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Naomi Girma wins NWSL Defender of the Year in back-to-back seasons

San Diego's Naomi Girma has won Defender of the Year in each of her first two NWSL seasons. (EM Dash/USA TODAY Sports)

Naomi Girma has been named the NWSL Defender of the Year in each of her first two seasons in the league.

The No. 1 pick by the San Diego Wave in the 2022 NWSL draft, the 23-year-old won the award for the second time in a row in 2023, the league announced Wednesday. She beat out Ali Krieger of Gotham FC, Sarah Gorden of Angel City, Kaleigh Kurtz of the North Carolina Courage and Sam Staab of the Washington Spirit.

Girma becomes the first Wave player to earn a postseason accolade in two consecutive years, having helped the Wave to a league-high 11 wins and the 2023 NWSL Shield. She won Rookie of the Year and Defender of the Year in her rookie season.

As the centerpiece of San Diego’s backline, Girma finished among the top five players in the league in passes completed (948) and passing accuracy (88.68%). Led by Girma, the Wave defense allowed just 22 goals and 91 shots on goal, good for second- and third-fewest in the league, respectively. Through 19 regular-season matches, Girma conceded just four fouls.

She also was named to the 2023 NWSL Best XI, joining San Diego forward Jaedyn Shaw on the first team. Veteran forward Alex Morgan and goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan made the second team.

In June, she signed a new contract with San Diego, which will keep her with the Wave through the 2026 season.

“Naomi is one of the best young defenders in the world, and we’re elated that she’ll continue her career with the Wave,” Wave head coach Casey Stoney said in a news release at the time. “She has been a key contributor to this club and the success the Wave has had, and I look forward to continuing to watch her grow here in San Diego.”

Girma also was at the heart of the USWNT defense at the 2023 World Cup, starting started all four games at her first major tournament. Gotham FC and USWNT forward Lynn Williams called the young defender a “bright spot” amid a disappointing run, while USWNT co-captain Lindsey Horan called her “one of the best players on the team.”