By Robert Sampson
WKU Athletic Communications/Media Relations
When Christen Sims arrives to the WKU Soccer Complex for practice on Saturday mornings, she arrives in a Team USA Soccer uniform that is adorned with her No. 25 and the word "Graves" printed on the back.
As part of a WKU Soccer ritual nicknamed "Jersey Saturday," players wear a favorite uniform to practice on Saturday morning when the team has a weekend series at home.
The uniform is not that of a professional star that has adorned the red, white and blue, but of her husband: Ethan Graves. The uniform was part of a set given to the couple by Ethan's best man this summer when the couple was married on June 14.
Graves has been a constant at the WKU Soccer Complex for some time.
"I don't think he has missed a home game since I have known him," said Sims. "He usually asks off work for the home games."
Graves will have the final chance to see his wife play in a WKU uniform at the WKU Soccer Complex when the Lady Toppers face North Texas on Sunday, Oct. 21 at 1:00pm.
"I still haven't gone to get my name changed," said Sims. "He doesn't really care. I have always been called Sims since sixth or seventh grade and people known me as Sims. He still calls me that sometimes. People will call me Sims and then go, ‘Oh, I wonder if (Ethan) is mad.' (Teammate) Sydney (Sisler) asked me the other day if he gets mad when she calls me Sims. He doesn't care. I still haven't fully adapted to the name change."
The delay in changing her name can be in part tied to the fact that Sims is completing her final year as a Division I student-athlete. The demands of married life and being a student-athlete can be a challenge.
"It is definitely interesting," said Sims. "It is hectic for sure, because he works a lot. It is not so bad now than it was during preseason. During the preseason, I never saw him. We try to make it work, trying to see each other. Maybe I will try to go see him at work so I can actually see him that day. It is good for the most part, it is just kind of crazy."
As a student-athlete, Sims lives and breathes school and soccer, but Graves did not play soccer in high school or college.
"He actually hated soccer... He likes it, now.... He had never really given it a chance before and he eventually said soccer was a pretty cool sport... He likes all sports, but soccer wasn't one of the things that he liked. But he started going to the games and watching it more and now it is one of his favorite sports. He likes to play it, but he is not good at it."
Despite Graves' lack of a soccer background, Sims' competitiveness on the field has translated into a battle at home that has rubbed off onto Graves.
"We play FIFA on PlayStation together," said Sims. "I swear that leads to more fights and arguments than anything else. We get so mad. We get really competitive. I am competitive, but I have my limits. If I am just messing around, I don't care much. But he gets way into it."
Graves and Sims met through Sims' WKU teammates.
"I met (Ethan) my freshman year," said Sims. "He actually dated Lauren (Crowder), who was my roommate (and teammate)."
Crowder eventually urged Sims to date Graves instead.
"Lauren was like, ‘you guys should date, you are the same person.' I was like, ‘I am pretty sure you are dating him now, that's kind of weird'."
"A few of us were hanging out with his friends and then Lauren started dating him. She would always be, ‘you should date him.' Then randomly, he started talking to me and I (thought), ‘I maybe like him.' I think that is pretty funny how that all worked out."
Having met as freshmen, Sims and Graves were engaged earlier this year and eventually decided to tie the knot four months later.
"I was only engaged for four months, exactly," said Sims. "I got engaged on Valentine's Day. It was something we had already talked about and it was just a matter of when he was going to ask me. Originally, I was like I am going to wait until I graduate. The more we thought about it and the more we were together, it probably would just make more sense to do it now and have it done with. It was a quick decision, but we had talked about it before. It wasn't out of the blue."
Volunteer assistant coach Will Beddingfield has coached married players in the past. In 1992, Beddingfield coach Anita Frazine at Carson-Newman.
"(Anita) was older than I was," said Beddingfield.
"I saw that a lot of the girls would go up to her and ask her for advice. She was a really good soccer player. So not just soccer questions, but (questions) about life and their boyfriends or significant others. It was really good to have her. It was my first experience as a (head) coach, so it helped having her there to answer some of those questions."
Among the traits that married players bring to the field are added maturity.
"I think they bring a lot of maturity," said Beddingfield. "A lot of the girls kind of see (a married player), for lack of a better term, as the team mom.
"I think on that kind of same note, (Sims) is a little more mature. She has always been that person that is happy running around. She is a little more dedicated I think. I think when you get married, speaking from experience, it puts a lot of things in perspective. That is the evolution I have seen her go through."
Sims appears to see that team mom role carried out in the way her teammates respect her and look up to her.
"It has caused me to come out of my comfort zone and step up," said Sims. "I know that my teammates look up to me more and respect me. That definitely helps. With them knowing that I am responsible enough to be married and be more mature, it gives them more of a reason to follow me and respect me as a leader."
"There has been a little more focus to her play this year," said associate head coach Chris Tinius. "... I think that is a lot of it. I think a lot of people find that as a senior anyway, but I think there is an added sense of that with her. It wasn't that she wasn't focused before, but a little sharper and more focused than what she was doing before."
"I feel like I have grown up a lot faster since I have been married," said Sims. "I haven't been married that long, but I feel like I have had to kind of step up and do things I wouldn't have normally done in the past: be more mature, make better decisions because the decisions I make now are affecting another person. I think he has done the same thing. He has grown up a lot faster."
Sims is one of 15 players on the team to score a point this season, including a goal on Sunday against ULM.
"It is pretty cool (to have so many people capable of providing help on the offensive end)," said Sims. "It makes everyone's job a lot easier. In the past, we relied on certain people to get the job done. We knew they would do it. People know their responsibility and they have to step up and get the job done. The formation we are playing this year allows us to do more within our positions. We are not stuck in one place, we are free to move around and that allows us to do a lot."
Even when she walks off the WKU Soccer Complex field for the final time, her journey in Bowling Green won't be complete. Graves and Sims expect to stay in the area as Graves completes his education.
"I would like to try and get certified and be a personal trainer," said Sims.
She hopes the journey also takes her back to Arizona, where much of her family is.
"Wherever that takes me, I am just hoping to get a job and support the family."