Portsmouth soccer twins take silver on the beach

Nicole Baird (#2) battles for the ball during the international tournament in Montreal. Nicole Baird (#2) battles for the ball during the international tournament in Montreal.

Nicole Baird (#2) battles for the ball during the international tournament in Montreal. Photo by Jenna Polselli.

PORTSMOUTH — Their Portsmouth High School (Class of 1999) and college soccer careers are over but twins Marissa and Nicole Baird haven’t lost their love for the game.

So now, rather than play on grass, they play barefoot on the beach in highly competitive international competitions with other post-collegiate and top players.

Their team, the Peace Passers, is just back from Montreal, Canada, where they represented the United States in an international beach soccer tournament. They and their eight teammates, all of whom are about nine years out of college, finished with a 2-1 record in the round-robin tourney, taking second to Brazil and winning the silver medal. Also sending teams to the tournament were Mexico and Canada — the US team beat Mexico 3-2 (Nicole scored a goal), beat Canada 3-1) and lost to Brazil 6-2. Both girls were key parts of the US defense.

The Peace Passers earned the right to represent the United States by winning the Major Beach Soccer Championship in Clearwater Beach, Fla., in December, 2011.

Their team represents the non-profit PeacePassers.org which helps distribute soccer equipment to impoverished communities around the world. In their travels, they not only play soccer but spread the word about the charity.

Both players said the tournament was a thrill and an honor.

“To be able to stay that I was part of a team that represented the USA in its first international beach soccer tournament and finished second is amazing,” said Nicole Baird. “Life is about taking chances, doing what you love, with people that you love. That is what we did in Montreal.”

Marissa Baird fires a shot in Montreal.

“Soccer is what brought us together, but it’s our commitment to each other and dedication to the team that granted us the opportunity to represent USA in Montreal,” added her sister Nicole Baird.” This experience is one of the greatest accomplishments of our lives. As for the silver medal, although still awesome, I definitely think we can play again and win gold. We are  number one in North America!”

Now residents of the Charlotte area, the daughters of Glenn and Lisa Baird of Portsmouth grew up helping out and then working with other family members at Food Works, the Portsmouth eatery owned by their uncles.

After leaving Portsmouth High School where they played from 1997 through 1999, both girls, went on to be standout players for Pfeiffer University in North Carolina for four years (1999 to 2003). Marissa was an outside midfielder, and Nicole played forward for three years and was switched to defense her senior year.  In typical twin fashion they finished their soccer careers with nearly identical point totals — 44 for Nicole, 43 for Marissa — both among the college’s all-time leaders.  Marissa was an all-conference player her freshman year and Nicole holds the school record for number of assists in a single season with 10.

They and their teammates, all of whom played college soccer in the Charlotte, NC, area, started playing soccer in a traditional league after graduation but made the transition to sand soccer in 2008.

They now say they enjoy the beach game every bit as much as the game of soccer they grew up with.

It’s a bit like beach volleyball in that matches have fewer players — four plus a goalie — and is played on a smaller ‘field.’ It has been called a “faster, hotter version of the world’s most popular sport,”  and the soft bed of sand isn’t the only factor that sets this game apart.  Players shoot, pass and score without the protection of shin guards or cleats.

“Beach soccer is much more challenging with having to run through the sand and often times the ball not moving like you would like it to,” Nicole said. “Fitness is a huge factor.”

Since its creation, the PeacePassers charity has collected more than 25,000 pieces of soccer equipment from the U.S. and donated them to 45 countries.

 

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