Cali O’Neill always keeps a busy schedule.
This week, the Seaforth freshman was in Somerset, N.J., competing at an Elite Clubs National League (ECNL) event with her club team alongside some of the best youth soccer players in the country. While she spent most of her time playing with the Courage GU15 team, she played up an age group with the GU16 team on the last day of the competition.
All this comes less than a month after O’Neill wrapped up the spring track season with a third-place finish for Seaforth in the girls 800-meter race at the 2A state championships in Greensboro. She also competed in track and field during the winter, on top of all of her responsibilities to her club soccer team.
It can seem overwhelming at times, but O’Neill has developed strategies to make sure she stays on top of all her athletic duties, as well as her school work.
“Some days are more challenging than others, but I feel that I have become used to balancing school work and sports the best I can,” she said. “Sometimes it means I bring my laptop in the car on the way to training and sometimes it means I start my school work at 10 at night. That’s not ideal, but sometimes that’s how I have to get it all done.”
In her first year of athletic competition at the high school level, O’Neill has already had a tremendous amount of success. After competing in track for the first time this winter, she finished sixth in the 1,000-meter race at the 1A/2A indoor championships with a time of 3:22.02.
In the spring season, O’Neill hit her stride in the middle-distance events. At the 2A mideast regionals in Franklinton on May 12, the freshman won the 800-meter race in 2:26.19. And one week later in the same event at the state championships, she came within a half-second of first with a new personal-best time of 2:23.61, which was good for third.
“I was feeling really good, but nervous knowing that I had to run about four seconds faster than my personal best to have a shot at winning,” O’Neill said. “I had run the 4x800 relay earlier and knew the 800 individual was going to be a tough race both mentally and physically.”
As for her goals for next track season, O’Neill made it clear that her goal is to win a state championship.
But while O’Neill has made a name for herself on the track circuit this school year, her future will undoubtedly be in soccer. The freshman’s club team, the N.C. Courage Academy, is one of the top youth programs in the southeast. She also has experience competing at the national team level.
Back in October, O’Neill was one of 24 players selected to attend the U-15 U.S. Women’s National Team’s training camp at the Nike headquarters in Portland, O.R. Since then, she was invited back to the national team’s regional training camp in Richmond this spring. She has also competed in showcases across several states with her club team, and her squad won the Jefferson Cup — one of the top youth soccer tournaments in the country — in her age group back in April.
“I’m always working to improve my game, but two main opportunities have given me the ability to improve this season,” O’Neill said. “One being the daily training after school, before soccer training, with my high school track tram, which has helped with my endurance, fitness and speed. And the second is being invited to play up in elite soccer games, SuperCups and tournaments with an elite, older group of players that challenge and push me.”
This type of environment leaves little room for many other extra-curriculars, and O’Neill didn’t compete for the Seaforth girls soccer team this spring because her schedule was already too demanding.
O’Neill is admittedly a little frustrated that she can’t play for the Hawks. She watched intently this spring as Seaforth made its run in the state playoffs and rooted for them the entire way. She knows that while it would be nice to compete with her peers at the high school level, she has bigger things in her future, and her current schedule is allowing her to build toward those goals.
“I have to remind myself that I am on a team that is helping me get one step closer to my goals of playing D-1 college soccer continuing to do U.S. Soccer training,” O’Neill said. “I have been grateful for the opportunities that have been presented to me with my current team but, that doesn’t mean I don’t wish I could also play for my high school team too.”