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There are plenty of Pac-12 soccer talents at the Women’s World Cup

Nine former players from the conference are headed to Australia and New Zealand with the USWNT.

USA v Republic of Ireland - Women’s International Friendly Photo By Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images

At the top of the sport, NCAA Division I women’s soccer is dominated by two conferences: the Pac-12 and the ACC. It should come as no surprise that the most successful soccer team in the U.S. would be stacked with former stars from those two leagues. That’s the case yet again as the U.S. women’s national team heads to Australia and New Zealand for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

While North Carolina dominated women’s soccer in its earliest years as an NCAA-sanctioned sport and the ACC continues to be one of the top two conferences in the sport, the Pac-12 has risen as the other dominant conference in the 21st century. Beginning with UCLA’s runner-up finish in 2000, the league has taken home seven titles and six second-place finishes. Half of the last 10 national titles have been won by teams from the conference. That recent success has come at the hands (or feet) of some of the best players in the world — players who now dominate the roster for the U.S. women’s national team in the biggest women’s soccer tournament in the world.

Nine of the 23 players on the U.S. roster are former Pac-12 stars. That leads all conferences. Over half of those players come from Stanford, who will send more than any school in the country with five former Cardinal on their way to the tournament. Seven of the former Pac-12 players will be making their WWC debuts, but Stanford’s Kelly O’Hara and California’s Alex Morgan leave their marks by joining 10 other women as the lone four-time selections in U.S. program history.

Who are the women who will carry the banners of both the U.S. and their schools to Australia and New Zealand?

Defenders

Kelly O’Hara (Stanford, 2006-09) is on her way to her fourth World Cup. Her role with the national team has been very different than the one she played for the Cardinal in the early part of the century. The former forward has 157 caps for the national team but has scored just three goals. In college, she led her team in both goals (9) and points (20) her freshman season. As a senior, she didn’t just lead the Cardinal but the nation in both goals (26) and points (65). She became the first Stanford player to win the MAC Hermann Trophy as the nation’s best player while also taking home several other Player of the Year honors. She currently plays for NJ/NY Gotham FC.

Alana Cook (Stanford, 2015-18) announced her presence in the conference early, earning the 2015 Pac-12 Freshman/Newcomer of the Year award as a rookie. She was named All-Pac-12 second team twice in her career and All-Pac-12 first team twice. Her senior season, she was the Pac-12 Defender of the Year and a first-team All-American. While this will be her first appearance at the World Cup, she has 24 caps for the U.S. and has scored one goal. She plays professionally for the OL Reign, where she has appeared in every minute of 13 games this season.

Naomi Girma (Stanford, 2018-2021) is also making her first appearance in the World Cup, but she has 15 caps for the national team. At Stanford, she started things off with a bang. The Cardinal won the Pac-12 title in both her freshman and sophomore seasons and the national title in her sophomore year. After making the Pac-12 All-Freshman team as a freshman, she made an even bigger splash by being named Pac-12 Defender of the Year, First Team All-Pac-12, and First Team All-American in her second season. She was called up to the full national team in the fall of 2019. Things didn’t go as well for Girma as a junior. An injury forced her to sit out her third season with the intent to redshirt. That was the delayed 2020 season, which was played during the spring of 2021 due to the pandemic. She returned in the fall for the 2021 season for another All-American campaign but opted to leave after that rather than return for her final two seasons of eligibility. She currently plays professionally for the San Diego Wave FC.

Midfielders

Andi Sullivan (Stanford, 2014-17) was the league’s Freshman of the Year in 2014. She was honored as the national Freshman of the Year by both TopDrawer Soccer and Soccer America. The next year, she was earning first-team All-American nods from multiple organizations. As a junior, she received her first call-up to the full national team while she was putting together a Pac-12 Player of the Year campaign in college. It only got better in 2017 when she was named the MAC Hermann winner as a senior. She scored 20 goals and had 19 assists over the course of her college career. Going into the 2023 World Cup, she has 44 caps and three goals. She plays professionally for the Washington Spirit.

Ashley Sanchez (UCLA, 2017-19) played just three seasons for the Bruins, but she more than made her mark in that time. In just three seasons, she set the program record for career assists with 42. Fifteen of those assists came in her final season in Westwood, matching her own single season record set as a sophomore. Sanchez turned pro after her junior season, getting drafted by the Washington Spirit in 2020 and making her debut in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. She is making her World Cup debut, but she has 24 caps and has scored three goals for the full national team.

Savannah DeMelo (USC, 2017-21) was supposed to start her career with the Trojans in the fall of 2016. Time with the U.S. U-20 team at the U-20 Women’s World Cup delayed that, so she made her regular season debut as a freshman in 2017. It was an impressive start to her college career, ending with a First Team All-Pac-12 selection. DeMelo became just the fourth USC freshman to ever earn the honor. She was right back on the conference’s first team as a sophomore as well as landing on the United Soccer Coaches All-American third team. An Achilles injury kept her off the pitch her junior season, then she returned for the 2020 season which was held in the spring of 2021. She was drafted by Racing Louisville in 2022, the same year she got her first call-ups to the full national team. She did not play either time in 2022, making the World Cup an opportunity to earn her first cap for the U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski attributed her selection to her breakout play in the NWSL this season.

Forwards

Alex Morgan (California, 2007-10) is the direct opposite of teammate DeMelo. While the former Trojan is looking to earn her first cap for the U.S. WNT, the former Golden Bear already has 206 to go along with her 121 goals. It all started in Berkeley where she led Cal in goals (8) and points (18) as a freshman. She once again led the team in both as a sophomore, improving to nine goals and 23 points. That was up to 14 goals and 36 points as a junior. Her march to the top of the Cal record book was only stopped by a call-up to the full national team as a senior when she helped the U.S. qualify for the 2011 Women’s World Cup. She ended up tied for third in career goals and alone in third for points before leaving to make the first of her World Cup appearances. She currently plays for the San Diego Wave FC.

Sophia Smith (Stanford, 2018-19) spent just two years at Stanford, but what years they were. Along with teammate Naomi Girma, Smith was part of Cardinal teams that won the Pac-12 title in 2018 and both the conference and national titles in 2019. After she helped the team to the national championship, earning the College Cup Most Outstanding Offensive Player award, Smith became the overall No. 1 pick in the 2020 NWSL Draft. She hasn’t slowed down since being drafted by the Portland Thorns. Just two years into her professional career, Smith was the 2022 league MVP as she helped her team to the NWSL title. Being with the USWNT is old hat for the young player, who made her first appearance with the team in a friendly against Russia in 2017. She has 29 caps and 12 goals.

Trinity Rodman (Washington State, 2020) is a debatable member on the list of Pac-12 players on the national team. She originally committed to UCLA before flipping her commitment to Wazzu, but the top-ranked recruit never played a game for the Cougars. When the pandemic caused the 2020 season to be pushed back to the spring of 2021, Rodman decided to forego her college career entirely. That isn’t stopping the conference from claiming her, though. At just 18, she was the youngest player ever drafted into the NWSL when she went second to the Washington Spirit in the 2021 draft. She was the NWSL Rookie of the Year in 2021.

The nine women join their teammates for the tournament from July 20-August 20. It will be played in five Australian cities and four cities in New Zealand. This year it features 32 teams for the first time.