Olivia Sheppard becomes second player from Tsawwassen in three years going to Ivy League school
Olivia Sheppard is the latest to take her game south of the border in what has become a remarkable era for girls soccer players coming out of Tsawwassen.
The Grade 12 South Delta Secondary School student announced last week she will be continuing her career and studies at world-renowned Princeton University. Amazingly, Sheppard will be the second SDSS grad to play for the New Jersey school in three years, joining 2014 recruit Alessia Azermadhi.
It also makes it three consecutive years a Tsawwassen player has signed with an NCAA Division One program. Hannah Carruthers recently completed her freshman season at Seattle University.
Each of them were part of the Whitecaps Girls Elite Program. That in itself is an outstanding accomplishment. The all-expenses paid academy hand picks only a few players from across the province each season.
Sheppard had been dreaming about playing for an Ivy League school since she was 10. “At the time it was Yale because it was the only one I really knew,” she laughed.
She had been in contact with Princeton for some time and eventually flew back east to attend an ID camp. Head coach Sean Driscoll was immediately impressed with what he saw from the B.C. prospect.
“We agreed we both would do what we had to do to make this work,” recalled Sheppard. “For me, that meant keeping my grades up and going through an immense amount of studying, especially for my SAT which I had to bump up a bunch. I got through it.”
Of course, Sheppard didn’t have to look far for advice either. Azermadhi also weighed opportunities at other Ivy League schools before deciding on Princeton.
“She was very helpful,” Sheppard continued. “She could explain the pros and cons of each, and she was being honest with me, not biased at all. She did explain how her experience has gone so far. Everything she said kind of fit with how I was feeling.”
Sheppard returned to Princeton for an official visit in November, along with other members of the Tigers’ 2020 recruiting class. Although Ivy League schools prohibit athletic scholarships, she will be receiving a lucrative student aid deal to cover her expenses.
Sheppard joined the Whitecaps on a full-time basis at the start of her Grade 11 year. Soon after, the MLS club reached a partnership with Soccer Canada and B.C. Soccer to transform the program into a Regional Excel Centre (REX) for Western Canada.
“They modified it into more of a national feeder program and focusing more on younger girls and developing them. Once that change occurred, I became the oldest player on the team,” said Sheppard. “It’s still a very competitive training environment with girls on the national U17 team.”
Sheppard also got invited to a couple of U20 national team training sessions, including a U23 Olympic Development Camp last May. “I was training with girls who are on the national team today. That was a big deal for me.”
She has spent much of her career terrorizing opponents as a forward or attacking midfielder.
During her Grade 10 year at South Delta, she led the Sun Devils in scoring en route to reaching the provincial championship game. She was highly productive during her time in the BCPSL with Coastal FC, earning the Golden Boot Award as top scorer at Nationals in 2012, and aged up two years later to help the U18 team win provincials. Sheppard also played for provincial select squads from U13 to U16.
However, it was during her time with the Whitecaps when then coach Jesse Symons saw Sheppard as a natural central defender. She has been playing on the backline since, showcasing her versatility.
“He basically said when we were playing top level teams, I would be playing centre back,” said Sheppard. “I like scoring and being very creative. It’s one of the strengths to my game.
“I think what he saw was my level of competitiveness. Like on 1v1 drills, I would always win the ball. There was no question about it. Beating me to a ball just doesn’t register in my brain.
“I think (Princeton) sees me as a centre back too, through time, maybe I will be playing (other positions) too.”
Sheppard hasn’t played for her hometown club since her days with the Tsawwassen Eagles way back in U11. That team was coached by her father Bruce who at one time was Head Boys Coordinator with the club.
“He has definitely had a huge role in my soccer career,” said Sheppard. “He’s been completely supportive of everything I have done and helped me get to where I am today. My mom as well, even though she has not played soccer, is always there for me.”
Sheppard will continue to train with the Burnaby-based Whitecaps REX Program five days a week until the early summer. It will be a hectic few months ahead with high school graduation on the horizon too, then the move to Princeton where she will be enrolling in general studies, with an interest in science.
“You have to surround yourself with people who will support you and encourage you to do well,” said Sheppard of her busy schedule. “You have to prioritize as well. I’m always thinking what is the thing I need to do right now.”
– See more at: Delta Optimist