The McDonogh and Archbishop Spalding girls soccer teams have crossed paths plenty of times in one of the area’s fiercest rivalries. One team or the other has won 13 of the past 14 Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland A Conference championships.
But on Jan. 16, two of the teams’ past stars met on friendly terms at the Baltimore Convention Center, which hosted the 2020 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft.
It was then that McDonogh’s 2016 graduate Bridgette Andrzejewski fulfilled her childhood dream of becoming a professional soccer player — something Spalding’s 2008 graduate Christine Nairn knows all about. When the Houston Dash made Andrzejewski their second-round pick, she instantly got a congratulations from one of her new teammates, Nairn, who was on hand for the event.
For the 29-year-old Nairn, the league’s most-tenured player as a first-round pick by the Seattle Reign in the NWSL’s inaugural 2013 season, and Andrzejewski, 23, the opportunity to play on the same team across the country is welcome home cooking.
“Even though we played on rival high schools, just having somebody from Maryland brings this comfort and automatic bond — it seems like we’ve known each other forever,” said Andrzejewski, a 2019 North Carolina graduate who was a four-year standout at forward for the national power Tar Heels.
“I’m getting a lot of wisdom from Christine because she’s had so much experience playing in the NWSL, so it’s super cool playing alongside someone from the same area.”
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Andrzejewski’s rookie season and Nairn’s second with the Dash has been far from conventional, but it has had its rewards nonetheless.
In July, the Dash won the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah, claiming a 2-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars in the championship game. The 23-game tournament was held without fans, and the NWSL became the first U.S. professional team sports league to finish an event amid the pandemic.
Nairn, an All-American midfielder at Penn State who earned two caps for the U.S. women’s national team when she was 18, playing sparingly because of a back injury and illness, but her time on the field was vital. In the quarterfinal round, she was a late substitute in a scoreless game against the Utah Royals, and when the outcome came down to penalty kicks, her poise and experience shined as she scored to help the Dash advance by a 3-2 count.
“I think that shows that you might not have an idea what your role may be on a given day, but, for me, it was just my experience and a sense of calm in times of pressure and doubt to step up and make a PK,” Nairn said.
Still getting her professional feet wet, Andrzejewski, who has played at forward as well as in the back, dressed for every game, but didn’t see the field. Right now, she’s pushing her teammates during training while learning the ropes. An immediate starter and impact player in high school and college, she welcomes the new professional challenge.
“I think the biggest difference level-wise, coming from college to professional soccer, it’s a higher pace. You’re playing soccer as your job and they expect a lot more from you responsibility-wise,” Andrzejewski said.
“Everyone has such high soccer IQ’s, so it’s fun to play with such amazing players. I’m one of the youngest players on the team and some of the older players have so much wisdom to pass along to me — I’m just trying to ask as many questions as I can.”
Nairn has found her fellow Marylander to be a quick study who won’t take long to make her mark in the league.
“We’ve thrown Bridgette around in a bunch of different positions, which I think is so crucial for anyone in our league because the more positions you can play, the more chances you have to get on the field,” Nairn said. “So I think for her, the sky is the limit. She’s strong, athletic, a workhorse. She might not have gotten the minutes she would have liked to get in the tournament, but I think everyone is so happy that she’s on our team and we don’t have to face her because she’s that great of a player.”
Still playing at a high level with the same joy for the game, Nairn continues to look forward as she gets set to turn 30 in September. She’s not ready just yet to reflect on a career that includes an all-time league-high 150 appearances playing on four teams.
“I always laugh and say it just means I’m old. But, no, I’ve been fortunate enough to call this my job the past eight years, having traveled around the world and getting paid for it,” she said.
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“For me, it’s always been what can I do next, what is my next goal and what’s the next thing on my plate. So hopefully after I’m done playing, I’ll take time to reflect on things like that and really appreciate them.”
As Nairn’s career approaches its home stretch, Andrzejewski’s is just getting started. She was instrumental in helping McDonogh to three straight IAAM championships and helped North Carolina reach the NCAA title game her final two seasons. Her skills, versatility and competitiveness have made an impression on Dash coach James Clarkson.
“Bridgette has a huge future with the Dash — she has made the transition from college very well,” he said. “Her work ethic and desire to get better every day really stands out and we’re excited what she brings to the squad on and off the field.”
The Dash are set to resume training this week with games or tournaments remaining on hold because of COVID-19. For Nairn and Andrzejewski, training provides more time to compare notes on Ocean City, the great seafood back home and even some occasional smack talk.
“If she misses a shot, I’ll be like ‘Oh, that’s how McDonogh shoots the ball,’ so there’s definitely a fun bit of rivalry there,” Nairn said. “But at the end of the day, we’re from the same area, so it’s nice to have someone from Baltimore and it’s fun hearing that accent come out a little bit to remind me of home.”