Going into the final season of her high school career, South Forsyth forward Rachel Shah had two goals – break her single-season record of 25 goals and win her fourth straight county player of the year award.
Her first goal was ambitious. Ever since Shah’s breakout freshman season in 2011, teams began to mark her with two, sometimes three, defenders, and so her goal-totals gradually declined after her sophomore season.
Her second goal was almost a formality. Few players demanded as much attention in the opponent’s game plan as Shah, and yet the Lady War Eagles senior still managed 15 goals and 12 assists to be named the 2014 Forsyth County Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year by the county’s coaches.
"It’s an honor, definitely," Shah said. "Being looked at by the county as the player – it’s a real confidence-booster to be honest."
Shah leaves South as one of the most decorated players in county history. She shared county player of the year honors her freshman season, when she scored 24 goals and helped the Lady War Eagles reach the quarterfinals of the state playoffs for the first time in three years.
But Shah had the accolade all to herself the next three seasons as she helped South soccer return to the kind of prominence it enjoyed in the early 2000s when the Lady War Eagles reached the state finals twice in four years.
By the time her career was over, Shah amassed 84 goals and 31 assists and a region player of the year award.
"It was no big secret after her freshman year breakout that all the teams knew who she was," South head coach Tom Braun said. "So she was always double- or triple-teamed. It’s always difficult to play with a lot of people on your back, but she was able to do so. She just came to play every night."
Shah was her usual dangerous self this season.
Against eventual region champion Centennial, Shah had a hat-trick and an assist in a 4-2 victory, the Lady Knights’ only region loss. Her hat-trick was all the scoring South needed in a 3-0 victory over Lanier. On senior night, she made it 3-for-3 for the Lady War Eagles’ seniors on hat-tricks, scoring three times to go along with three assists in a 9-0 victory over Flowery Branch.
"It was so close to mercy-ruled," Shah said.
In the end, Shah and South didn’t get the season they hoped for. The Lady War Eagles needed a significant group of young players to contribute this season, and late-season injuries handicapped the team. Playing defending champion Parkview in the first round of the state playoffs didn’t help either.
"I still think we had a really good season," Shah said. "I’m really proud of my team. We had a really young team, and I think we still did really well. And I think next year they’re going to do even better because they’ll have more experience."
Next year, Shah will play at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and join a Lady Paladins program that just won the Southern Conference championship.
"She’s always worked hard with a great attitude," Braun said, "so she’ll be fine at the next level. … With her coachability, her fitness and her attitude, she’s going to be very successful."