Before this week, Tierna Davidson had never met Abby Dahlkemper.
Both grew up in Menlo Park. Both attended Sacred Heart Prep. Both were recruited to play women’s soccer in the Pac-12.
But it’s important to take into account the age difference.
Davidson, a sophomore at Stanford, won’t turn 19 until Tuesday and graduated from SHP in 2016. Dahlkemper, 24, earned her high school degree five years earlier.
So what did it take for their paths to intertwine?
An invitation to train with the U.S. women’s national team in Denver.
“My dad and I were just actually talking about it,” Davidson said. “It’s pretty crazy that two of us from the same tiny high school in Atherton are actually going to be in the same camp. So I’m excited because I have never been able to play with her and to see how that goes. But it’s pretty funny how small of a world it is.”
Have they exchanged stories about life as Gators?
“We haven’t yet,” Dahlkemper said over the phone on Wednesday night. “I’ve been pretty busy, actually, at camp. But maybe during a meal we can hopefully talk more into detail.”
Dahlkemper won an NCAA title as a junior at UCLA, anchoring the defense as a center back. But it wasn’t until October of last year that the 5-foot-7 defender received her first call-up to the squad that won the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
“Everyone is faster, everyone is stronger, quicker,” Dahlkemper said. “It’s the best level you can get, and I’m just thankful that I can be in this environment — and how to be uncomfortable to where I know that I am improving. That’s how you’re going to get better, it’s trying new things and being surrounded by the world’s best players.”
It’s been a much quicker rise to prominence for Davidson, who got her first taste at this level in January after a U-23 training camp in Carson. She was among five players invited to stay for an ensuing training session with U.S. head coach Jill Ellis.
“That was a great opportunity to compare the levels of play and to be able to test myself to see if I could hang with the team and with the speed of play and the physicality,” Davidson said.
“The amount of time that you have to make decisions is so small,” she added. “You could have all the technical ability in the world, but if your brain doesn’t work fast enough, then you’re not going to be able to hang.”
Dahlkemper couldn’t participate in that camp.
For roughly six months, she was out of action after suffering a serious foot injury.
“It was probably one of the toughest times in my career — actually, in my life,” said Dahlkemper, who plays for the North Carolina Courage of the NWSL. “It was a very scary and humbling experience, but I think it just made me realize how much the game means to me and just kind of pushed me even more to get back as healthy as I can and to refocus.”
Davidson won’t stay for the entire camp.
She flew out to Denver on Sunday immediately after a 7-0 rout of Yale on Sunday at Laird Q. Cagan Stadium and plans to return in time for this weekend’s game at Santa Clara, which knocked out the Cardinal from the NCAA Tournament a year ago.
“I spoke to Jill and they want to get a good look at her and train her this week and see how she does,” Stanford coach Paul Ratcliffe said. “Obviously we’ll miss her at training, but we’re so proud of her. Great opportunity and great for our program that we’re getting players that are getting called up to the full team while they’re in college. It’s pretty amazing.”
“I’m so, so excited for her,” teammate Jordan DiBiasi said. “There’s no one that is more deserving.”
“It was a whole lot of joy, a little bit of disbelief, I was just incredibly honored to have gotten the call,” Davidson said. “I mean, because it’s the biggest thing that any soccer player has as their ultimate goal. So to have an opportunity to go out with some legendary players that I’m so used to watching on TV is something that is blowing my mind.”
Primarily a 5-foot-10 holding midfielder at Stanford, her role is more experimental with the national team.
Davidson is being tested at left back, where her versatility could prove vital.
“I’m ready for the challenge,” Davidson said. “I try to be as much of a student of the game as much as possible.”
Coincidentally, she’s not the only defender out of Stanford at the training camp. Kelley O’Hara is one appearance shy of her 100th cap for the U.S. after debuting with the team in 2010.
Two other former Cardinal are also on the 22-player roster: forward Christen Press and goalkeeper Jane Campbell, who guarded the pipes last year on The Farm.
“As soon as she saw the press release on Twitter, she FaceTime’d me to congratulate me,” Davidson said. “We’re both very excited to be able to play on the same team again and it’s nice to be able to have a familiar face in the crowd of a lot of formidable players.”
Ratcliffe said: “Hopefully they’ll make her feel at home and comfortable. And then it’s up to her to get after it.”
If all goes according to plan, Davidson could see action next to Dahlkemper on Friday in an international friendly against New Zealand at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, in a match to be televised on ESPN2.
“To me it speaks to their character, to how hard they worked,” said Jake Moffat, who coached Dahlkemper at SHP and saw Davidson play in middle school. “They’re remarkably smart soccer players. I am surprised, but delighted.”
“It’s very exciting, it’s very special to our community,” said Frank Rodriguez, the assistant principal of athletics at SHP. “Not only are they terrific soccer players, they’re just amazing young women. And to watch not only skill development, but the character development that they’ve had, we’re just so proud of them. And just happy to have been a piece of their soccer history here.”
It’s a history that continues to write itself.
Who knows? Maybe Davidson and Dahlkemper will cross paths again at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
“It would be a dream come true and it would be amazing,” Dahlkemper said.