November 13, 2007

Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 3. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer. For more essays, click here.

It's a shame Heather O'Reilly isn't mentioned in the same breath as Tom Brady, Kevin Garnett or David Ortiz. It's a shame few have even heard of the 22-year-old forward for the U.S. Women's National team. But those who have watched O'Reilly play over the calendar year know the following: Few athletes have a more deserving case for SI's Sportsman of the Year.

Allow me to cheat a little by starting with O'Reilly's performance last December, when she scored the opening goal and assisted on the second in a 2-1 win against Notre Dame. Her performance clinched an NCAA title for North Carolina and earned O'Reilly the College Cup's award for Most Valuable Offensive player.

But arguably, her greatest achievement came just months after the conclusion of her college career. She had broken her fibula prior to her freshman year at North Carolina, and didn't recover in time for the World Cup that year. But at the 2007 Women's World Cup she made her presence felt immediately; she scored against North Korea in the 69th minute, a brilliant right foot into the upper right corner from nine yards away that tied the game at 2-2. The goal saved the Americans from a devastating opening-round loss. Though the Americans ultimately took the bronze medal, O'Reilly scored a second goal in a 4-1 win against Norway. Her goal last month in a friendly against Mexico was her seventh of 2007 and 15th career international goal. O'Reilly now wears the No. 9 jersey for the national team, a number made famous by Mia Hamm.There were additional honors as well: O'Reilly was named Soccer America's Player of the Year, and won the 2007 Honda Soccer Award. She finished her college career with 59 goals and 49 assists. Through it all O'Reilly has maintained her modest and amusing demeanor. To celebrate a year-well-done, she headed back to Chapel Hill in October -- the place she still loves more than anywhere else -- to mingle with college students and show off her cow costume on Franklin Street during its annual Halloween bash.

So it's too bad her name isn't on the tip of your tongue alongside Super Bowl heroes and World Series winners. Because few athletes, if any, have had a better 12 months than Heather O'Reilly.Remember the name. You'll be glad you did.

Agree with this selection? Give us your pick for Sportsman here.

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