Irie O’Donnell, a sophomore midfielder for the Hawks who started all 21 games this past season, proved to be reliable on the pitch. That was also true in the classroom as demonstrated by her 4.0 grade point average. This is why O’Donnell likely found herself standing on a stage at the Anaheim Convention Center as LPC women’s soccer first ever Scholar All-American.
O’Donnell was one of 11 players from across the nation named to the first team of the 2023 Junior College Women’s Scholar All-Americans, as selected by the United Soccer Coaches.
“The moment when I walked across the stage and got acknowledged for my award was so surreal,” O’Donnell said, referencing the Jan. 13 All-America ceremony and reception. “I kept thinking, ‘How could I be here?’ I was in line with some of the best junior college players in the country, some of whom I’d played against in the fall. It was definitely a moment I will never forget.”
Athletic achievements seem to be a part of the O’Donnell family. Her younger sister Miri is a standout soccer player at Dougherty Valley High and for her club team FC Bay Area Surf. Miri has been called up for both the under 17s and as an alternative for the under 19 U.S. Women’s National Team and has committed to play for Wake Forest in college. Their mother Mari is a former high school track and field athlete in Japan who got first place in the youth women’s 200 meter national championship.
O’Donnell, who scored two goals with five assists this season, was named first-team All-Coast Conference. She finished her Las Positas career with five goals and nine assists.
She also flourished as a kinesiology major, which captured her attention at Dougherty Valley High School, where she studied sports medicine for two years.
“The work ethic she has academically and on the field is incredible,” Hawks sophomore midfielder Judith Orozco said. Hawks coach Andrew Cumbo described O’Donnell’s work ethic as “constant, and constantly positive. She never missed any training sessions, and obviously didn’t miss any games, and she’s just super consistent.”
That consistent work ethic helped shape the Hawks’ successful season. Cumbo said a pivotal moment in O’Donnell’s development came at the end of her freshman season. She started the final 15 games of the 2022 season, when she scored three goals. Las Positas earned a spot in the 2022 post-season. They made the second round of the NorCal Regional playoffs before losing 3-0 to Sierra College.
Coach Cumbo checked in with O’Donnell to see how she was feeling about the following season. After their chat, he got a message from his starting midfielder that he feels defined her sophomore year: “I’m just getting started.”
O’Donnell backed this up by becoming a leading figure for an improved Hawks team. The Hawks went from nine victories in 2022 to 13 wins this past season. They went from 3-3-3 in conference play her freshman year to 8-1-3 in conference this season.
The Hawks entered the postseason as a No. 10 seed and suffered a heart-breaking defeat to No. 7 Santa Rosa in the first round. But progress was made, and O’Donnell was at the center of it.
Balancing academics and athletics proved to be a unique challenge. Her schedule consisted of games every Tuesday and Friday, with night classes every Monday and Wednesday.
“Every day,” O’Donnell said, “I was waking up at 9 a.m. and going to bed at 11 or 12 (at night).”
O’Donnell thought her soccer career was done after high school. It took her dad finding out about LPC’s program and convincing her to try-out to change her mind. Despite her initial uncertainty, she said playing for the Hawks was her best decision ever.
“I’m really sensitive when it comes to teams,” O’Donnell said. “If I don’t find the right team, I just won’t play at all.”
As her teammate Orozco explained, “When Irie and I first met, she was very shy and reserved. It took a while to get her out of her shell. But once we started connecting, our bond became incredibly strong. I felt like she was my lost cousin.”
That feeling seems to be mutual.
“This team,” O’Donnell said, “is like a family to me.”
O’Donnell believes this was her last season playing soccer at the collegiate level, as she understands how difficult it is to find a team as special as the Hawks.
“I would rather end my soccer career here, at the place I enjoyed soccer the most,” said O’Donnell.
If this is the end of her athletic career, O’Donnell is happy that she is leaving on a high note and hopes that her athletic and academic accomplishments will serve as a foundation for her future success.