Every time Abby Dahlkemper laces up her cleats and gets ready to step on the field, there’s one prevailing thought on her mind.
“Just excitement. This is why I’m here, and I love to do this,” Dahlkemper said. “This is our job. It’s a full-time job, but you can’t lose sight of having fun and loving the game.”
The UCLA women’s soccer junior defender began this season with high expectations after she was nominated for the second consecutive year for a spot on the watch list for the Missouri Athletic Club’s Hermann Trophy, the pinnacle of individual success for college soccer players.
“It’s definitely an honor. It’s super special, but I try not to think about those kinds of things. I just want to keep getting better individually,” she said.
Instead, she chooses to focus on a different goal; one she shares with several other girls.
“We have this mantra with 110, which is the next national championship, and we have our mind set … We’ve put in hard work and we will continue to work harder for each other and keep trying to improve however we need to take care of the job,” Dahlkemper said.
How Dahlkemper got acquainted with soccer was nothing out of the ordinary: She was introduced to the sport after her parents signed her up for a league. And, along with basketball and volleyball, soccer formed Dahlkemper’s childhood athletic experiences.
But when the demands of pursuing three different sports became too taxing, Dahlkemper had a decision to make. So she chose the sport she loved. Now, after years of dedication to the game, Dahlkemper has worked up a hefty resume
No stranger to success, Dahlkemper has been a part of championship-winning teams. She captured the Central Coast Section Championship in her sophomore year of high school with the Sacred Heart Prep Gators, and has also won the W-League Championship this summer as a member of the Pali Blues.
Her performance on the field has also earned her spots on the U15, U17, U20 and U23 national teams, and despite a wealth of international experience, Dahlkemper says she doesn’t have a standout moment; she just relishes every chance to represent the United States.
“I think any time you get to play with the national team and put on that badge, that U.S. badge, is just amazing, and such a cool moment,” Dahlkemper said.
While Dahlkemper’s primary role on the team is defending the Bruins’ goal, a large part of what makes her game unique is her versatility, which was called upon by the Bruins in a recent home game.
Though she typically plays center back in UCLA’s starting 4-3-3 lineup, there were moments in UCLA’s game against San Diego State when Dahlkemper took on the role of a right back as the team shifted to a 3-5-2 formation, allowing her to contribute her creativity and natural speed on the offensive end of the ball.
“It’s a little new to me because I’ve never played as an outside back, but I think it’s really fun to have more freedom other than center back, where you kind of have to stay home a little bit more. So it’s fun trying to attack and picking the right times to go forward,” Dahlkemper said.
Dahlkemper attributes her adaptability to her time playing forward and midfielder during her high school and club days. Those experiences have shaped a philosophy of striving for all-around excellence as a soccer player rather than just concentrating on defensive skills. That philosophy also lends a hand in her developing role as one of the team’s direct free-kick takers, a role not normally associated with defenders.
Coach Amanda Cromwell describes Dahlkemper as an energetic and exuberant leader and “someone that the younger players might look up to.”
Her best friend and teammate, junior defender Caprice Dydasco, credits Dahlkemper with making Dydasco’s transition from midfielder to defender after entering college a lot smoother.
“She’s just a good person to have, even beyond soccer… she’s there for everyone, and she would do anything for any of our teammates,” Dydasco said.
So far, Dahlkemper’s play at the college level has already caught the eye of those outside of Westwood; perhaps most notably coach Cromwell during her tenure at the University of Central Florida.
“I knew about Abby before I got here; I knew she was a very good player,” Cromwell said. “Generally, all the coaches in the country know who the best players in the country are, and she’s one of them.”
On a less competitive note, Dahlkemper has also caught the attention of girls who wait after a game for a chance to get an autograph from their favorite player, something that Dahlkemper says she relates to all too well.
“It’s so fun having fans that come out, because I was in their shoes when I was younger too, so it’s really cool to see how it’s evolved as I’ve gotten older,” Dahlkemper said. “Our dreams have come true – being on UCLA women’s soccer – so I think it’s cool seeing girls that want to continue to play and aspire to be playing D1 college soccer.”