The future for Michigan State women’s soccer is looking bright with sophomore forward Gia Wahlberg coming into her own in her second season on the team. After not being able to find the back of the net during her freshman campaign, Wahlberg has burst onto the scene through 11 games this season, leading the Big Ten in goals with nine.
If you ask her about this feat, she’ll tell you that it’s not a big deal and that she’s only focused on winning games. She has been a crucial part of the Spartans’ eight victories so far this year, and most recently scored the clincher as the green and white put away Purdue at home Sept. 29 for their first Big Ten win of the season.
Head coach Tom Saxton can see signs of Wahlberg’s leadership abilities coming into play and knows she is becoming a go-to player at the end of games.
“I think that’s evolving,” Saxton said. “I think we have a core of 12 players that we kind of rely on as our core leadership group. But I can tell you this: as she gets more and more experience out there on the field, there is no doubt that she is somebody that we turn to in big moments. So in that way I think she is growing very well as an on the field leader.”
Wahlberg comes from an athletic family, as both of her parents played collegiate athletics and her two sisters are currently playing collegiate soccer. Celeste and Elli Wahlberg play at Indiana State University and University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, respectively. Celeste is a freshman midfielder who was tallied two goals in 10 games, while Elli is a junior forward with two goals through 14 games so far this season.
Feeling more comfortable on the field now that she has one year under her belt, Wahlberg sees her connection with the team as a strength.
“The strongest part of my game ... (is) the relationship I have with my teammates,” Wahlberg said in regards to contributions to her high level of play. “Definitely room for improvement, but I’ve been working on that since last year.”
Another aspect of the team that is stronger this season is the on-field chemistry that is evident late in games and something senior midfielder and defender Michaela Kovacs knows Wahlberg has been a huge part of. The team is off to their second-best start in team history, being undefeated at home so far through six games.
“I think we’re connecting a lot more than we have in past years and I think Gia attributes to that because of her movement off the ball,” Kovacs said. “When you move off the ball you don’t always get it, but Gia knows that and she knows the sacrifice run and she knows where to be if she wants to get the ball. She just has fantastic movement which creates a ton of opportunities, which she’s done a fantastic job capitalizing on.”
Kovacs, a senior leader on the team, can also attribute to Wahlberg coming into her own in her second season, stressing her knowledge of the game and work ethic as factors in her dominance.
“Gia has just been phenomenal this year,” Kovacs said. “Since last year she has scored a lot more goals and I think it just comes from her confidence. She seems a lot more confident on the ball, especially in attacking, and she’s just getting herself in the right position.
“She’s always been a hard worker. Having her as a teammate, she always brings a positive attitude and it’s fantastic to have her.”
Wahlberg has already taken home Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors, and if she keeps the scoring up, more recognition will surely follow. She’s had a knack this year for scoring in crucial moments, with four of her nine goals ending up as the game-winning tally.
Saxton likes the fact that her consistent play can energize her teammates and help to jumpstart the offense.
“I’ve just been super pleased for her,” Saxton said. “Her attacking with an aggressive attitude and confidence and what a dangerous player she is. She’s been a great lift for us and when you get on a roll scoring and putting the ball in the back of the net the number of times she has, that can feed on itself and the other teammates feed off of it.
“The difference between last year and this year has been our goal scoring Gia is leading the way there so we’re delighted for her.”
The team is getting ready for an Oct. 3 matchup at Minnesota, and despite all her early season success, Wahlberg is just focused on these two words: