Alumna plays in World Cup in China

For Ali Riley ’06, the old adage had it exactly right: It’s not all about winning.  Riley participated in the Women’s World Cup in September with the New Zealand National Women’s Soccer team in China, whose performance echoed the pundits’ not-so-fearless prediction of the Kiwis being bounced from the tournament after losing all three of their first round games by a combined score of 9-0.

But, the numbers, as statistics are famous for, do not tell the whole story.  They do not display the experience Riley has gotten or the praise she has been showered with as a result of her participation in the tournament.

Despite being the 2007 Oceania Football Confederation champions, New Zealand is not known as a global soccer power by any means. This is largely what separates them from Brazil, which ended up finishing second in the tournament, Denmark, which is ranked sixth in the world, and host nation and 1999 Women’s World Cup runner-up China.

Riley, who currently attends Stanford University, has already had an eventful international soccer career, though it only began in her senior season for the Wolverines when she claimed New Zealand citizenship to play for the Kiwi under-20 national team.

However, this action nearly barred her from participating in postseason action for her school upon her return because of a clause in the rulebook that was interpreted by CIF to state that the only other team one could play for during high school season was an American national team, not one of another nation.

Eager to compete for her high school squad, Riley disputed this suspension on grounds of discrimination and the punishment was ultimately lifted only hours prior to her CIF Division I semifinal match.  The Wolverines ended up winning that game before losing in the final.

Fast forward a year and a half later and Riley is playing on the world’s highest stage for women’s soccer.  One of many teenagers who were included to the final 23-woman squad, Riley has been integral to the team, serving as a utility player of sorts. Riley has been used almost exclusively as an outside defender for the Kiwis and hasn’t failed to leave her mark, logging all 270 minutes of New Zealand’s campaign.

Despite allowing five goals against Brazil and being out-shot 26-2 in their opening match of the tournament, the Kiwis were praised for their perseverance and grit by analysts.

“The experience is hard to put into words,” Riley said. “It was so fun to experience the culture of all the different teams and to play against the best teams in the world.”

Riley was singled out during the telecast, perhaps in part because she was given the task of defending against Marta, Brazil’s prized striker, who is known throughout South America as the female version of Pelé, the Brazilian soccer star.

“Playing against such talented players and playing on the world stage provided me with a lot more experience and confidence,” Riley said.

With the experience in China now behind her, Riley joins the Stanford women’s soccer team, whose season is already in full swing.  She is convinced, though, that her time in China will benefit her play with the Cardinal.

Athletic Director Audrius Barzdukas is one of many eager onlookers waiting for her next big accomplishment, be it on or off the playing field.

“Like all Harvard-Westlake kids, she’s going to have neat achievements for the rest of her life,” Barzdukas said. “It’s just one of many to come.”

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