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Huntington Beach Union High School District

Huntington Beach High School Graduate, Jenna Nighswonger, Drafted Fourth Overall in National Women’s Soccer League

Huntington Beach High School (HBHS) graduate, Jenna Nighswonger, has been drafted fourth overall by the National Women’s Soccer League team NJ/NY Gotham FC.

It’s a dream for many athletes growing up: making it to the big leagues. While females make up about 46% of college athletes, approximately 16% of all professional athletes are women.

The dreams to play soccer collegiately and professionally have always been front and center for Jenna Nighswonger, who had a unique high school experience at HBHS. Because of her hard work and dedication to the game of soccer, Nighswonger was given the opportunity to travel and compete with the US Youth National Soccer Team. While this was an incredible opportunity, it posed the challenge of balancing rigorous high school academics and her commitment to the sport. Nighswonger made the decision to graduate from high school early during her junior year after receiving an offer from Florida State University (FSU). Graduating early would allow her to prepare for the challenges athletes face at the Division I level.

“There were a few bumps in the road at the end of my senior semester, but the district and Huntington Beach High School were very helpful in planning out what my adjusted curriculum needed to look like,” explained Nighswonger. “This included extra classes at Fusion Academy during the summer. However, a lot of credit goes to Principal Morris and Cynthia ‘CJ’ Jacobs for being my advocates…Graduating early was really important to my transition to Florida State, as I was able to practice with the team for a few months and gain chemistry before season started in the fall”.

Nighswonger graduated from HBHS in December 2018 and began her collegiate journey in January 2019. She traveled to Japan later that year in May to train with the Japanese Federation Academy for one month. Nighswonger’s decision to graduate early to attend FSU proved to be the right move, as she ended her FSU soccer career with 72 points, the ninth most in school history, and contributed to the team’s 3 ACC Tournament Championships and a National Championship in 2021. Other accolades from FSU include:

  • MAC Hermann Trophy Finalist (2022)
  • College Soccer News First Team All-American (2022)
  • United Soccer Coaches Scholar Player of the Year (2022)
  • United Soccer Coaches Scholar All-American First Team (2022)
  • ACC Tournament MVP (2022)
  • ACC All-Tournament Team (2022)
  • ACC All-Freshman Team (2019)

On top of an impressive collegiate career for Nighswonger, she was among some of the first female athletes in the NCAA to receive an NIL deal during her last season. The new world of NIL deals (Name, Image, Likeness) offers life-changing opportunities for many college athletes regardless of gender. Two female college basketball players were among the first athletes to sign NIL deals. A store at Florida State, called Garnet & Gold, began selling FSU soccer jerseys with Nighswonger’s name printed on the back. They offered Nighswonger her first NIL deal, to which she donated $1,000 of her initial earnings to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Garnet & Gold matched her donation and donated $1,000 to the foundation as well. Breast cancer research is a cause close to her heart as her grandmother passed away from breast cancer at forty and her mother is a survivor. Nighswonger graduated from FSU in December 2022 with her bachelor’s degree in finance, magna cum laude. While her collegiate soccer career has come to an end, her soccer journey continues.

The dream to play soccer professionally has just been made a reality for Nighswonger when she heard her name called out in the National Women’s Soccer League draft during the first round, fourth overall pick by NJ/NY Gotham FC. The team’s General Manager and Head of Soccer Operations Yael Averbuch West said in a statement, “‘We acquired the fourth pick specifically with the aim of adding Jenna to our team. She is a player who we feel will adapt quickly to NWSL, has enormous potential, and fits well into what we are building.’”

The Huntington Beach Union High School District is thrilled to share the accomplishments of Jenna Nighswonger on and off the soccer field. She is a true inspiration to female athletes everywhere, proving that you can accomplish your dreams with hard work and dedication.

Jenna NIL

Jenna Nighswonger FSU