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‘Nothing is going to be what you expect:’ Jenna Nighswonger on winning Rookie of the Year

Gotham FC’s Jenna Nighswonger is the 2023 NWSL Rookie of the Year

Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Jenna Nighswonger wrote a letter to her past self. Her teammate Sabrina Flores led the club in an exercise of reflection as the team prepared for its semifinal matchup against the Portland Thorns, and Nighswonger took stock of just how far she’s come this season.

“It’s crazy how different everything turned out from what I initially thought at the start of the season,” Nighswonger exclusively told The Equalizer.

From a last-minute declaration for the 2023 NWSL Draft to shifting from midfield to left back, Nighswonger has had a whirlwind of a year. Now, she can add winning Rookie of the Year to the list.

“I remember talking to the team and Juan [Carlos Amorós] before getting drafted, and it was clear talking to him that he had a vision I really liked,” Nighswonger said. “I would never have expected to play at left-back, but it all worked out for the best. I wouldn’t change anything. When I wrote the letter to myself, I said, nothing is going to be what you expect, but it’s all going to be ok.”

“I’m really happy and so grateful,” Nighswonger said of receiving the ROTY award. “When I think about this award, I think about how grateful I am to be at Gotham, have teammates and coaches that are so great to me, so welcoming, and believed in me.”

Extra special to Nighswonger was being included in a list of finalists that included Orlando Pride’s Messiah Bright and Angel City FC’s Alyssa Thompson.

“They both had such great seasons,” Nighswonger said. “It’s an honor to be among them because not only did they both have great rookie seasons, but they’re such great people. The margins for this award are so small, it could have been any of us.”

Nighswonger is especially grateful for the fans who voted for her in this award and who have supported Gotham all season.

“I want to thank the fans who voted and everyone who came out to Red Bull Arena this season,” she said. “Our fans create such a great environment and made me really feel like I’m at home here.”

Although Gotham has now received a number of end-of-year awards including Coach of the Year and multiple Best XI inclusions, Nighswonger says the team is fully focused on Saturday’s match, the team’s first-ever NWSL Final appearance.

“Individual awards are always nice, but I’d rather have no awards and win the NWSL Championship with my team,” she said. “I try not to focus on it too much. It does help motivate us, but on Saturday, nothing else matters but winning the game.”

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