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Rachel Nichols on the field for Philippine Women's National Football Team, the Malditas

Rachel Nichols '14 on the field for the Malditas, the Philippine Women's National Football Team, during the LA Viking Cup tournament in November. Photo: John Nichols '77.

Rachel Nichols '14 eyes Big Red, Philippine national teams

Rachel Nichols '14 of the Cornell women's soccer team was surprised when a national team came calling. She was even more surprised by which national team it was.

Nichols autographs soccer ball for group of fans

Nichols autographs a ball for a group of Filipino-American girls who attended the LA Viking Cup games. Photo: Chris Cordero.

Though she's a native of Fairfax Station, Va., near Washington, D.C., Nichols received interest (via a letter to Cornell women's soccer head coach Patrick Farmer) from the Philippines' national squad. Nichols' mother, Wil, was born and raised in the country's capital of Manila, making the younger Nichols eligible to play for the Malditas, the Philippine Women's National Football Team.

The Malditas wanted more than just to meet Nichols -- they wanted to see her play in the country's colors. After scouting her throughout Cornell's 2012 season, the team invited Nichols to attend a tryout in California and play in an international tournament, the LA Viking Cup.

"I was really nervous," says Nichols. "I just didn't know what to expect or anything about any of the girls, because I had never heard of any of the other players, [though] I knew the girls would be good."

The Malditas are a growing program. While basketball is the primary sport of interest in the Philippines, soccer's footprint is expanding. The women's team is ranked 83rd in the world and is making a big push to include more Filipino-Canadians and Filipino-Americans -- like Nichols -- in its pool of players.

A mix of incumbent national team members that had made the trek across the Pacific Ocean and hopefuls like Nichols, the Malditas went undefeated against semiprofessional teams to win the tournament title. Nichols had plenty of playing time and was used in the same attacking central midfielder role she has with the Big Red.

"The coach [Ernie Nierras] had mentioned how he was trying to build the program and how the women's team was now going to be making history with this turnaround and all of the new girls," Nichols says. "Even just winning the LA Viking Cup was a big step for them."

The Malditas have now set their sights on a qualifying tournament for the Asian Football Confederation's Women's Asian Cup in April. The team hasn't qualified for the tournament since 2003, but hopes are high after beating Singapore in the Asian Football Federation's Women's Championship in September and the LA Viking Cup title in November. There will be a training camp in March in California that Nichols plans to attend, and the roster for the following month's AFC Women's Asian Cup qualifier will be named soon thereafter.

There's an interesting parallel to what Nichols is trying to accomplish with the Big Red and, now, with the Malditas. Cornell is rebuilding its program under Farmer, who posted a 1-14-1 record in his first season as head coach. Now, Nichols could be part of another developing program in the Philippines.

"It will be cool if I'm part of the Filipino team that makes a step forward, and then being part of the program now at Cornell with Coach Farmer and everything that he's doing," Nichols says. "… Coach Farmer has done an awesome job of rebuilding this program so far. He has a lot of good ideas … and his coaching background is obviously amazing with that awesome résumé, and the team really respects [him]. And I know the Filipino team also really respects their coach."

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