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Inspired by Serena Williams, US soccer star Naomi Girma wants to spur on the next generation

While the US team has endured an underwhelming group stage at the Women’s World Cup, one positive for the defending champion has been defender Naomi Girma’s form.

The 23-year-old has played every minute of the campaign so far and has been pivotal to the team conceding just one goal in three matches, earning the US Women’s National Team’s (USWNT) Woman of the Match award in the draw against Portugal on Tuesday, which confirmed the US side’s place in the knockout stage.

Despite only turning 23 in June, Girma’s list of accolades is already impressive, having picked up the 2022 NWSL rookie of the year prize as well as NWSL defender of the uyear for her exploits with the San Diego Wave.

Representation

Girma juggled her soccer career while also studying at Stanford, where she majored in management science and engineering. She was also a three-time team captain (2019-21) for Stanford’s soccer team.

“I can remember watching Simone Manuel, Simone Biles, Serena Williams just dominate their sports, and being Black women in sports that typically didn’t see a lot of women of color competing was always super inspirational to me,” the San Jose native said.

“I feel very grateful to be in the position where young girls can look up to me and feel represented, feel like they can see themselves in this space where maybe they couldn’t see themselves before.”

There are a record seven Black women and two Mexican Americans on the USWNT’s 2023 World Cup player roster, and Girma says this demonstrates the hard work that has gone into making soccer more accepted.

“I think now having this team be so diverse playing at in the biggest stage in the world is a huge statement, and I think it just kind of shows the progress that’s been made – and also the progress that needs to be made,” said the 23-year-old star.

Journey to Stardom

The daughter of Girma Aweke and Seble Demissie – who emigrated to the US from Ethiopia in their teens – Girma’s first team was Maleda Soccer Club, which was founded by her father to help bring together locals from the East African nation.

“It was a way for a lot of my parents’ generation and also me and my brother’s generation, who were all first-generation Americans, to get together and have a community,” Girma said.

“There was no type of, like, advancement within the club. It was just like, show up every day, have fun, play soccer and get better.”

If playing for the Maleda Soccer club was all about having fun, Girma says that community support has been key to development as as soccer player.

“My support system has been everything to get me here,” she said. “I don’t think I’d be here without the community around me that I had growing up.

“Both of my parents worked full time jobs. So, it was really hard to get me to training and I had neighbors and teammates who went to different schools come pick me up from my school, take us to practice.

“So I think just other people lending out a hand and wanting to help me was huge.”

Tournament Dreams

June’s news of captain Becky Sauerbrunn’s absence from the World Cup due to a foot injury, combined with the long-term injury issues of Abby Dahlkemper, propelled Girma to the forefront of the defensive conversation at this tournament.

“A lot has happened in the past year,” she said. “I was very excited, a little bit of just like, disbelief and so happy to get the call. It doesn’t feel super sudden to me.

“Just playing for the US is a huge honor and getting to compete together with this incredible group of women,” she said. “At the end to bring home the trophy would be the best feeling ever.”

This post appeared first on cnn.com

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