Olivia Nguyen's hard work, trust in coach paying off with career-best season

The midfielder has produced the best numbers of her career in 2021 after seeing limited playing time in her previous two years

Junior midfielder Olivia Nguyen felt like ASU "checked every box" for her as a soccer player. The Tempe native's older brother attended ASU, and her mother works for the University. She committed to play soccer at ASU with former head coach Kevin Boyd, who had been with the team since 2007. 

But despite a coaching change in 2016, which brought in current coach Graham Winkworth, Nguyen has stuck with the Sun Devils and is producing career-best numbers for one of the best teams in the Pac-12.

Nguyen had "already fallen in love" with the idea of coming to ASU, but felt a bit of uncertainty surrounding the coaching change and whether she would play under a new staff. 

However, after meeting with Winkworth when he arrived, Nguyen said she felt "very assured," and doubts about playing with a new staff were erased, adding she felt she had been recruited all over again.

"Hearing him talk about his journey, his previous school, and the way that he wants to play soccer, just his views as a human was great and aligned with all the things I wanted in a head coach," Nguyen said.

Winkworth said while he had not been a part of the recruiting process to bring Nguyen to Tempe, he was excited she was committed and saw potential in her as a player.

Since her freshman season, Nguyen and Winkworth have seen massive improvements in her game, and credit that improvement to her work ethic, a factor Nguyen feels she's most control of.

"She's right up there as one of the hardest working players off the pitch in the offseason to prepare," Winkworth said. "She's extremely coachable. ... She goes out and does what you ask her to do." 

That hard work is paying off on the field, where Nguyen has seen an increase in playing time.

She played in just 178 minutes her freshman year and 202 her sophomore year. While she wasn't playing the most minutes in her earlier years, Nguyen knew she could make her mark on the program by continuing to improve on the practice field.

"How many minutes you play is, you know, ultimately decided by someone else. But the one thing you can control every day is how hard you work," Nguyen said.

She has played 811 minutes and scored four goals so far in the 2021 season. She has played more minutes and scored more goals this season than her first two years combined.

Nguyen said she would be "very excited" as a freshman if she knew the role she now plays on a winning Sun Devil team.

Nguyen ranks second on the team in goals and assists, serving as a key player for an ASU team that is producing one of its best regular seasons under Winkworth. The team is trying to make its first NCAA Tournament since 2014.

"We just want to make sure that we're focused on the next game cause that is what has given us the success so far this season, not looking too far ahead," Winkworth said.

Junior forward Cori Sullivan said she played club soccer with Nguyen when they were in high school and highlighted the energetic personality Nguyen brings to the team.

"I love being around her, she brings so much energy, she's so fun," Sullivan said. "I love watching her play and the intensity and the work rate, how her effort is out there, it just motivates the whole team to work even harder."

Nguyen not only attributes her success to her hard work, something she called the "little chip on my shoulder," but to her teammates as well. And no matter how the season ends, Nguyen is enjoying the ride with her teammates and is grateful to be on a team so close.

"They've been so amazing and people that on the tough days, I can lean on them, and then when they have their tough days, they can lean on me," Nguyen said.

Reach the reporter at dmwilhe1@asu.edu and follow @dmwilhelm225 on Twitter.

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