In a sport primarily known for athletes making astounding moves with their feet, a play Pepperdine Waves women’s soccer standout Isabel Nelson made with her head earlier this month netted the Waves one of the biggest wins in program history and her another honor to her growing list of collegiate accolades.
The five-foot-five center back rose above the fray and headed in a corner kick by her teammate, senior forward Hailey Stenberg, in the 20th minute of Pepperdine’s home contest against the then-second ranked Stanford Cardinals on Sept. 13. Nelson’s heady goal gave her squad a 1-0 win over a team that hadn’t lost in the regular season since August 2017 and led to her being named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week three days later. The sophomore’s defensive performance in Pepperdine’s 2-0 win over San Diego State on Sept. 15 also played a foot in her garnering the weekly WCC award for the second time.
Nelson credited her teammates.
“It’s definitely an honor because there are so many talented players in our conference,” she said on Sept. 17.
When Stenberg rocketed the ball from the left corner toward the Stanford goal, Nelson rose above the fray in the center of the box. Her noggin connected with the ball and sent it into the back of the net.
Pepperdine Waves head coach Tim Ward told an interviewer after the game, “The set piece was fantastic and Izzy had a world-class goal to win a big game.”
The goal was the second-year Wave’s first of the 2019 season and third of her college career. Both of Nelson’s scores during her freshman season were headers off corner kicks. Her late-game goal in Pepperdine’s 2-1 win over WCC-opponent BYU last season was also a game winner. That header also delivered her the WCC Player of the Week award for the first time. Nelson’s first collegiate goal was during the Waves’ 2-0 defeat of UC Irvine earlier in the 2018 season.
Nelson said tallying goals with her head is not new to her.
“It’s something I have always done growing up,” she recalled. “It’s something that has always been in my wheelhouse.”
The Houston native has played soccer since she was three. She doesn’t recall how she was introduced to the sport; Nelson just knows that playing for local youth clubs with friends was enjoyable. She stopped playing basketball and softball when she was in middle school to focus only on the pitch.
“I love the game. It’s the sport I enjoyed the most,” she said, adding that focusing her sporting life only on soccer “naturally happened.”
Early in her youth career, coaches positioned her as a defender. Nelson thrived in the role due to her competiveness.
“I wouldn’t let anyone get past me,” she said.
That didn’t stop her from being a force on offense, though. Nelson racked up 72 goals and 19 assists during her four years of varsity soccer at The Kinkaid School.
She knew the Waves were the team for her when she first visited Pepperdine.
“The coaches truly care about each and every player,” Nelson said.
It took Nelson a bit to adjust to the speed of the college game during the Waves’ 2018 campaign, but once she got comfortable she entrenched herself in the backline of the squad’s talented defense. Nelson started 17 of the 18 games she played in and helped Pepperdine become the top defensive squad in the conference. She was named the WCC Freshman of the Year and was tapped for the Top Drawer Soccer Freshmen Best XI second team and the All-WCC second team.
The defensive player was named a Preseason All-WCC performer before this season. However, Nelson doesn’t pay too much attention to the accolades.
She does take pride in helping Pepperdine’s defense being as stout as possible. Pepperdine has shut out several opponents heading into their contest at CSUN on Thursday and home match against Portland on Saturday.
“I want to be a leader for the backline and be a calming voice,” Nelson said. “I want to give everything I can to the team.”
Pepperdine started the season with a 3-0 win over UC Riverside, but then tied their second game and lost three straight before downing Stanford and San Diego State. The bunch tied fifth-ranked UCLA, 2-2, in their first matchup of the Rainbow Wahine Shootout on Sept. 19 in Hawaii. Three days later, Pepperdine was beaten, 2-1, by 24-ranked Washington State in the shootout.
The Waves only have five seniors on their roster, so they are a young squad, Nelson said, but they are focused on getting better daily.
“It’s a process,” she said. Nelson said the win over Stanford was a huge step in that process.
“We realized we are an amazing group of women, and we can do anything we put our minds to,” she said. “On any given day, anything can happen. The Stanford game showed we are heading in the right direction.”
The two-time WCC Player of the Week relishes the chance to put the ball an opposing squad’s net.
“It’s nice to always help the offense out,” Nelson said.