By Scott Traweek, GoPSUsports.com Student Staff Writer
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Senior midfielder Christine Nairn made it her mission to prove she could be one of the nation's elite the moment she put on her Penn State uniform freshman year.
Move forward three
years and Nairn finds herself leading the No. 8 Nittany Lions to a strong 5-1 start
despite missing the team's top two goal scorers in Maya Hayes and Taylor Schram,
who are playing for the US national team in the U-20 Women's World Cup, along
with a defense decimated by injury. Nairn
leads the team in goals (7) and assists (4) and has consistently stepped up when
Penn State has needed her most. Head
coach Erica Walsh sees her as the core of the Nittany Lion squad this year and
praised the senior's performance thus far.
"She is the best player in the country right now," said coach Walsh. "She is leading, she is making everyone around her better and that's why I feel like I can make that statement."
Nairn has solidified herself as the puppet master on offense, boasting superior ball control and incredibly accurate passing that sets the tone during an attack. She also possesses a cannon for a leg, which has successfully scored from nearly 35 yards out and is lethal on both free kicks and penalty kicks. Her teammates are able rally around her and their support fuels her confidence.
"My confidence is always within the team," said Nairn. "They bring out the best in me and hopefully I help to bring out the best of them every game and make everyone around me better."
During the offseason, Nairn made a personal decision, after speaking with her coaches, to take her fitness to the next level. She then proceeded to lace up her running shoes and work out like she never had before, day after day, and the results were apparent almost immediately. Nairn's seven goals through six games more than doubled the total number she scored during the previous season.
"I kind of had a tough conversation with the coaches last spring to get back together with my fitness and I took that with a grain of salt and just ran off with it, literally," Nairn laughed. "It's definitely been awesome. I can definitely see changes with my game."
Nairn and Walsh share a unique relationship, forged when the Arnold, Md., native approached the head coach and said she wanted to compete with the top players in the world. Coach Walsh promptly informed her disciple that such a goal was no joke and if Nairn wanted to play like the best, then she would have to train like them as well.
"I think the uniqueness of our relationship stems from the fact that since the day she arrived here she told me she wanted to be the best and I don't take that lightly," said coach Walsh. "I've been riding her for three years because it was her goal, not the one I set for her."
Though coach Walsh was never afraid to work Nairn to the limit, the senior refused to shy away from a challenge and valued her coach's toughness, which would help prepare her for the future.
"[Coach Walsh] always pushes me to that next level," said Nairn. She knows that my end goal is to be in with the national team and that's my strive to be here every day and she pushes me to that level."
The end result was a talented, fit soccer player who understands the game, plays for the team as much as herself and is set to lead her alma mater through to the very end. Coach Walsh couldn't be happier with Nairn's accomplishments and the athlete she became.
"I have to say, I don't know if I've ever been so proud of a player as I've been of Christine this year in terms of the transformation in every way, shape and form," said coach Walsh.
Nairn's experience taught her a valuable lesson, which she hopes to pass on to the generations that follow in her footsteps: have an appreciation for what life hands you, don't let it slip away.
"Don't ever take anything for granted," advised Nairn. "Some of these friendships and relationships that I've had with people, with athletics and academics, they're going to be with me for the rest of my life and I'm proud to say that I went to Penn State."
The Nittany Lions (5-1-0) travel to Utah on Friday, where they will face the 4-1 Brigham Young Cougars. The game is set to start on Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.