When Rose Lavelle was a third-grader growing up in suburban Cincinnati, she was asked to read a biography of someone who inspired her and then present a book report dressed as that person.
Lavelle chose Mia Hamm from the Women’s World Cup championship soccer team.
“I was obsessed with them,” she says. “I was just like, ‘I want to be where they are one day.’ ”
Sixteen-plus years later, she is. Last summer, Lavelle and her team captured a World Cup title of their own in France; in addition, she won the Bronze Ball as the third-best player in the tournament, was a finalist for FIFA player of the year award, and was chosen by her peers as one of the three best midfielders in the world.
Injuries limited Lavelle to just 16 starts with the national team before the World Cup, but her ball-handling skills, precision passing and a powerful left-footed shot that produced three goals — including the final score in the 2-0 U.S. win in the final — made her the revelation of the tournament.
Now third-graders are emulating her.
“I feel like I’m kind of looking in the eyes of my younger self. And I know how important it was for me to have role models to look up to,” says Lavelle, who was given the key to the city by Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley on Rose Lavelle Day last summer. “So now to be able to see that in some other kid and know that I can be that for them.... hopefully I can inspire them. It’s really special and definitely something I don’t take for granted.”
At 24, she may soon become the face of the four-time champion national team, taking a baton that has been passed from Michelle Akers to Hamm, and then on to Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe.
“I don’t know how I feel about that,” Lavelle says. “There’s a lot of really, really good players and I don’t know if I’m quite there yet.”
But with Lloyd, 37, and Rapinoe, 34, likely to retire before the next World Cup, Lavelle could soon join Morgan under the red-hot spotlight on a team known as much for its off-field activism as for its on-field dominance.
That would be a change of pace for Lavelle, who is Midwest affable and hates confrontation.
Like every player on the World Cup team, Lavelle signed the lawsuit the women have filed against their federation seeking better treatment, but she has rarely spoken about it. Nonetheless, she’s become well aware that following in Hamm’s footsteps requires more than just a strong left foot.
“I always felt like once I got into this position I’d feel different. But I still feel the same so it’s weird when people want to take pictures or talk to me,” Lavelle says. “I would think that I’d feel more important. I don’t.”
On the other hand, “It’s cool that it’s kind of come full circle and I can give back to the sport in the same way that it gave to me.”