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Approaching 100-appearance mark, Ohai reflects on her career

With her next appearance, Houston Dash forward Kealia Ohai will reach the 100-appearance mark in the NWSL, all of which as a member of the Dash.

“It’s really special for me, because I’ve been here my whole career,” Ohai said. “I’m so proud to still be here and be playing my hundredth game.”

As the second overall selection in the 2014 NWSL College Draft, Ohai has seen her career reach its highs in being named to the NWSL Best XI in 2016 following an 11-goal season, as well as the lows in losing half of her 2017 season to a torn ACL. Through the changes in coaching staff and player personnel since the franchise’s inception, Ohai has remained a stalwart member of the Dash.

After a prep career in Utah, Ohai attended the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. While attending North Carolina, Ohai was a member of the United States U-20 women’s national team, representing her nation at the 2012 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup. Ohai scored the winning goal in the tournament final against Germany to help the United States win the title. Ohai’s goal was the only goal allowed by Germany during the tournament.

After leading the U-20 national team to the FIFA U-20 trophy, Ohai maintained her title form at the collegiate level, helping the Tar Heels capture the 2012 NCAA Division I women’s soccer championship. Following a tournament in which she scored the game-winning golden goal in the semifinals and the opening goal in the finals, Ohai was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

Ohai said that the successes of 2012 helped significantly prepare her for a career as a professional soccer player.

“I think that has always given me confidence in my professional career; just knowing that I’ve been through both of those tournaments and won, and not a lot of people can say that, especially in the same year,” Ohai said.

“Playing at UNC, one of the most competitive colleges in the country – the style, the mentality – just prepared me so much for the competitiveness of the pro league and the Dash.”

Upon the conclusion of her collegiate career, Ohai was selected as the second overall pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft by the Dash, who were entering their inaugural season in the NWSL.

“[Being selected by Houston] was amazing,” Ohai said. “My sister and her husband already lived here, so I had been coming to Houston for years, and I loved Houston already.

“To get picked and to come be with them and start with an expansion team, it was a challenge. We were all new that year, and all kind of working together through a lot of challenges.”

After scoring four goals in each of her first two seasons with the Dash, 2016 would prove to be a pivotal season for Ohai. Before the season, Ohai was named the team captain by then-head coach Randy Waldrum. In her new role, Ohai thrived, leading the team with 11 goals, tying for the league lead in goals. While her 2017 season was curtailed by a torn ACL, Ohai returned in 2018 to score five goals and provide four assists.

This season for the Dash, Ohai has made nine appearances, adding one goal. Ohai is using her role as captain to maintain stability during a season in which the Dash have lost numerous players to the Women’s World Cup.

“These types of years where national team players are in-and-out are so challenging, but it’s also really special,” Ohai said. “To see girls who maybe wouldn’t have a chance to play have to step up and have to start games is always a challenge.”

“I think this year, James and our staff have done an incredible job of bringing in such great national team replacement players, because in a year like this, you’re only as good as your roster is when everyone’s gone.”

Throughout her time with the Dash, Ohai has seen the rise of women’s soccer in Houston through her involvement with the team.

“I’ve watched this club grow from the first year to now, and it’s grown so much,” Ohai said. "Houston is like a second home to me." 

“Not a lot of people can say they’ve been at the same club their whole career, and that is something that I’m really proud of.”

Ohai will look to make her 100th NWSL appearance this Saturday, when the Dash return to BBVA Stadium and take on Portland Thorns FC at 7:30 pm CT. The game can be seen on Yahoo! Sports.