By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Sacred Heart Prep grad Abby Dahlkemper, in her first year with the UCLA women's soccer team, grew up within jogging distance of the Stanford campus. She spent a good deal of her free time attending Stanford basketball and football games, and often played soccer on some of the back fields.
When the Bruins recently visited Stanford, as the nation's No. 2 ranked team in one poll, and No. 3 in another, Dahlkemper said it felt like home.
The top-ranked Cardinal handed UCLA its only loss of the season to date. Outside of high school, its the only loss Dahlkemper has suffered the past two years.
Last summer Dahlkemper was on the U.S. national U17 team that won the CONCACAF title in Costa Rica and finished 8-0-1 overall. One of her teammates was current Stanford freshman Alex Doll.
She's also been teammates with Stanford twins Sydney and Shelby Payne on the U15 national team that played the Cardinal in an exhibition game during the spring of 2008.
Dahlkemper has been, and is, teammates with some of the best female soccer players in the country, and who will likely form the nucleus of the next few American World Cup squads.
She's scheduled to play with the U20 National Team this summer when it competes at the FIFA U20 World Cup in Uzbekistan.
She could miss a portion of her sophomore season, as the tournament is scheduled for Aug. 18, when college teams are gathering for training camp.
After the college season, she'll be joined by current teammate Samantha Mewes and Sydney Payne for the U20 qualifying tournaments. They will be coached by former Stanford coach Steve Swanson.
"I look forward to the national camp," Dahlkemper said. "It's an honor. It's cool to represent the country."
Dahlkemper is considered one of the top defenders in the country, something that UCLA first-year coach B.J. Snow appreciates.
"She's a freshman going on 30," Snow said. "She's a leader on the team and a warrior back there."
High praise for someone a mere 14 games into her college career. But it's praise shared by rival coaches as well.
"She's a great player. She plays my kind of soccer," Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. "She's thoughtful, has great skills, and great presence. I think highly of Abby. She's a great kid."
When it came time to choose, Dahlkemper acknowledged that Stanford and UCLA were her only two real choices. She looked at other schools, but, in the end, it came to a choice between Northern California and Southern California.
"Once I took my official visit to UCLA I just fell in love with the place," she said. "I fit in. It's a little different but I'm used to it and feel like I have the best of both worlds."
UCLA (10-1-3 overall, 3-1-2 in the Pac-12 heading into Friday night's game against Arizona) has shut out nine opponents and allowed eight goals overall, four in the loss to Stanford. The Bruins are outscoring opponents by a 20-8 margin, including a 13-2 edge in the second half.
Dahlkemper plays every minute of nearly every game.
"She competes for 90 minutes," Snow said. "You can count on her. She can spend a lot of time covering for other people."
She has missed five minutes all year despite battling shin splits and a contusion on her left ankle. She missed the first four months of her senior season with the Gators because of an ankle injury. That's the longest she's been away from a soccer field since she began playing.
Dahlkemper was named the Gatorade California Girls Soccer Player of the Year for 2009-10.
The Bruins are currently mired in their worst stretch of the year, winless (0-1-2) in their past three matches. But UCLA has a long tradition of success in the NCAA tournament, reaching three championship matches and being a regular in the Final Four over the past 15 years. The program is sure to make a run in the tournament again, despite starting six freshmen.
"I wanted high expectations for myself, and the program," Dahlkemper said. "I want to continue to develop as a player and UCLA is one of the top teams in the country every year."