Editor's note: The FCN sports staff introduces a new feature, the Nalley Roofing Player of the Year Rewind series, catching up with former county players of the year to see where they are now.
At the conclusion of every season, Furman women’s soccer coach Andrew Burr has individual meetings with players in early December before winter break. The last part of those meetings is reserved for picking next season’s captains. Returning players are asked to write down a few names of teammates they consider capable of and worthy for the position. Sophomore Rachel Shah wrote down three upperclassmen.
When the Lady Paladins met for the first time after winter break, Burr revealed the results: rising senior Carlie Couch, rising fifth-year senior Rose Hull and Rachel Shah.
“Not gonna lie, I was a little surprised,” Shah said. “It was not something that had crossed my mind at all. … I’m sure the look on my face probably said it all.”
Shah perhaps should not have been so shocked. The former South Forsyth standout was a critical piece for Furman. Playing as an attacking center midfielder, Shah helped facilitate the Lady Paladins’ offense. Her job, in particular, was to get the ball to senior forward Stephanie DeVita. The formula worked: Shah had a team-best seven assists and DeVita scored 18 goals as Furman went 17-5-1, won the Southern Conference championship and made the NCAA Tournament.
The role for Shah was both new and familiar. She often played the same position on her club teams, but at South, Shah was the Lady War Eagles’ version of DeVita, a dynamic goal-scoring force who opponents focused their defensive strategy to thwart. Shah succeeded nonetheless; in four years, she finished with 84 goals and 31 assists and was named the Forsyth County News’ Girls Soccer Player of the Year every season.
Shah soon realized she was entering a different world. She remembered having several talks with coaches during the summer leading up to that freshman season warning her of the rigors ahead. They advised Shah to have her fitness, mind and skills ready for a brand of soccer that would be more physical and faster.
“I was very nervous going into it all,” Shah said. “But once I got there the team atmosphere was great, and everyone was very welcoming. That made it easier.
Shah contributed in any way she could, appearing in all 19 games, including seven starts. She had four assists and made the SoCon All-Freshman Team as Furman went 13-4-2 but lost in the conference tournament.
Shah and the Lady Paladins returned this past season with a clear goal of winning the conference championship, but there were questions to be answered first, among them who would replace India Robinson, a midfielder who amassed 43 assists over her career.
Shah saw her opportunity.
“I thought my best opportunity would be to be the playmaker,” Shah said.
Now, Shah sees a new opportunity. DeVita will be gone next season, meaning the Lady Paladins will have to replace 47.4 percent of their scoring. Shah would be a good candidate. She finished fourth on the team in shots this past season, after all, with 36.
“I definitely tried” to score this season, Shah said with a laugh. “Some were saved. Some were just not on target.”
With her new stature on the team, Shah enters her junior season with more confidence and responsibility than ever. She has to host more prospective recruits, serve as a mediator between coaches and players, even help make administrative decisions like what time practice will be next year.
The prospect of it all seemed daunting at first for Shah, but it turned out experienced was the best counsel.
“Eventually I realized, look, I know how to do this,” Shah said. “It’s just acting on it, just making wise choices. Obviously, it gives me some confidence on the field as well. You’re supposed to be a leader on the field, but being a captain just kind of reinforces that.”