NOTRE DAME, Ind. -- They say there are no shortcuts to success, but thanks to a literal shortcut, Notre Dame has another rising young talent on its roster.
Freshman forward Kaleigh Olmsted (The Woodlands, Texas/The Woodlands) has appeared in 12 matches for the No. 13/9 Fighting Irish this season, starting three times, including the past two contests. Along the way, she has collected a goal and three assists, one of five different rookies to find the back of the net for Notre Dame in 2013.
Olmsted got her college career off to a flying start, scoring a goal and dishing out an assist in a 4-1 Fighting Irish season-opening win against No. RV/25 Illinois on Aug. 23 at Alumni Stadium. Two days later, she added another assist in a 4-1 home victory over Northwestern.
Despite missing three matches, and nearly two weeks of training due to a sprained right ankle in early September, Olmsted remains one of Notre Dame's top offensive threats, most recently chalking up a team-high four shots in a 2-1 double-overtime loss to Duke on Sunday afternoon. In that contest, she also was responsible for earning no fewer than three of her team's season-high 12 corner kicks.
"Kaleigh has been fantastic for us this season," Fighting Irish head coach Randy Waldrum said. "It's unfortunate that she injured her ankle early in the season, as we could have used that time for her to gain so much more experience. Over the past three games, she has been our most dangerous forward, creating multiple chances for us in those games. She has a very bright future here at Notre Dame and I'm excited to work with her for the next few years."
Olmsted continues the rich pipeline of talent from the Lone Star State that Waldrum (a native Texan) has drawn to South Bend throughout his 15-year tenure. In fact, 20 of the program's 31 all-time Texas residents have matriculated to Notre Dame since 1999, a list that includes All-Americans such as Courtney Barg, Kerri Hanks, Melissa Henderson and Jessica Schuveiller.
However, Olmsted is quick to point out that her college career has barely begun, and she's still just trying to soak it all in.
"This is an absolute dream for me," she said. "I got involved in soccer in the hopes of someday being able to be good enough that the sport would, along with strong academics, help me get to a college I wouldn't normally be able to attend. When I got to campus and started taking classes over the summer, it was a whole new experience for me.
"My whole thought process when practice started was that I wanted to learn as much as I could," Olmsted added. "I was hoping maybe I would get five or 10 minutes a game, but even if I was just sitting on the bench, on a team full of people as talented as this, I wanted to do all I could to help out. We all have the same goal, from the seniors through to the freshmen, and I want to do my part to make that a reality."
The fact that Olmsted is in a position to help Notre Dame reach its goal is remarkable all by itself. In fact, were it not for a twist of fate, the 5-foot-4 striker currently might be studying, not in the shadow of the Golden Dome, but in the shadow of redwood trees in Berkeley, Calif., as a freshman at California.
During the summer of 2011, Olmsted was playing with her club program, Challenge SC, at its annual Texas Shootout, a tournament played in Klein, Texas, not far from her hometown in suburban Houston. Coincidentally, Waldrum was on hand for the four-day event (which is considered one of the top elite-level club tournaments in the nation), but at the time, he was focused on evaluating numerous prospects.
Over the course of the afternoon, Waldrum moved from field to field at the tournament, trying to track these various young athletes. At one point, the Fighting Irish manager spotted a shortcut between two fields to his next location, but during his detour, his eyes were drawn to a match in progress at a nearby pitch. As it turned out, Olmsted's Challenge SC squad was competing in that contest and the performance of the athletic forward caught Waldrum's attention.
Soon after, Waldrum stopped and spoke with Olmsted's club coach, Pat O'Toole, and mentioned that he would like to hear from Olmsted (who was then a rising junior but had not played for her high school since her freshman year) when she had the chance to call him. In turn, O'Toole relayed the news to Olmsted, who didn't quite believe her ears.
"I had to have him (O'Toole) repeat it to me a couple of times," she recalled. "The funny thing is at first he said `Randy Waldrum was here and he wants to talk to you,' and while his name rang a bell, I couldn't quite remember where I'd heard it before. Then, when he said `Randy's the coach at Notre Dame," that's when it all clicked and my mouth just kind of dropped open."
Three months later, Olmsted was on the Notre Dame campus for an official visit, and it only confirmed what she knew all along -- she was going to attend the University and play for the Fighting Irish.
"I remember sitting at the airport getting ready to fly home and already I had that feeling," she said. "I turned to my dad (Frank) and told him I knew this is where I want to go."
After returning to play one final season of prep soccer at The Woodlands High School, where she led the team with 21 goals and added 13 assists, Olmsted knew a larger challenge awaited her at Notre Dame, but it was one she embraced, fueled by a competitive drive that was ingrained at any early age and which continues to show itself daily on the pitch for the Fighting Irish.
"I hate to lose at anything," she said with a laugh. "I think that comes from being so competitive with my older sister (Allison, who is two years older), and feeling you want to meet or exceed whatever your big sister did, whether it's a grade on a test or a time in a race. It's still part of me today, as my friends will sometimes tell you, when I can really start bickering with them over some little thing just because I like the challenge to win, even if it's an argument.
"When I'm out on the field now, I'm just trying to go all out and give every bit of energy I have," Olmsted added. "I'm also never really satisfied with my performance and always feel like I can do more. When I had to sit out with my injury, it drove me crazy because I wanted to be out there and helping the team."
"Kaleigh has this uncanny ability to run at defenses and then cut the ball back from positions that don't even look possible," Waldrum said. "She is very dangerous when she attacks the defenses. We do want to improve her finishing techniques, and we want to get her stronger to endure some of the physical battles that she faces. I have been very pleased with her overall performances, though, and she'll only get better."
**Article from the Notre Dame Fighting Irish Athletics Website