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Nelson Thriving in Tough Competition

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Throughout her prep career, Erika Nelson won a slew of awards, accolades and championships.

As a soccer player at Hope Christian, Nelson was a state champion, Gatorade Player of the Year, state player of the year and an all-state player. She also won five state titles with her club team.

“She’s about as good a player as New Mexico has ever produced,” said Chris Brennan, Nelson’s coach with the Rio Vista club team. “Great attitude, her work ethic — athletically, she’s as good as they come. She’s at Maryland for a reason.”

For good measure, Nelson added two state track titles, was the 2011 homecoming queen and made the Dean’s Honor Roll from 2007-2011.

Today in Cary, N.C., Nelson, a true freshman at the University of Maryland, has a chance to add another feat to her impressive résumé: ACC champion.

The Terrapins face Virginia today in the ACC championship game at 11 a.m., televised on ESPNU.

“We have enough talent to win the ACC and even win a national championship,” Nelson said. “Those are my goals for my team because I think they’re realistic and I think we can make them happen.”

Not too many players can come from high school into a top-10 program and get playing time, let alone start. But according to her club coach, Nelson is not your average freshman.

Talent aside, there’s another reason Nelson is at Maryland: Nelson craves competition.

The Terps are ranked ninth in the latest NSCAA Coaches Poll and are one of four ACC teams ranked in the top 10.

“I knew I wanted to come here, and I always wanted to play in the ACC,” Nelson said. “You have to bring your best every single game.

“Every team is really good, every team has great players and you can’t underestimate anyone. You have to bring your best game to everyone.”

After scoring 15 goals in each of last two seasons at Hope Christian, Nelson made the transition from attacking midfielder to defender for Maryland.

While she has yet to score a goal this season, Nelson said she has had no problem with the move to college soccer.

A big reason for that, Nelson said, was her experience with the Rio Vista club team, which included Ashley Williams, who was named the Big 12 Newcomer of the Year at Kansas, Emily Cubbage (St. John’s) and Courtney Dudley (Colorado).

“It’s a world of difference,” Nelson said. “One thing I think that has helped was my club team was very competitive. We made finals in regionals and played against some really talented teams and players. So transitioning from club soccer to college soccer wasn’t huge.”

Friday night, Nelson and her new teammates combined to hold Wake Forest to only three shots on goal in a 2-0 win in their tournament semifinal.

Today, Nelson has a chance to help Maryland win the first ACC title in school history.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Brennan said. “I rate her as the best player to come out of New Mexico, so it’s no surprise that’s she’s playing in the ACC and doing well.”
— This article appeared on page D10 of the Albuquerque Journal