Stanford’s women’s soccer team endured a 27-year wait before it clinched its first national championship in 2011. But two student-athletes — Christen Press ’11 and Kelley O’Hara ’10 — were the impetus for the tides of the program to turn, guiding the Cardinal to a 95-4-4 record from 2007-10 before they eventually captured the title in 2011.
Now, after playing alongside each other for three seasons at Cagan Stadium, the former Cardinal stars are teammates once again — but this time on a much bigger stage and under brighter lights. Press and O’Hara are training with the U.S. Women’s National Team, ahead of next month’s Women’s World Cup.
“I know Kelley so well as a player, and the players that I grew up with and that I’ve known since childhood I have a better connection with on and off the field,” Press said after the national team’s friendly against Ireland in San Jose on May 10. “It’s really special to play with your friends for your country.”
It was a special moment for the two alumnae to be back so close to the Farm for their first friendly of the team’s Send-Off Series before group play begins on June 8. Friends and family were in attendance at the sparkling Avaya Stadium, a soccer-specific venue that opened earlier this spring to house the San Jose Earthquakes.
“When we were flying in, I was so happy. I had the biggest smile on my face,” O’Hara said. “I feel like I was pretty nostalgic and reminiscing the whole time about the four years of college. They were some of the best years of my life, and I’m so thankful I was able to go to Stanford.”
Cardinal faithful are thankful O’Hara and Press went to Stanford as well. Not only do the two players rank at the top of the program’s record book for both career points and career goals (Press first with 183 points and 71 goals, O’Hara following with 146 points and 57 strikes), but both were recognized nationally with the Hermann Trophy for their play, women’s soccer’s top honor.
When O’Hara won the trophy — awarded annually to the nation’s best collegiate soccer player — for her 2009 senior season and Press won it for her 2010 senior season, Stanford become the second school ever to have different individuals earn the honor in consecutive years. (North Carolina is the only other program to accomplish this feat.)
The two found the back of the net often for the Cardinal as forwards, but each is transitioning into different roles with the senior national team. O’Hara shifted to outside back for the 2012 Olympic Games and has been playing there ever since. Press, under the guidance of head coach Jill Ellis, has recently transitioned to a new midfield role, which she said after the Ireland friendly that she is still getting used to.
“It’s a different experience,” Press said. “When I go into games as a forward, my job is really clear and I just have to execute. But as a midfielder, you get to sort of enjoy the game more and you get to feel the game and dictate the play.
“It’s a lot less of that edge of a forward — just ‘Execute, execute’ the whole game, that’s what went through my mind,” she said. “I still have that forward’s mentality that when I have the chances, it just ticks me off if I can’t put it in. I was knocking on the door a few times [in the game], so I definitely want to put those opportunities away.”
Regardless of where on the field they are playing, both look to make a mark as the U.S. looks to avenge its penalty-kick loss in the 2011 World Cup final to Japan and follow up on its gold medal in the 2012 Olympics.
This won’t be O’Hara’s first time on the world stage at the senior level. She was on the 2011 World Cup squad and earned one cap in that tournament, and she was one of three players to play every minute of the Olympic tournament in London. But for Press, this is her first World Cup selection, despite the expanded role she has taken with the national team in recent years.
“I feel like I’ve been waiting my whole life to play in the World Cup, and now it’s just around the corner,” she said. “I’m really honored to be on the team and really excited to get started.”
Contact Jordan Wallach at jwallach ‘at’ stanford.edu.