24: Shaw returns strong following ACL injury

Aug. 26, 2008

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Making daily leaps head-first toward a ceiling fan will not assure an eventual Division I soccer opportunity, but for Kelsey Shaw, the unorthodox training style didn’t hurt.

Shaw, a senior midfielder at the University of Iowa, has a knack for winning balls — especially those in the air. Ask her coach, Ron Rainey, for the secret and he smiles, deferring to Shaw and a quirky family secret.

“My mom will tell you to put a string on the ceiling fan and have your child jump for it,” Shaw said. “She had a fan and then connected a string with a foam soccer ball to one of the strings. She made me jump for it every morning and try to head it. Once I got it, she would raise the string.”

Sharon Shaw’s revolutionary technique might not have done as much for her daughter physically as it did mentally.

“I think it’s more my competitive drive,” Shaw said. “It’s more me wanting to get a head on it and basically having confidence going after a header.”

Rainey agrees.

“She has a will to win the ball,” he said. “She’s big, strong and physical, but there are a lot of players like that who are not necessarily great in the air. She has that will to say, `Every time the ball’s in the air, I’m going to win it.'”

Shaw will need to lean heavily on her competitive drive, as well as patience, as she prepares for her final — and possibly most challenging — season as a Hawkeye. After starting 56 consecutive games in the midfield, she suffered an ACL tear at Northwestern on Oct. 28, leaving her out of the lineup and psychologically out of the loop.

“For me it was really hard going from the person the team looks to, to being a person who is almost nonexistent,” Shaw said. “That, as well as not playing, was a difficult adjustment for me.”

Prior to the injury, Shaw started and played 18 games of the 2007 season, attempting 20 shots with two goals, two assists and six points. For her career, she has attempted 56 shots, scoring eight goals with three assists and 19 points. As a freshman, Shaw was named UI’s Freshman of the Year after scoring a career-high four goals, including the game-winner against Purdue. As a sophomore in 2006, she was named Iowa’s Most Valuable Player and Offensive Player of the Year, was selected to the Gopher Invitational all-tournament team and netted the game-winning goal against Drake. Last season she shared the team’s Offensive Player of the Year award with Jackie Kaeding and once again foiled Drake with a game-winner.

With six native Californian’s on the UI roster, a Sept. 5-7 journey to Malibu will be a homecoming of sorts for Shaw (Chino Hills), Hyink (Temecula), Alexandria Seydel (San Diego), Nicole Slevin (San Pedro), Kathleen Smokowski (Silverado) and Heather Windsor (Temecula). The Hawkeyes play Pepperdine on Sept. 5 and San Diego on Sept. 7.

During the preseason, Shaw was readying not only herself, but the rest of the team as well. The Hawkeyes opened with a convincing 4-0 victory against Drake on Aug. 23.

“I couldn’t fall asleep one night so I wrote an e-mail to all my teammates, telling them that they will never realize how big and how important being a Hawkeye is until their senior season,” Shaw said. “My goal is to help people realize that this year. I need to do everything I can to work hard and win.”

Shaw arrived on the UI campus a year before Rainey, who begins his third season as Hawkeye head coach. In two seasons under Rainey, Iowa has won 14 matches and tied six others — a noticeable step up from the 3-12-4 campaign in 2005 when Shaw was a rookie.

“Seeing the improvement has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve gotten out of coming to Iowa,” Shaw said. “To go to a program that isn’t on top but is getting there and getting close…that in itself is rewarding.”

Rainey knows that one of the reasons for improvement within the ranks is because of the leadership and ability of players like Shaw.

“Kelsey has been a rock for us in the middle of the field,” Rainey said. “She does some things as good as anyone in the Big Ten. She’s excellent at winning balls and other coaches are asking their team to mark her up on corner kicks. She is still able to win balls, score goals or get assists. That’s a special attribute.”

By industry standards, Shaw was a late-bloomer to the sport. She began playing softball, where she described herself as a “homerun or strikeout kind of girl” which took its toll on her emotionally. Since her older sister was playing soccer at the time, Shaw decided to give that sport a try and enjoyed almost instant success.

“Eventually I joined a club team that had a pretty good reputation and a great coach who helped me identify what I was looking for in a college,” Shaw said.

Fortunately for Hawkeye fans, that college ended up being the UI.

“I came to Iowa particularly because it was out of state,” said Shaw, who graduated from Rueben S. Ayala High School in Chino Hills, Calif. “I wanted that change and leaving their home state is something a lot of kids don’t get the opportunity to do. When I first came I absolutely loved the girls on the team and I loved the campus. I thought this was a great area and a beautiful location. Throw all those things together and that’s why I chose Iowa.”

A versatile athlete, Shaw participated in soccer, swimming and track and field in high school.

Last season the Hawkeyes were 8-8-4 overall with a 5-2-1 record at home. From Sept. 14-30, Iowa won six consecutive matches against Drake, Northern Iowa, South Dakota State, Creighton, Michigan State and Michigan.

“That was a great feeling during that stretch,” Shaw said. “At one point the entire team just sat there looking at each other. We were speechless.”

Remaining quiet is not a quality Rainey expects from Shaw this season. In fact, he has hinted a desire for a more vocal midfielder.

“We don’t have a ton of seniors, but we’re excited about the ones we have,” Rainey said. “Kelsey is somebody who will produce on the field. Now we’ll ask her to do some more speaking to the team about what it takes to be successful.”

Shaw and fellow Californian Stephanie Hyink — a forward — are the lone Hawkeye seniors.

When her playing days have concluded with diploma in hand, Shaw would like to use her adventurous spirit to guide her overseas.

“I would really like to go out of the country for awhile and study or work abroad,” said Shaw, who is majoring in psychology with a minor in human relations. “I like to experience new cultures and I would like to experience as much as I can now before I have a family.”

And perhaps one day, when she does indeed start a family, one of her offspring will spend a few minutes every morning leaping head-first toward a ceiling fan.