Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 20, 2012

Stanford trio hopes to help USA women qualify for Olympics

Barnhart, Buehler and O'Hara put their best soccer foot forward in final opportunity to earn a berth into the 2012 Summer Games in London

by Rick Eymer

Stanford grad Kelley O'Hara has played in national championship games, has won the most prestigious awards and has permanently etched her name into the Stanford women's soccer history. And she hasn't slowed down since leaving The Farm.

O'Hara missed out on an NCAA title, but can attain another significant goal when she joins fellow Stanford graduates Nicole Barnhart and Rachel Buehler on the 20-player USA roster for the CONCACAF Olympic Women's Qualifying Tournament that began Thursday in Vancouver, B.C. at the BC Center.

Barnhart and Buehler never experienced playing for an NCAA title, but the former Cardinal All-Americans each own an Olympic gold medal for their participation with Team USA at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

O'Hara would love to be on the victory stand, receiving her own gold medal later this summer in London. First she has to help the Americans qualify.

"Winning the gold medal," she says in her NIKE commercial, "it would be nice."

The journey begins for the reigning Olympic champion U.S. on Friday when it opens the CONCACAF tournament against the Dominican Republic, in a match to be broadcast on Universal Sports Network, CONCACAF.com, and universalsports.com at 7:30 p.m.

Stanford senior Teresa Noyola and junior Alina Garciamendez play for Mexico, which has a Group B showdown Tuesday against the United States, also to be aired by Universal Sports Network, CONCACAF.com, and universalsports.com at 7:30 p.m.

The top two finishers in the eight-team tournament qualify for the 2012 Olympics in London.

Nineteen of the 20 players chosen by head coach Pia Sundhage were on the USA's 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup team with 21-year-old forward Sydney Leroux, a Canadian by birth, the only player on the roster not in Germany.

"The players made it hard for us to choose the 20 for Canada," said Sundhage. "We had a great camp in December and this past week in Los Angeles. I'm excited that we have a new player in the mix who wasn't in the World Cup (Leroux) and that will change the environment a bit in a positive way. As always, we are excited to play the next game and we will be prepared."

O'Hara was named to the World Cup roster only because of an injury to Lindsay Tarpley. This year she was named on her own merits.

"The main thing for me over the past year or so has been becoming comfortable with the team and getting confident with myself at this level, which I think I lacked at the beginning," O'Hara told the U.S. soccer website. "Now, I'm starting to feel comfortable and confident and I think that allows me to play up to my abilities."

She joins a team that does not lack for experience. Forward Abby Wambach has 125 career goals; Hope Solo was named the best goalkeeper at the Women's World Cup; and team captain Christie Rampone has 244 career caps.

After Friday's match, the U.S. continues first-round action against Guatemala on Sunday  at 4:30 p.m. before its match with Mexico on Tuesday.

The group winners and runners-up will meet in the semifinals on Jan. 27, with the winners qualifying for the Olympics. The championship game will be played on Sunday, Jan. 29.

All of the players who scored for the USA last summer in Germany were named to the roster, which includes Buehler, midfielders Heather O'Reilly, Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd and forwards Lauren Cheney and Alex Morgan.

O'Hara, who won the Hermann Trophy for Stanford as college soccer's top player in 2009, was Stanford's most prolific scorer by the time she graduated. She has experience as a forward and midfielder and has been practicing at left back, which increases her chances of playing in Canada.

The U.S. is attempting to qualify for a fifth consecutive Olympic Games and win the CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying a third consecutive time.

Nine teams have already qualified for the 12-team Olympic Football Tournament: host Great Britain; Japan and Korea DPR from Asia; Cameroon and South Africa from Africa; Brazil and Colombia from South America; and Sweden and France from Europe. New Zealand, with Stanford grad Ali Riley on board, will likely earn Oceania's lone berth, which leaves just the CONCACAF entrants to be decided..

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