Six years ago, the Stanford women’s soccer team embarked on a run that would change the program’s history. Led by senior forward Kelley O’Hara, the Cardinal secured a near-perfect 25-1 record. Sophomore midfielder/defender Camille Levin had a tremendous impact during their quest for a National Championship.
Pitted against Jill Ellis’s UCLA Bruins in the College Cup semi-finals, O’Hara broke a scoreless tie in the 64th minute. Down one and her team on the ropes, Bruins star striker Lauren Cheney equalized with a goal of her own. Forward Christen Press put home the game winner 3:25 into overtime to send the top-ranked Cardinals to their first-ever College Cup Final.
Unfortunately O’Hara’s senior year ended in the Cup Final, as the Cardinal lost to North Carolina. She received two yellow cards in the second half, ejecting her from the match, and forcing Stanford to finish a player down. Looking back on the loss, the pain of defeat still resonates in Levin’s mind.
“Heartbreaking. That was my sophomore year and was also the second year that we lost in the Final Four,” she said. “It really stung, there’s no way to describe the feeling of coming so close but falling short.”
Levin cherished her time with Stanford describing the entire experience as incredible.
“I had the privilege of playing with Kelley for two years in college,” Levin said. “She was an amazing player, leader and teammate. My freshman year, her junior year, she was someone I looked up to when I arrived at Stanford and learned so much from being able to play with and against her every day.”
Character cultivates from heartbreak. And while her playing circumstances have changed from 2009, some of the players around her have stayed the same.
Today, O’Hara and Levin have been reunited as teammates on Sky Blue FC. Not only is the 26-year-old one of the top players in the world but she’s displayed the ability to make players around her better, an influence Levin has felt.
“Getting to play with and against the best players out there is always going to make you a better player,” Levin said. “Playing alongside Kelley at both Stanford and now [with Sky Blue] has helped me grow as a player. I was so excited when I knew we would get the chance to play together again at Sky Blue FC.”
O’Hara first demonstrated her chameleon-like ability to adapt to her environment in the lead-up to the 2012 London Olympics. Ali Krieger’s ACL injury forced then-U.S. Women’s national team head coach Pia Sundage to call upon O’Hara fill in at outside back, a role she’s primarily played with the United States since.
Sky Blue head coach Jim Garbarra knows firsthand versatility is a defining characteristic for the Fayetteville, Ga. native. “Her versatility is her strength so I’m completely comfortable playing her anywhere whether in the back, wide midfield or upfront like where we had her at the end of season,” Gabarra said.
Her adaptability also provides U.S. head coach Jill Ellis with a multitude of lineup options for the World Cup.
“Jill and I have had many conversations about my role on the team and she sees me as a versatile player and can play me in different positions if necessary,” O’Hara said. “I feel very comfortable playing whatever position she has me going at. It’s good not only being able to play outside back but to be available to play outside wing too.”
Gabarra has complete confidence in O’Hara and her ability to produce for the national team in the World Cup.
“I think Kelley will have a huge impact with her versatility in the number of games the U.S. has and the number of different opponents they’ll face,” Gabarra said. “She’ll be valuable whether she’s starting or coming off the bench.”
O’Hara’s off the field personality adds to the benefit of her presence for the United States. Levin describes her as fun, smart and outgoing.
Her distinct personality and strong mental makeup has made her one of the faces of Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign. On the field she’s passionate and fills in at any role Sky Blue FC needs her to play, a true leader.
“She leads by example,” Levin said. “Her passion and competitiveness on the field makes people around her better and strive to be better.”
O’Hara’s one of 14 players on the U.S. roster, who has had the experience of playing under the bright lights of a World Cup. In 2011, O’Hara’s lone appearance came as a second half substitute in the United States final group match against Sweden.
“It was a dream to be able to play in one World Cup, so to play in two is pretty exciting and just in general anytime you get the chance to represent your country on the world stage it’s pretty amazing, O’Hara said. “I feel very honored to be a part of the squad going to Canada.”
Winning the World Cup isn’t just a goal for O’Hara, but a mission that every U.S. player has undertaken. Her selfless attitude allows her to take pride in whatever role dictated by Ellis. Hoisting the World Cup trophy is the result O’Hara is striving for; her role on the team doesn’t matter, once as it contributes to the end goal.
“I hope to just play whatever role is asked of me from Jill and for the team,” she said. “That might be cheering or getting significant minutes you just never know what will happen when you go into a World Cup and I’m ready for whatever is asked of me. I think to win the tournament we just have to play as a team and remember what we’re good at and have our personalities come out because we’re a really deep team and we have a lot of talent a part of the squad going up to Canada.”