Counting down the top 11 personalities of 2011 in Southern California soccer ...
Nadia Link's story is compelling enough.
The forward from Rowland Heights discovered she was pregnant right out of high school, was booted from the family home, abandoned a UC Irvine scholarship and took up residence for a time in her car.
It has provided a fascinating foundation for one of Southern California's breakout stars of the college season, and Link (Walnut HS) broke out big.
The junior attacker scored 16 goals, assisted 10 more and did so with stunning aplomb to lead surprising Long Beach State, which had never won an NCAA tournament match, to the Division I quarterfinals.
Link's superb skill provided highlight-reel goals, the biggest (and maybe the best) a corkscrewing blast off her lesser right foot that curled inside the far post to beat No. 7 Pepperdine in overtime in an NCAA opener.
“All I heard was Mauricio [Ingrassia, the 49ers' head coach] saying, 'Take it down the line!' And I remember thinking, 'That's a long way.' ... It went in, and I don't even remember celebrating. I was too busy crying.”
Link's biggest fan is Adrianna, who turns 3 next month. Her arrival after so much turmoil served to unify the family, which rallied around the former prep and club soccer star as she worked feverishly to regain fitness and touch following her pregnancy.
Ingrassia proved savior, offering a scholarship -- contingent on Link's passing a grueling fitness test before her second season on the team. She did so to rabid cheers from her teammates (“It was a great moment for us and a great moment for her,” Ingrassia said), had a fine sophomore campaign, then arrived last summer in the best shape of her life.
It showed all fall, led to a call-up to the U.S. women's national team and was rewarded with the 49ers' elite-eight run and a spot on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's All-America team.
“I would do it all over again,” Link says. “I would live in a car again. I would bounce around ... to see her now and where I am now and how close my family is, I wouldn't trade anything for the world.”