Passion for soccer united Nihal Kayali ’13 and Maddy Sharp ’13 at La Jolla High School in San Diego, Calif. The pair spent four years together on the varsity soccer team, ultimately reaching the California state championships senior year. Now at Yale, both have defined themselves athletically — but no longer on the soccer field.
Last December, Kayali and Sharp were elected captains of the 2012 women’s cross country and women’s field hockey teams, respectively. Both teams excelled this season: The field hockey team won its first Ivy League Championship since 1980, and the cross country team saw its best Heptagonal performance in five years and NCAA Regional performance in six years.
Their friendship developed on the varsity soccer team in ninth grade; Kayali played left midfield, while Sharp played center midfield. That year, they also participated in club soccer and track and field together, setting a school record in the freshmen 4x400m that still stands to this day. Off the field, they remained close, fueled in part by a strong connection between their families. Over this winter break, the Sharps invited the Kayalis to their house on Christmas Eve.
“Our families are tight,” Kayali said. “They spent four years together in the stands.”
While their families cheered them on in soccer games throughout high school, senior year their families supported them in another endeavor: enrolling in the Yale Class of 2013 as athletes recruited for the cross country and field hockey teams, respectively.
Running was always a part of Kayali’s life. Her father ran track in college, and her brother Murat Kayali ’09 was a cross country and track runner at Yale. After a childhood of road running races, Nihal Kayali joined the cross country and track teams at La Jolla High. On the teams, she distinguished herself, breaking three school records in track and field. Kayali cited her brother’s positive experiences on the Yale team as a big influence for her to accept Yale’s offer of early admission.
“I knew if I came here there were good things awaiting me, so I felt very comfortable choosing Yale,” Kayali said
Her track and field coach in high school, Roger Karnopp, said Kayali had a “tremendous attitude” towards the team.
“[Kayali] was a very strong leader — very creative, smart and willing to help,” Karnopp said. “Our girls always ask how she is and what she’s doing — she was their mentor.”
On the other hand, Sharp was a newcomer to field hockey when a friend convinced her to join the team in ninth grade. Though Sharp said she always figured she would play soccer in college, by 12th grade she felt burnt out. Paula Conway, her field hockey coach, and Nick Conway, Paula’s husband who has assisted the men’s and women’s U.S. National Teams, suggested she create a highlight tape of field hockey to send to schools.
“I knew she was one of those players who would only get better in college,” Paula Conway said.
In December of 12th grade, Sharp visited Yale for a short recruiting trip. Sharp said she remembered immediately growing attached to the field hockey team. She added that the benefit of continuing her education alongside Kayali made it that much more appealing.
Meanwhile, Kayali, already accepted to Yale, attempted to make her friend a Bulldog as well. When Sharp received her admission to Yale, she remembers that Kayali was one of the first people she called.
“[Sharp] mentioned to me that she was talking to the Yale field hockey coach,” Kayali said. “I naturally got really excited and encouraged her to pursue that path.”
At Yale, both have excelled at their respective sports. Kayali was the Bulldogs’ third scorer in both Heptagonals and NCAA Regionals. On the track, Kayali joined Yale’s all-time lists seven times last year, including a second place finish in the outdoor 1500m. Sharp, who plays forward, started all 17 games this season, scoring a career-high 10 points.
Though Kayali and Sharp pursue different interests academically — Kayali is a political science major while Sharp is a environmental studies major and planning to attend medical school — the two try to stay in touch while at Yale.
“It’s always nice to see a familiar face around campus and reminisce about how nice the weather is back home,” Sharp said.