Ex-Alta star Kealia Ohai shines on international stage

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 26 2012 6:00 p.m. MDT

Her style of play won over fans. The Japanese took her photos when she was away from the field, and her Facebook fan page — created by soccer fans and friends — has been bombarded with messages of congratulation and admiration from all over the world — Venezuela, France, Indonesia, South Africa, Nigeria, Madagascar and almost anywhere else you can imagine, some in their native language and others in bad English. A sampling:

"Well played ... and thank you for your efforts. It is rare to see a forward so active on the defense. The energy you displayed was truly awesome."

"U've got a fan from Namibia."

"Woow yu are fast player, nice skill, pretty face ... perfect ... I hope I can meet a women like yu someday."

"You are my hero and you are my star."

"I'm your #1 fan. We can to be friends?"

"When the first time I saw you on TV I fell in love again."

Dorrance believes Ohai's performance in Japan also won over national-team coaches. He believes that her World Cup play not only will earn her an invitation to try out for the U23 team, but also an invitation to try out for the full national team — despite her tender age of 20.

"Does she have national-team qualities? Yes," says Dorrance. "I hope she continues to progress and can skip U23 and go straight to the national team."

Such expectations have followed Ohai since the day she helped Alta High win four state championships. By her senior season, she was considered the top recruit in the nation. She was named to the freshman All-American team after leading UNC in goals, points and game-winning goals. As a sophomore, she led the team in goals and was second in scoring. Since the day she stepped on campus she has drawn comparisons to Mia Hamm, a North Carolina alum and Dorrance protege.

"You never want to hang that around someone's neck," says Dorrance. "It's like calling a basketball player the next Michael Jordan. It's an unfair comparison. But she has Mia qualities. The closest one is her speed and her ability to go through defenses. Some qualities are not Miaesque yet. She doesn't have the same striking power and accuracy as Mia. But she's an absolutely wonderful player with a tremendous future. She's in control. She can achieve what she wants, depending on how seriously she invests her time."

He has urged Ohai to "spend time with the ball and hone her strike — her power and accuracy — as well as her heading. But she has all the tools and the mentality to play at the (full national team level)."

Ohai has been receiving training from none other than Hamm herself during her two years at North Carolina. "She's helped me with my strike," says Ohai. "She's helped me a lot. It's incredible when you step back and think, I'm being trained by Mia Hamm."

Since returning to school from the World Cup, Ohai has been scrambling to catch up. She missed the first three weeks of class (she took her classes online) and the first six games of the college soccer season. In her second game back, she scored both of UNC's goals in a 2-2 tie with unbeaten, fifth-ranked Virginia, despite being a marked woman. Dorrance says opponents game-plan for Ohai and give her extra defensive attention.

Ohai hopes that playing for UNC and Dorrance will lead her to her ultimate goal: To play for the full national team. That's a stiff challenge. There is a pecking order to make the team and even deserving players often have to wait their turn.

"Some girls try for four or five years," says Ohai. "It would be great to go straight to the full team, but there are 60 girls who are older than I am, and they're in line for a chance to make the full team."

Meanwhile, Ohai is coping with her newly found fame and popularity. "I haven't had a Twitter account ever," she says, "but my friends said I gotta get one. People from countries follow me. I've had things to Tweet about because of the World Cup, but I don't know what I'm gonna say every day."

email: drob@desnews.com