Oct. 30, 2009

STANFORD, Calif. - There was a time when current Stanford star Kelley O'Hara thought about quitting soccer. She was about 12, and thought she might want to concentrate on basketball ... or was it swimming ... or softball ... or track ... or triathlons.

No matter. Of all the sports O'Hara was involved in, soccer appeared on the way out.

Her club coach, Brian Moore, sat down with Kelley and her father, Dan O'Hara, and did his best to convince her otherwise.

'You have a unique instinct for soccer,' Moore said. 'You have national team potential. I think you have this type of future if you continue to play soccer.'

Though her father remained quiet in the background, Kelley was convinced, and stuck with the game. She went on to earn selections to United States age-group national teams from under-17 on up, earning high school All-American honors along the way.

Years later, when Kelley got a call-up to a full national team camp in 2007, Moore received a call from Dan O'Hara.

'Remember when you said my daughter would make the national team?' Dan said. 'I thought you were putting us on. I thought you were just saying that to keep her from playing basketball.'

O'Hara, a two-time All-American, is now leading Stanford to one of its best-ever seasons. No. 1 Stanford is 18-0-0 and is led by the senior forward's 46 points and 19 goals, figures that have her on the brink of school records in each category.

According to her coach, Paul Ratcliffe, O'Hara should be the favorite to win the Hermann Trophy, college soccer's equivalent of the Heisman. She is skilled, quick, fast, and a classic finisher with a knack for excelling under pressure.

But if there is a quality that sets O'Hara apart on the field, it's that 'instinct' that Moore saw in O'Hara as far back as age 11 on Atlanta-area teams.

'She had the natural attributes and fire that were unparalleled for her age,' Moore said. 'She was not going to back down. She definitely had an edge to her.'

Call her competitive, driven, ambitious, aggressive, and relentless. O'Hara has the qualities that can't be taught, but which separate the good from the great.

'I've always been competitive, since I was little,' O'Hara said. 'Card games, board games, anything. I always want to win. That clearly carries over into soccer.'

'She loves winning,' Ratcliffe said, 'and hates losing even more.'

Moore, who coached O'Hara most years from ages 11 to 19, said he had to banish her from a few practices, punishments for butting heads too vociferously with the coach. The trick, however, was harnessing that intensity for the good of the team and herself.

Moore felt she made a breakthrough in that regard following a tough loss in the regional semifinals. When Moore tried to take responsibility during a postgame meeting with the players, O'Hara spoke up.

'We're not going to let you take the blame for this loss,' she said. 'This is ours.'

At Stanford, O'Hara has fit perfectly into Ratcliffe's system, which calls for high-pressure from the forwards. If the opponent gains possession, the forwards' job is not over. Rather than regroup for the next attack, they attack the defenders, forcing bad passes and preventing the ball from getting into the Stanford end.

It's a style that calls for speed, athleticism, and dogged determination, not to mention a good set of lungs. In short, it's a challenge, one that O'Hara has embraced.

'If you love this game and you love to compete and you want to make yourself better every day, and you want to push yourself,' O'Hara said. 'That should be something you're willing to do. Expect the most from yourself.'

O'Hara undoubtedly has.

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