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ISI Photo / Wilf Thorne

Houston Dash forward Nichelle Prince thrives after graduation and shift focus

College professors have heard every reason for changes or special circumstances in the book. After all, students, like soccer players, cannot score if they don't shoot. Earlier in the Spring, Nichelle Prince had a reason for working with her school schedule that is better than most.

Prince, a rookie who is flourishing for the Houston Dash, was a senior at Ohio State University attempting double-duty. Training during the day and trying to find her place with the Dash and then spending the rest of the time as a college student trying to put the final touches on a sports management degree.

"It was really difficult. I was struggling coming here for preseason, and going with the national team, and finishing school with my last semester. It was difficult to balance both," Prince said of her double-duty. "Being a professional soccer player has always been my number one dream and goal, but going to school has always been an important dream to me and my family.

"There were definitely moments where I called home and was like ‘I don't know if I can do this.' But [my family] just told me it's four months and just get it done. I just kind of grinded that last semester out. Being done with school, it's allowed me to just focus on soccer."

That dream was realized in April when Prince finished her academic career and graduated with the degree that was very important to her and her family. Now she is focusing full-time on the Dash, and the results are showing.

Prince has scored three times since graduating, that's one away from tying the club scoring record for a rookie, which is held in part by the injured Kealia Ohai who Prince has helped replace. Finding consistent minutes on the wing, the speedy Prince is finally finding her feet and cultivating relationships with her fellow attackers.

That ability was on display in the last game when she immediately hit an open run and got behind the Boston Breakers back line to latch on to a ball and finish. It was a goal that showed what Prince could do full-time.

"My role's been up and down. It's been coming off the bench and then starting a little.Through that whole time, I just stayed ready, and I was never really down on myself," Prince said. "Losing Kealia, you never really replace her with her qualities and leadership, but I'm happy I've been able to be ready for my opportunity.

"Getting that consistency has helped my performances. I can clear my head on what my role is and what I need to do."

Building that relationship and capitalizing on her pace and experience at the pro level was tough early on. Rookies routinely struggle to produce and matching the speed and physicality of the pro game is a challenge. Add in work to finish a degree and to build a career made for an obstacle that took work to overcome.

That confidence is turning Prince into an attacking threat at the pro level.

"I think the confidence goes both ways. She's stepped into her role and has been playing lights out," Head coach Omar Morales said about Prince. "The one thing I do credit Nichelle for is that every time you fix something, she picks it up right away. She sees something, she understands it and she does it. That's something a lot of young kids struggle with…she's been great with getting information and taking it onto the field immediately."

"Nichelle is somebody I've seen grow in confidence. She's really comfortable, you can see it on and off the field with the group," added Prince's roommate Camille Levin. "Nichelle has an awful lot of experience with the Canadian National Team as well, so I don't look at her as being a rookie or being young at all on the field. She doesn't get frazzled by much. She believes in herself."

Dealing with exams, professors, and papers is behind Prince, and she is focusing on being a better pro. Instead of rushing home to take care of her studies, she's working on recovery and film study in her down time. It is a change that shows her persistence and work ethic; but also the challenge that she finished earlier this season.

"I think it's just now I can be a true professional," Prince said. "This is what I do for a living, and I can put 100 percent on this. It's the little things you do as a professional that I can focus my attention to. I've had a lot of help and support from the players here. I feel supported and comfortable on this team."

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