(L-R) Tierna Davidson plays for Stanford University and the U.S. women's soccer team.
This year has been the ultimate dream for Tierna Davidson.
After her sophomore year at Stanford University, the 19-year-old soccer standout spent her offseason training and playing with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.
And as the youngest athlete on the team, she’s played a big role in Team USA’s international success.
Davidson grew up in Menlo Park, California, a mere five miles from Stanford University. With her father a proud Cardinal alum, the Davidson family held season tickets to nearly every sport.
“When you’re 7 years old, it feels like you’re going to a professional game,” Davidson recalled about attending Stanford women’s soccer games. “I was starstruck getting autographs and pictures with the players, but to be honest, I never really had the belief in myself that that could be me.”
She credits her club coach, Andres Deza, for encouraging her to pursue Stanford. And sure enough, through hard work and dedication, she received an offer from Cardinal head coach Paul Ratcliffe.
As a freshman, she was one of just five players to start in all 21 matches. Davidson was named to the Pac-12 All Freshman Team and helped the team to an 18-2-1 record.
During her sophomore year, Davidson was named Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, earned All-American honors and helped the Cardinal to an NCAA title.
Getting The Call
After two successful seasons at Stanford, Davidson received the call of a lifetime. U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis invited her to participate in a USWNT training camp.
Suddenly, Davidson would be playing alongside the likes of Olympic champions Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe.
Davidson remembers the moment, setting down the phone and thinking, ‘Is this actually happening?’
But traveling to train with some of world’s best soccer players helps when there are familiar faces around. At the time, the national team included Stanford alumni Andi Sullivan, Jane Campbell, Kelley O’Hara and Christen Press.
Davidson was grateful to have two-and-a-half weeks at training camp to shake out her nerves before her first national team cap.
A Balancing Act
Stepping on the field for the first time at the SheBelieves Cup in March, Davidson remembers thinking, “Sometimes a little bit of ignorance is bliss. It was actually quite refreshing playing with an objective read of the game and not exactly knowing the opponents’ tendencies.”
Davidson played in all 270 minutes of the three caps in March, helping Team USA win the SheBelieves Cup. At the same time, she was balancing her academics at Stanford.
She is majoring in management sciences and engineering, and truly believes in being a student-athlete.
“Obviously choosing a school like Stanford I take a lot of pride in my academics, but it’s a big challenge finding a schedule that fits with soccer,” she said.
Fortunately, Davidson has academic advisors within the athletic department as well as her area of study. They help in scheduling the right classes at the right times and communicating her travel schedule with professors.
“A lot of times I’m having to teach myself on the road. It’s tough because I don’t want to miss classes or cut corners, but I’m also chasing a dream playing soccer,” Davidson said.
With classes out for the summer, Davidson was able to turn 100 percent of her focus to the USWNT.
At the 2018 Tournament of Nations, which the USWNT ultimately won, Davidson played a full 90 minutes in caps against Germany, England and France. To the casual fan, she looked like a seasoned veteran. But in reality, Davidson just recently switched positions to center back.
“Center backs are held responsible for communication on the field,” she explained. “I was terrified to direct someone nine years my elder, but I remember at camp Kelley [O’Hara] telling me to yell. Once the games started you forget who you’re yelling at and we’re all just playing soccer.”
Davidson struggles to put in to words how much she has learned from her time, eight months, as part of the national team.
“Everyone at the international level plays faster and stronger and smarter. It’s something you learn so much from every minute of every game.”
Back To School
In August, Davidson returned to Stanford and began the Cardinal’s quest to defend its NCAA championship. And while Davidson has already earned several athletic accolades during her time at The Farm, her goals for the second half of her collegiate career are focused on how she can help her team off the field.
“My goals are never for the trophies or the awards because I believe if you start with the team chemistry, those will come,” she said. “It’s tough with my schedule, but I really just want to be present with my team as much as possible. I can bring knowledge back from the wider world of soccer I get to experience.”
The Cardinal knows it has a target on its back, and this will be no easy season. The Pac-12 is one of the toughest collegiate conferences, with seven schools making the 2017 NCAA tournament.
It will be a bittersweet season as Davidson balances her time between Stanford and the USWNT.
On Aug. 31 and Sept. 4, she could be playing a pair of games against Chile in her own backyard – Carson and San Jose, California. Ellis named a roster of 23 players, which includes Davidson, for the training camp prior to those matches. Eighteen will suit up for each game.
While Davidson is giving up invaluable time with her team at Stanford, she misses everything from the tough conditioning days to team bonding outings.
“My team at Stanford is really more like a family. When I come back they make me feel like I haven’t missed a beat.”
But for now, both Stanford and the U.S. Women’s National Team will have to share Davidson’s young talent.