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Fun and Focus Are Keys to the Busy Life of Heather O'Reilly

Despite being on the U.S. Women’s National Team for fours years, Heather O’Reilly is still one of the USA’s youngest players. Her commitment to her academics and college soccer has made life a bit busy for the East Brunswick., N.J., native, but it’s a lifestyle that the speedy striker has learned how to handle, and even embraced.

Heather O’Reilly is a young lady with many masters.

First there is school, as she is working hard to earn enough credits to graduate in four years at the University of North Carolina, no small feat for an athlete, never mind someone with the travel schedule of a U.S. Women’s National Team player.

Then there is college soccer, which will soon be over for the college senior, but the Tar Heel’s memorable season has consumed her time and focus over the past four months.

Then there is the U.S. Women’s National Team, where she has earned 50 career caps and helped win an Olympic gold medal in 2004.

Of course, there is also her family and social life. Hey, a girl just wants to have fun, right? Especially O’Reilly, a free-spirit whose humor and zest for life are just two of her many endearing qualities.

So how does the 21-year-old balance the many tugs on her time, energy and emotions? Instead of stressing about the complications of her busy life, O’Reilly has found a way to break it down and keep it simple.

“I guess the best way I can describe it is that I try to live in the moment,” said O’Reilly, who joined the U.S. training camp last Sunday in preparation for the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup semifinal on Nov. 22. “Wherever I am, I’m trying to be 100 percent there in the moment and do what ever I am doing to the fullest.”

Not a small task for a hyper college student who admits to having just a tad of ADD.

O’Reilly arrived in Los Angeles from Chapel Hill, where she scored a goal in helping the Tar Heels defeat Tennessee, 6-2, in an NCAA Third Round match last weekend. The Heels lost their first game of the season to Texas A&M, but since have reeled off 24 straight victories, and will now play a NCAA Quarterfinal match on Nov. 25 against, that’s right, Texas A&M. Revenge will be in the air on the North Carolina campus.

But first O’Reilly will try to help the USA qualify for the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Should she be selected to the World Cup Team next fall, it would be her first Women’s World Cup after missing out on the 2003 tournament due to a broken leg when she would have likely made the squad as its youngest player.

O’Reilly participated in the USA’s 2006 Residency Training Camp from April through the end of August at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., keeping up on her school work through internet classes and some patient professors. (The education major has completed her coursework and is just 15 credits short of graduation, which will be fulfilled through a semester of student teaching, although she has no idea when she will be able to get back to Chapel Hill to do that). The intensity of full-time training with the U.S. team was something she embraced, but it also necessitated a shift in mentality when she returned to campus last August.

“In the summer, I focused so much on the Women’s National Team and trying to make a statement on that team that I didn’t put too much thought into coming back to school, although I was excited about my senior season,” said O’Reilly, who has scored nine goals with 15 assists for the Heels this year despite being a marked woman in every match. “I came back (to Chapel Hill) and my focus completely shifted. I got way more into everything here than I thought I would.”

As a senior leader on the team, O’Reilly’s role from the U.S. team literally flipped 180 degrees.

“I think that when you are in training with the national team, it’s easy to get focused on yourself, especially when the U.S. team is not in a big tournament like the Olympics, World Cup or Algarve Cup,” said O’Reilly. “You are concerned about your own play, earning a position, earning playing time. It’s easy to get totally involved in yourself and how you are performing.

“Coming over to the college team, you have to leave a lot of that at the door. You have to first and foremost be concerned with the well-being of the team overall. That’s been a change for me. I hold myself totally accountable and responsible for my own performance, but I am putting the team before myself and I don’t think I have necessarily had that mindset before.”

O’Reilly has also embraced college life this semester, even more so as she knows she has precious little time left on campus.

“I’m just really enjoying the academic scene,” she said. “I love going to Starbucks with my roommates and studying for hours upon hours and hanging out on campus, talking to people in between classes and seeing other girls from the soccer team. It’s hard to compare as I haven’t hung out at other schools too much, but UNC has an incredible atmosphere and when you are away from it, you forget about it. Chapel Hill is a special place and I guess I am really enjoying every moment because this is my last hurrah here.”

After the USA’s match on Wednesday, Nov. 22, O’Reilly will return to Chapel Hill to prepare for the clash with the Aggies on Nov. 25. Whether she hops right back on a plane to Los Angeles for the USA’s Women’s Gold Cup match on Nov. 26 is up in the air, but of course, O’Reilly is not focusing on that just yet.

“I am definitely looking forward to the next couple of weeks,” she said. “I think I’m really trying to stay focused on what’s important, and for me, I just have to look at the next task at hand. Last weekend it was Tennessee, next up is Mexico, and after that is Texas A&M. My heart is into whatever I am doing, I can’t look past anything. I just have to stay focused on what’s in front of me, get some good rest and take care of my body. If I do that, I will really have a fun next couple of weeks.”