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Gotham FC’s Jenna Nighswonger wins NWSL Rookie of the Year

Jenna Nighswonger switched from forward to fullback in her rookie season with Gotham FC. (Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Gotham FC newbie Jenna Nighswonger has been named the 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year.

Selected No. 4 overall out of Florida State in the 2023 NWSL draft, the 22-year-old has navigated a lot in her first professional season, including a position switch. After starring for the Seminoles as a forward, she flipped to outside back for Gotham.

Retiring star Ali Krieger, who plays alongside Nighswonger at on the defensive line, helped her adjust to the new role. And Nighswonger’s efforts led her to a place on the NWSL’s Best XI second team. She was the only rookie among the 22 players on the Best XI first and second teams.

Across all competitions, Nighswonger accounted for seven goal contributions in 2023, tied for most among rookies. She also led Gotham in tackles with 35, which also stood as the highest total among rookies and third-most among defenders.

Despite the pressure of the position switch in her first professional season, Nighswonger didn’t fold. While she was admittedly “quite nervous to come into a team with names like Ali Krieger, Lynn Williams, Kelley O’Hara,” she took the opportunity to learn from all of her teammates.

“I think the hardest part in that area is just understanding, defensively, the tactics and everything, so I think to the point I made about Ali Krieger and Michelle Betos, they’ve been so helpful in giving me confidence in that area,” she told CBS in early November. “But I think that’s something that can definitely continue to grow.”

Earlier this week, Juan Carlos Amorós of Gotham FC was named Coach of the Year. Naomi Girma of the San Diego Wave was named Defender of the Year, while Jane Campbell of the Houston Dash was named Goalkeeper of the Year. The winner of the Most Valuable Player award has yet to be announced.