Throughout her illustrious four-year soccer career at Archbishop Spalding, Christine Nairn showed a knack for scoring dazzling goals from anywhere on the field.
She hit the powerful, knuckling strikes that found the net from 30 yards and, other times, dribbled past countless defenders on her to way to the goal before efficiently placing a shot to an open corner.
By the time her high school career concluded with the 2007 season, Nairn, the All-Metro Player of the Year as a senior, totaled a school-record 70 goals.
It seems ironic that her most memorable goal, coming this summer, was a case of being at the right place at the right time, awkwardly using her hip on the goal line to send the ball past it.
Quick to credit her teammates for the work they put in to set up the goal, Nairn simply says, "It was ugly, but I'll take it."
The goal was Nairn's first playing for the U.S. women's national team in her second career appearance. The teammate who did a lot of the work was longtime star Abby Wambach, who has long been Nairn's role model. The goal came in the 89th minute to provide the U.S. with a 1-0 win over Canada on July 22.
Set to turn 19 this month and starting at center midfielder as a freshman at Penn State, Nairn talks in astonishment about the places she has been and the impressive climb she has made as one of the most promising young players in the country.
"It's definitely a dream come true and a great feeling to represent my country. Anytime I get to put on the U.S. jersey ... I just can't believe it," Nairn said. "To even be considered to be on the roster of the senior national team and to get in for even two minutes is an amazing feeling."
A longtime member of the U.S. youth soccer program, Nairn caught the eye of U.S. coach Pia Sundhage while helping the U.S. capture the Under-20 Women's World Cup in Chile in November.
In January, freshly enrolled at Penn State for her first semester (she bypassed the 2008 fall semester because of her commitment to the U-20 team), she was invited to train with the senior team for two-plus weeks in California.
"When I got the call, I was only at Penn State for three days, so I hadn't even gone to all my classes for the first time," she said. "I was like, 'Oh, my God!' I was really surprised how fast it all came about because I didn't even know my name was in the mix for that camp. I called my dad, who has coached me forever, and he was like, 'Can you believe it?' This is something I wanted since I was 4 or 5 years old."
Nairn's first appearance came in a 4-0 win over Canada on May 25, and then in July, as the youngest player on the U.S. side, she became one of only a handful of players to score for the national team before playing a game in college.
This fall, Nairn is starting at center midfield at Penn State and already has a game-winning goal for the Nittany Lions. She was one of 45 players on the preseason watch list for the Hermann Award, the equivalent of college football's Heisman Trophy. It's a rarity for a freshman to make the list, and Nairn is clearly something special with her unique skills and passion for the game.
"She's a completely different style of player than 99 percent of the players in the U.S.," said Penn State coach Erica Walsh, who also is an assistant for the women's national team. "She has a better understanding of how to handle the flow of the game or change the flow of the game. Her vision is exceptional, and her ability to switch the point of attack with clean and crisp passes is on a level of its own."
This fall, Nairn's attention is focused on helping Penn State win a national championship. In January, she will be back playing for the U.S. Under-20 team in qualifiers for the World Cup. More appearances with the senior team seem just a matter of time.
"Her comfort level and creativity with the ball makes her special," U-20 coach Jillian Ellis said. "She's so technically gifted, and then she has intangibles in that she works hard and completely embraces the game of soccer. Those things all combined has helped her get to where she is today, and her confidence allows her to play with anybody."
Alumni Report Each Friday, The Baltimore Sun will catch up with a former area high school sports figure. In the spotlight today is former Archbishop Spalding soccer player Christine Nairn (above). To suggest former athletes or coaches to be considered for Alumni Report, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.