Surviving the rigorous test left O’Donnell and the rest of the U.S. women’s field hockey team with a heightened sense of their abilities.
“We are a bunch of fighters,” O’Donnell, a former star at Maryland, said in a recent interview. “So far we’ve shown we can get through anything.”
More significant, it left them more closely knit than ever.
“You’re fighting through your hardest times, with your teammates helping you get there,” O’Donnell recounted. “The biggest lesson is: You’re not going to win a gold medal in a team sport by yourself.”
Olympic gold is a lofty ambition for a team that finished last among the eight that competed in Beijing in 2008. Since claiming bronze in Los Angles in 1984, the American women have failed to qualify for three Summer Games, in 1992, 2000 and 2004.
But since missing the cut herself in 2008 despite the prodigious talent she displayed as a teenage phenom, O’Donnell has made a habit of setting her goals high, proclaiming them to the world and pouring all she has into reaching them. And when women’s field hockey gets under way at the London Olympics, this 5-foot-2 center forward stands to have a huge impact.
“She loves the pressure; she wants the pressure,” said Maryland Coach Missy Meharg, whose Terps have won seven NCAA championships and five in the last seven years — two with O’Donnell. “She always says what she wants: ‘We’re going to be ACC champions! We’re going to be national champions! Come with me!’ ”
The U.S women’s field hockey team will arrive in London with new respect after stunning world No. 1 Argentina to win the Pan American Games last November, despite a lowly 13th seed. With it, they earned an automatic Olympic berth. And almost overnight, they went from being a wallflower at the high school dance to the most popular date.
“People actually want to play us now!” O’Donnell said. “They want to see the system we’re playing and how we beat Argentina. . . . They’re just shocked at what we’ve done. . . . It’s pretty nice to know you’re not just a nobody anymore.”
Next week, the U.S. women descend on College Park, joined by top college players and members of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team, for the U.S. women’s national championship, June 1-8. They’ll be broken into eight regional teams and play five matches that U.S. Coach Lee Bodimeade, a member of Australia’s 1992 Olympic team that won silver in Barcelona, will use to select his Olympic roster for London.
O’Donnell, 23, among the most decorated players in U.S. field hockey history, is as close to a lock as there is.
Charged primarily with scoring and creating scoring opportunities for others, O’Donnell loves nothing more than stripping the ball from a defender who has stolen it from her.