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For Naomi Girma, big USWNT debut fulfills lifelong dream

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Naomi Girma will play in her first World Cup this summer with the U.S. Women's National Team. (Brad Smith/USSF/Getty Images)

Naomi Girma is embracing the moment as she enters the biggest tournament of her soccer career.

A defender for the U.S. Women’s National Team, Girma has instantly set herself apart in her first year on the squad. Now, the 23-year-old will continue to make history as she heads to the 2023 world championship in Australia and New Zealand.

“To be on a World Cup squad I think is a huge honor,” Girma told Just Women’s Sports. “So I’m really excited about that, just to play and compete against the best in the world.”

Girma has grown up watching some of the game’s best, and now she’ll get to play alongside them. While the 2022 NWSL No. 1 draft pick can remember many iconic moments from tournaments past, one stands out the most: the 2015 final, in which the U.S. defeated Japan 5-2 and solidified its place “as the best,” she says.

Eight years later, the USWNT enters the global event as the two-time defending champion, and Girma has moved from spectator to a key player on the backline. The 2022 NWSL Rookie and Defender of the Year will have to step up even more in the absence of captain and center-back partner Becky Sauerbrunn, who was ruled out of the tournament with an injury.

Among Girma’s most memorable soccer moments is her USWNT debut, which came just last April in a 9-0 win over Uzbekistan. Since then, she’s made 15 international appearances and solidified herself as a starting center-back.

The California native is also making waves outside of the USWNT. A Nike athlete, Girma recently signed a club contract extension that will keep her with the San Diego Wave through the 2026 season.

When asked how she is preparing for her first world championship, Girma rattled off a list of everything she is doing to stay sharp on and off the field — from practicing with her teammates to focusing on her nutrition and recovery mindset. She wants to make sure those elements of her game are “in the best possible place going into the tournament,” she said.

Girma also plans to lean on the perspective of her USWNT teammates who have been in this position before.

“It’s just soccer. I think in big moments, it can feel like more,” she said. “And at the end of the day, you’re just playing the game you love. So I think when it feels like there’s a lot of pressure, that’s good advice and a good reminder.”