Wednesday, Aug. 29, 2007

Senior no longer a Shell of her former soccer self

After injury-plagued 2006, senior captain Christie Shell returns at full strength for powerful Quince Orchard

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Charles E. Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Quince Orchard senior Christie Shell returned from an injury-riddled 2006 season to play a key role in the Cougars’ run to the state final.
Ask nine-year Quince Orchard girls soccer coach Peg Keiller and she’ll tell you senior forward⁄midfielder and second-year captain Christie Shell is the consummate team player. A coach’s dream, she’s skilled and selfless. Yet, there was a time for about a month last season where Keiller relegated her to the opposite side of the bench.

It’s funny, actually. Shell had struggled through the summer and early fall with a lingering hip flexor injury and though determined to play through it, Keiller finally had to play the coach card and bench her key starter for almost half the season. But, knowing how much Shell was itching to get back on the field, Keiller had to keep her distance so the junior couldn’t talk her way onto the field.

Despite the injury frustrations, which undermined what looked to have been a breakout season for Shell, there were some memorable moments, including scoring the Cougars’ winning goal in a 1-0, double-overtime win over Eleanor Roosevelt in the Class 4A state semifinals, sending Quince Orchard to its first state final since it won the championship in 2002, and second overall. The Cougars lost to St. Mary’s County’s Leonardtown, 1-0, in the championship game.

But now Shell is fully healthy and is hoping to build on last year’s late-season success and play to her full potential this year, as she gears up for her final season with Quince Orchard and the college recruiting process — she’s been in contact with coaches from NCAA Division I Mount St. Mary’s and Division III Salisbury State and Frostburg State, among others, but hasn’t yet made a decision on where she’ll play next year.

‘‘She’s one of those players that just wants to be on the field the whole time,” Keiller said of Shell, who scored six goals in limited play last season. ‘‘So last year not only was she just physically out most of the season, but she was just beside herself. That’s why I made her sit on the other side of the bench. I couldn’t see her or hear her. She just really wanted to be out there, so I had to keep my distance.”

Shell, a four-year varsity player who first started playing soccer at age 4 and quit all other activities to focus on the sport by age 12, has been an overlooked player in the county — especially with last year’s injury struggles. But, if she can remain healthy, that will likely change this year, not that she’s one to yearn for the spotlight.

Shell’s not a flashy player. But she is talented. She’s quick with great ball skills, has good field sense, vision and drive. And most important, she’s always looking out for her teammates, and how she can help them, on and off the field.

Determination is not something Keiller or any coach can instill in a player, it’s an innate trait. And Quince Orchard’s senior leader certainly has the desire of a champion athlete. She thrives off competition and intensity. Add that with her ability and she’s definitely one to watch this season.

‘‘I think she ranks up there with some of the best players in the county,” Keiller said. ‘‘She’s not someone everyone talks about, but from our side it’s been nice, she’s kind of been our hidden little secret. ... She’s just got a good bit of everything, nice foot skills, fitness level, good speed and her willingness to be a selfless player, wanting to be part of a team not a standout. And her heart and work ethic are two of the biggest things. There are people out there with all the other things, but without heart and work ethic, it’s not as special.”

At 5 feet, 4 inches, Shell is usually one of the smaller players on the field. But, underestimating her strength would be a mistake. Shell can match any player’s physicality and feeds off players’ challenges.

And that’s part of why she wants to play in college — competing with stronger players, challenging herself to continually improve.

As last year exhibited, Shell isn’t content being on the sidelines, she needs to be in on the action. And that’s exactly where she’ll be this season for Quince Orchard, maybe creating more magic moments for one of the county’s and state’s top teams.

‘‘[Scoring that game-winner against Eleanor Roosevelt] was one of the most amazing moments of my life so far,” Shell said. ‘‘Being out so long I felt I had to catch up and prove what I was there to do. This year I’m hoping I can do some of the same. ... I can’t imagine myself not playing soccer, not being out on the field, with my team. I love the rush you get before the game. I would really miss that if I didn’t continue to play in college.”