First Team for the second straight year and was the Skyline Conference Player of the Year, as well as a Skyline Conference First-Team selection.
This season, Gkionis scored nine goals and assisted on eight others to finish fourth on the Ducks in scoring with 26 points.
While it may seem strange for Gkionis to wind up in Cyprus, he is hardly a stranger to the Mediterranean Sea country. He spent part of last summer training in Cyprus with his older brother, George, who played with Nick at Stevens last season. His mother, Maria, is from Cyprus, and his uncle, Steve Stelios, played professional soccer in the 1970s and was a member of the national team.
“He was a pretty big player over there,” Gkionis said. “Whenever I’ve gone over there and I mention him, everyone knows who he is.
“I’ve been over there before I got this opportunity,” said Gkionis, who plans on staying with his grandmother in Cyprus. “It’s a good step to gain some professional experience and be with my family. I know the language a little, I need to learn it better. It should be really fun.”
Gkionis just completed his degree in chemical biology. He also has stayed in shape by playing in a men’s soccer league while living in Hoboken.
After landing in Cyprus on Tuesday, Gkionis will begin training with the team on July 23. During the preseason, Gkionis and his teammates will train in Moldova in Eastern Europe for 13 days. The season starts in September.
In college, defense was Gkionis’ specialty, and he expects to have the same kind of role playing for MEAP Nisou.
“I met with the coach and he told me what he expects from the players,” Gkionis said. “He talked about some of the openings on the team. They also hooked me up to a machine to test how strong your legs are. It was new to me, but it was interesting.
“The toughest part about it is picking up everything you know here and trying to move it to another country. It’s scary, but that’s the fun part.”
When Gkionis played soccer at Jackson Memorial High School, he didn’t make the varsity until his junior year. By his senior year, Gkionis was a second-team Asbury Park Press All-Shore selection. Now he will get a chance to show off his skills at the professional level.
“Obviously, since I was a kid it’s something I’ve always wanted to try and do,” Gkionis said.
“I didn’t even think I was ever going to be playing varsity soccer in high school. I remember being on the JV field thinking I’d never made it to the varsity field. I started progressing there and then in college, and now all of a sudden, the fantasy became a reality.”