Column: San Diego Wave found a role model in the top draftsman from Stanford

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Football on television, football day and night, men playing football, women playing football.

In the San Jose home, watching and planning soccer became a family pastime.

The father, a former player, ran a youth club and sometimes showed the kids how to do it. The mother drove the two children to training and games in San Diego. The daughter was 4 when she started the game and kicked the ball with her father. “As soon as I could run and kick the ball,” recalls Naomi Girma.

Last week, the newly formed San Diego Wave Fútbol Club selected Girma first in the National Women’s Soccer League draft, making the Stanford graduate practically the number one pick for the world’s top women’s soccer circles.

Not only was it a big moment for Girma, it was also a step forward for the girls and young women in San Diego who may aspire to take football as far as possible.

San Diego didn’t have professional women’s football for nearly two decades, despite being one of the ten most populous cities in the United States, not to mention its thriving youth programs, proximity to football-mad Mexico, and pleasant weather all year round.

This gap is filled.

The team that Girma is joining will allow locals to get up close and personal with many of the world’s best women players. Wave striker Alex Morgan, for example, is a World Cup veteran who has scored 115 goals for the US national team. Visiting clubs bring other players with World Cup and Olympic backgrounds to NWSL games at the University of San Diego and the new San Diego State Stadium.

“It’s super exciting,” said 21-year-old Girma, two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

She’s a huge football fan herself, having returned days ago from a football vacation in England where she saw Arsenal in the women’s Champions League and attended Manchester City’s record 7-0 win over Leeds in a men’s Premier League match .

Growing up, she watched soccer shows with her brother Nathaniel, mother Seble, and father Aweke. Parents emigrated from Ethiopia as teenagers and brought with them a love of the world’s most popular game. Maradona. Ronaldo. Ronaldinho. They were one of those male stars the family loved to watch. Women’s football, as played by Brazilian Marta and American World Cup stars Brandi Chastain (a native of San Jose) and Abby Wambach, caught the Girmas’ attention and raised Naomi’s hopes, even though some of those games were played years before they did first saw.

“I was inspired by the (women’s) national team,” she said. “The national team seemed to me to be the highest level that you can achieve as a female soccer player. Mostly the US national team, and how much success it has had over the years – and how dominant it has been around the world. It was really cool to see growing up. “

Father and daughter watched the Women’s World Cup. They became addicted to the NWSL which was founded in 2012.

“It was cool to have role models who were female players and not just on the men’s side,” said Girma, who played for the national team’s youth clubs.

Girma is a mentor herself and has advised high school athletes on college recruiting and other issues raised in the Go Cardinal workshops organized by Stanford students. In San Jose, she enjoys mingling with children and teenagers at her father’s youth club. If she can help a young person, it is like blocking a shot or heading a teammate.

“Just thinking about the last few years has made me realize how important representation was to me and how important it is to younger girls,” she said.

“These are generally younger girls,” she added, “and younger black girls can see that people who look like them achieve whatever they want to do at the highest level. And I hope that as a professional player I can now give something back in this way. “

She is an experienced manager. In his sophomore year, Girma was the captain of the team that won Stanford’s third national title in women’s football. As a middle player in the back line of the 4-3-3 formation, she headed the defense. Teammates appointed their captain for three different seasons.

She is one of her favorite experiences at Stanford, a decision-making class. “It was cool to have something more practical to use in my life when I wanted to make rational decisions, which obviously nobody always does,” she said.

When she told high school students that juggling not only allows you to balance a wide range of activities, but also improves yourself, she speaks from experience. During her college trip, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in symbolic systems, which includes computer science, psychology, philosophy, and linguistics, while completing a 68-game soccer career that required careful rehabilitation from a torn knee ligament.

Exactly one year after her cruciate ligament rupture in her junior year, the 1.70 m tall senior was named Defensive Player of the Year for the Pac-12 in 2021. She scored four goals in the same season, doubling her career overall.

She calls it a “cool” part of her life and plans to do a Masters in Science and Engineering after starting her soccer career. Meanwhile, she will nourish her dream of participating in the World Cup. If that happens? “I have no words,” she said. “That would be incredible.”

So it’s a big wave she’ll be riding in San Diego, and a March start to the wave’s first season.


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