SAN FRANCISCO -- Christen Press made it look easy on her way to becoming Stanford's most prolific goal scorer in school history.

By the time she left three years ago, Press set soccer records for career points (183), goals (71) and assists (41). She also was the 2010 college player of the year.

But despite a veneer of success, Press fought internal demons, she recently said while preparing for the U.S. women's national team game Sunday against New Zealand at Candlestick Park.

The pressure got so bad that she threw up before every NCAA tournament game in her senior season.

"I wanted to win so much," said Press, a rising U.S. star. "I was under so much stress. I took it so personally."

In her final two seasons, Stanford went undefeated until losing in the College Cup final. Those defeats turned her into a wreck.

"Even as a youth player I felt winning and losing made a huge difference in my life," she said.

Now 24 and more worldly, Press can reflect on how her identity got wrapped up in soccer. She has discovered a more balanced, happy person since playing the past two seasons in Sweden, where she has led the women's league in scoring.

"Now I can come into each game with clarity and perspective," Press said.

Such an outlook has made it easier to handle the disappointment of being overlooked for the senior national team until this year. American coaches promoted Cal's Alex Morgan, who is out Sunday after spraining her ankle in training last week.

While Morgan burst onto the scene at the 2011 World Cup and 2012 London Games, Press seemed forgotten.

But with a coaching change this year, the former Cardinal star finally got her chance to prove she belongs on the 2015 Women's World Cup roster.

Press wasted little time impressing new coach Tom Sermanni by scoring seven goals in 10 appearances since joining the team in February. She scored six goals in her first seven games in a year in which Press also led the Swedish league with 23 goals in 20 games.

But America has a wealth of forwards with all-time leading scorer Abby Wambach and Sydney Leroux also on the roster. Press says she will play whatever role Sermanni needs.

Instead of coming in feeling underappreciated, the Southern Californian has enjoyed everything about her time with the national team.

"It's nothing like feeling that I deserve this," she said. "It always feels like such a wonderful surprise in my life."

The inspiration behind her attitude shift comes from practicing meditation since 2011. Press, who got a minor in psychology, began working with Green Tree Meditation in Venice with the rest of her family.

Press always had the physical skills to be one of the world's best soccer players. Since she began "working on training the brain," the results have been eye-popping good.

But Press has more planned for the future.

"I try to dream and dream loud," she said. "I'll be reaching for something outlandish."

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.

SUNDAY'S GAME
U.S. women's national team vs. New Zealand at Candlestick Park, 3:30 p.m. No TV