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Something good in sports: Tsawwassen soccer star headed to Princeton

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South Delta has long been known as a hotbed for sports talent, but perhaps its strongest export in recent years has been girls soccer.

Tsawwassen’s Olivia Sheppard, 18, is the second player in the last three years to become accepted to an Ivy League school in the U.S., and will soon play for prestigious Princeton University.

The centerback and holding midfielder began playing through the South Delta soccer youth programs as early as six.

“I’ve always loved soccer,” says Olivia on a sunny June day out on the soccer pitch at Winskill Park. “It’s kind of been that thing that takes me away from everyday life. So whenever I get that stress or I’m not feeling great, every time I play soccer everything just fades away.”

Her dedication to the sport over the past dozen years has paid dividends.

Olivia was named MVP for South Delta Secondary in just her freshman year while playing at the University of Victoria High School Showcase. And in 2012 she captained her club team to the provincial championships while picking up an award at nationals. She was also named to the U-14 provincial development team as captain.

Success followed for Olivia, winning a bronze medal at the Canadian National Club Championship in 2014 as an underage player with U-18 Coastal FC in the EA SPORTS BC Soccer Premier League. She later graduated into the Whitecaps FC Girls Elite club in September of that year. It was during her time with the Whitecaps that she was scouted by Princeton, playing at a tournament in California.

DSC_4353She was later promised by a coach of the university that if she fulfilled all her academic obligations the prestigious institution would welcome her to its hallowed grounds.
Olivia says she thinks Princeton took notice because while she’s a defensive player she still has an “attacking mentality” to create goal scoring opportunities. Case in point: In 2014 while playing with Coastal FC in Toronto she won the “Golden Boot Award” for most goals scored a tournament, a remarkable achievement for a defender. She netted eight in just four games.

Although Olivia was granted an early release from her Whitecaps contract to play for Princeton, I ask why she didn’t stay and play soccer here?

“The professional options for a woman is quite limited unless you really want to go overseas or the U.S.,” she says. “But other than the national team there’s not a professional league here right now.”

Although she’s going to be playing soccer in the U.S., Olivia does have her eyes on a golden prize on the global stage. She’s twice been part of Canadian National teams as an underage player and hopes she’ll get that chance again.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to play in a World Cup or wear the national team badge. So I think as I continue to grow as a player hopefully I’ll get called back into that pool of players.”

Her favourite female player is fellow Canadian Kadeisha Buchanan, a 20-year-old centreback with the Canadian national team who plays with the West Virginia Mountaineers.

In the meantime, Olivia has been playing with the North Shore Girls Soccer Club to prepare her for university. Perhaps the biggest adjustment will be leaving her small town.

“I’m definitely going to miss seeing familiar faces. Because everybody knows everyone in Tsawwassen. People all have some kind of connection. So I think being thrown into New Jersey is going to be a little bit different not knowing everyone I pass by.”

The good news is that her parents will fly out to watch her games. And as for us, we’ll be cheering her on from home.

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