The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Goals and Goosebumps: Introducing the Rising Star of Women’s Soccer

Rodrigo Hernandez
Pauline Gericke runs up the field as the Matadors play against Long Beach State on Oct. 8 in Northridge, Calif.

Pauline Gericke plays soccer for the goosebumps moments: moments when her team scores a goal against a rival; moments when she realizes she is playing against a professional; moments when she wins a championship, even though her team was not favored.

Her first ever goosebumps moment came when her team scored a goal in a U-17 Bundesliga game 20 seconds after kickoff. It was Gericke’s first game in U-17, the highest level of play for girls in Germany. Gericke’s team had the opening kickoff and immediately played the ball forward. A costly mistake by the keeper of the opposing team allowed Gericke’s teammate to tuck the ball into the net.

“Everyone was just so flabbergasted because we didn’t expect to score that early,” Gericke said. “Yeah, in the end we tied, but that was – it was a real goosebump moment and I never had that kind of moment before.”

Rodrigo Hernandez

Gericke, who hails from Berlin, Germany, has played in 11 games so far for CSUN. She started in eight matches, and played the full 90 minutes in three. The centerback has become a staple in the Matadors’ defense early in her career.

She mainly came to CSUN because she wanted to play Division I. As someone who grew up in a city, she liked that Northridge was a familiar environment. She discovered CSUN’s program after a highlight video of hers was submitted to the coaches, and they talked to her over Zoom to convince her to join the team.

“Just [by] the way she moves, we could tell she was a pretty good player,” head coach Christine Johnson said. “Her movement, her ability and comfort on the left side was something that – for us, we had a hole there. And her decision-making. She’s got a high soccer IQ.”

Gericke got into soccer in 2012. An only child, the centerback often played by herself.

“When I was younger, we just had this little ball and I was playing two teams,” Gericke said. “Imagine me being on both teams: I just ran with the ball through the garden that we had.”

She joined a team for the first time when her grandma signed her up for club soccer. As she got older, she stuck to the sport, but tried cross-country for a brief stint as well.

One of her proudest moments came when she was called up to the U-19 German national team. Gericke was surprised the recruiters looked at players in the third league.

Rodrigo Hernandez

This gave her the chance to play against people who made the Champions League, which signaled to Gericke that she can make it too.

“Playing with them is, like, weird, because we all come from different clubs, and just to know someone in front of you plays for the best club in Germany, and on the first women’s team, and is, like, a pro soccer player,” Gericke said. “It’s interesting, and it kind of shows you what you can be, it pushes you.”

When she came to the United States, Gericke had to adjust to some societal norms. The main thing she picked up on in her first couple months living here was how much more receptive Americans are to people asking questions. Gericke said she grew up in a culture where it was frowned upon to ask more questions than needed.

“In Germany, people often say, ‘Okay, ask question if you have to,’ but in general, they mean, ‘You better not ask because I don’t want to answer it,’” Gericke said. “Here, it’s the complete opposite.”

Gericke is majoring in art, but says she does not yet know which career path she wants to follow. She knows she does not want to coach, but is open to pursuing art along with playing soccer.

“At the end, I just want to be happy doing what I’m doing, and then it doesn’t really matter what I do, but my preference would be something in the creative business for sure,” Gericke said.

Gericke’s professors support her as an athlete and relieve some of the pressure of balancing athletics with schoolwork.

She misses many things about home, including her father, who flew her to Los Angeles and stayed with her for a week. She also misses Sunny, her family’s miniature Australian shepherd.

“We just got a puppy and I’m missing him so bad,” Gericke said. “I just miss, like, petting him and, yeah, just miss the texture of his fur.”

She calls her family a lot, and says her mom has always been someone she could talk to.

“I talked to her about any kinds of issues and we always communicated well with each other. So we always had this bond, and she’s basically my therapist, to be honest,” Gericke said.

Her mom rises early, so Gericke calls her when it is 5:30 a.m. in Berlin.

Even though she is a freshman, Gericke has a lot of experience on the pitch, and uses it to solidify the back line for the Matadors.

She played on many soccer teams in her home country, including 1 FC Union Berlin, as well as SV Lichtenberg 47. Gericke made club and national teams ranging from U-13 to U-19 and won nine championships.

Her favorite championship moment came when she played for the U-17 team. Gericke said she felt like an underdog for the first time that season, which made the championship particularly special. The road to the cup that season is what prepared her for Division I soccer in the U.S.

“It was an experience, but everyone, every single one of us, got really good in soccer because we actually had to fight for our points, and defensively, I didn’t have to defend as much in the U-15 and U-13,” Gericke said. “That was the first time we actually had to really work.”

She remembers when her team defeated their rivals, FC Victoria, in front of about 1,500 fans. They won 2-1 after conceding an early goal. These exhilarating games are why Gericke loves the sport.

Rodrigo Hernandez

“I play for the goosebumps moments,” Gericke said. “Every time we scored a goal this season, I got goosebumps. I was feeling so happy and that was the best feeling ever, to be honest.”

When Gericke got to CSUN, she made friends with Paige Califf, a redshirt freshman majoring in business marketing. Califf described Gericke as soft-spoken, but someone her teammates listen to.

“Pauline is one of the quieter players on our team,” Califf said. “She’s not very loud in that sense, but when she does communicate, it’s always very effective and you always want to listen.”

The two often room together on road trips. Califf, who has also lived in Europe, said she and Gericke bonded over their shared experience.

“We’ve kind of talked about different experiences living outside of the United States and just different experiences in soccer. She grew up playing a whole different style than we did over here,” Califf said. “And so we can just relate for our love of the game.”

When CSUN played California Baptist University in their first exhibition game of the season, Gericke felt the jitters of playing in her first ever Division I match, but when she subbed into the game in the second half, she focused on the tactics she practiced. Her dad watched her from the stands, like he always did in Germany.

Coach Johnson said that Gericke does a great job keeping possession of the ball under pressure, and believes the freshman has the potential to be a key player for the Matadors for years to come.

“I’m hoping she finds more of a voice on the field and kind of turns into that leader,” Johnson said. “I think it’s very possible for her to fulfill that role.”

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