It is rare to see four players from the same college on any given team.
FC Gold Pride entered the 2010 WPS draft with Stanford grads Nicole Barnhart (2005) and Rachel Buehler (2008) already on their roster.
By the end of the first round of this year's draft, Albertin Montoya added two more Stanford products to the roster in Kelley O’Hara and Ali Riley.
These four not only all played at the same school (Buehler and Barnhart played together and Buehler also played two seasons with Riley and O’Hara), but they were also lucky enough to stay in the same area as their careers continue in the professional ranks.
All four were drawn to Stanford for different reasons, but the end result was similar. All four standouts had one reason in common for choosing Stanford; the balance between athletics and an amazing academic program.
Rachel Buehler grew up a Stanford fan. Her dad is a Stanford alum so she was “introduced to it at a young age.”
Ali Riley’s college decision was difficult but upon visiting Stanford, but she fell in love with the school.
Nicole Barnhart “never really thought about Stanford” until her first college visit and then she too fell in love with the university.
Kelley O’Hara chose the school she’d be happiest at even if she wasn’t playing soccer.
With being a collegiate athlete at an institution with the academic prestige as Stanford comes the rigors of balancing school with athletics and a social life. At Stanford, the balancing act is more challenging given the academic programs.
They all agreed that balancing their education with their soccer endeavors was, if nothing else, “definitely hard at times."
“I was really good at managing my time,” said Buehler who was a human biology/pre-med major. “I had good communication with my professors and was very organized. I stayed on top of it.”
For some athletes, being in season actually helped them and made it a little bit easier to manage their time. Defender Ali Riley and forward Kelley O’Hara both agree.
“Playing helped with planning and [with] time management. I had to get it done,” said Riley. “It was challenging during midterms and finals [balancing studying and going to practice]. But it was worth it to play at Stanford.”
O’Hara agreed. “It’s obviously a lot of work but you just do it. You don’t think about it. I’m more productive during the season because I’m busier. There’s so much to do and it has to get done. It’s definitely hard but all [college] athletes do it. I survived!”
As if balancing college athletics and academics wasn’t enough, the foursome spent significant time with their respective national teams (Buehler, Barnhart and O’Hara with the United States, Riley with New Zealand) throughout their college years. It was definitely interesting and added an extra challenge to their collegiate careers.
“It was definitely an added challenge. I would be gone one to two weeks per quarter. I had to get my work done in between training, and on the plane,” said Barnhart, who spent time with the US U-21 national team from 2002-2005. “I’d go on youth national team trips with a pile of books and the comment was always ‘Oh those Stanford kids.'”
Riley spent time with the New Zealand U-20 national team competing at the U-20 World Championship in Russia as a freshman in 2006. She also competed for the New Zealand full team prior to her sophomore and junior years missing the early parts of Stanford’s season while playing in the 2007 World Cup and the 2008 Olympics.
“It was definitely interesting. My teachers were willing to reschedule though and I’m really grateful for that,” she said of the experience. “I’ve always loved soccer [so] it made it worth it. It’s an honor to play for your country and it was something I’ve dreamt of. The tough times weren’t a big deal.”
With the help of their professors, all of them were able to stay on top of their studies, even while traveling halfway around the world. It meant a lot of communication with their professors, plenty of time spent doing their assignments on their own and taking exams (sometimes even midterms or finals) on a plane.
In Barnhart’s case, it even meant taking art projects that were required for her studio art major on the road. As for the times where a project just couldn’t be done while traveling?
“They had to be done when I got back,” said Barnhart, who also majored in psychology. “I had to cram them in and get them done on time.”
While Buehler and Barnhart already graduated, O’Hara and Riley are still working towards receiving their degrees–O’Hara in science, technology and society with an emphasis in environmental engineering and product design and Riley in psychology.
Many athletes would put getting their degree on hold while competing professionally, but both O’Hara and Riley are taking it in stride as they begin their careers in the professional ranks.
For O’Hara, there was no question that she would continue to work towards her degree.
“It was always a given in my mind that I’d finish my education.”
She and Riley are both working towards that goal. The two head to practice each morning with the Pride before making the hour long trek back to Stanford to take classes in the afternoon. For Riley, having her friend and teammate doing this with her definitely helps.
“It’s really great with Kelley doing this too,” she explained. “We’re good support for each other.”
As the former Stanford standouts moved into the professional ranks, they were able to do something that few players do during their professional careers. All four of them were able to stay in close proximity to the university they attended.
Barnhart and Buehler were allocated to the Pride in 2008, allowing them to stay in the Bay Area.
As for O’Hara and Riley? Location definitely played a role in their selection as well.
FC Gold Pride head coach Montoya served as a volunteer assistant coach at Stanford in 2008, which allowed him to evaluate both players. Stanford was also close enough that throughout Stanford’s season in 2009, the duo could be seen on a regular basis.
But in professional sports, the draft decides where players will begin their careers. Nothing is ever guaranteed. Luckily for both of them, “things worked out” and both of them landed in the Bay Area.
Soccer fans in the area already knew of the foursome from their Stanford days. Those fans who cheered for them in Stanford’s red and white can continue to cheer for them at games this season as they take the field in the gold and black of the Pride.
Join Nicole Barnhart, Rachel Buehler, Kelley O’Hara, Ali Riley, and the rest of FC Gold Pride as they celebrate Stanford Night and take on the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, May 8, 2010 at Castro Valley High School Athletic Stadium. Kick-off is slated for 7PM PT.
Call 1-888-541-3511 or visit www.womensprosoccer.com/bayarea and click on the STANFORD STANDOUTS banner on the homepage for a chance to win four tickets, a autographed picture and a photo on the field with Stanford alumni Barnhart, Buehler, O’Hara, Riley and Chicago Red Stars defender Natalie Spilger.
Photo courtsey of John Todd | ISI Photos