FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Sheeleigh Turns Program Around
In the 2006 fall season, the Harvard women’s soccer team struggled to find a rhythm, winning only three games the entire year. In 2007, things changed. Led by new head coach Ray Leone and a blonde-haired girl from New Jersey, the Crimson found a new winning style, raking out a 10-6-1 record.
While Leone brought a new direction to the team, Katherine Sheeleigh, the blonde-haired freshman, brought what her teammates called a new competitive fire that landed her the title of Ivy League Rookie of the Year.
“It’s going to be really depressing coming back in the fall without her on the team,” junior Melanie Baskind said. “I think she has been such a defining part of the program since she’s been here. I mean, Rookie of the Year as a freshman, and then she goes out as Ivy League Player of the Year.”
With a league-leading 80 shots, the Rookie of the Year grabbed a team-high eight goals in her freshman season, including a hat trick in her seventh game as a Harvard athlete.
For the next three years of her Ancient Eight career, Sheeleigh was just as good on paper as on the pitch. Named first-team All-Ivy all four years and honored with All-American nod this year, Sheeleigh finished her time with the Crimson ranked sixth in Harvard history with 79 points and fifth with 31 goals.
“She is so competitive, so passionate about the game, teammates, and trying to win,” Harvard coach Ray Leone said. “She would be marked by everyone’s best defender all of the time in four straight years, so she led by example. She held a high standard for herself, and it showed.”
The 2008 season showcased Sheeleigh’s high standard, as the sophomore helped Harvard to its first Ivy Championship in nine years with six goals, including three game-winners. In 2009, Sheeleigh again led the team in goals (8) and assists (5) as the Crimson won its second Ivy championship in as many years.
“I was looking at the numbers, and she’s one of the best players to ever put on a Crimson uniform because she did everything on our team,” Leone said.
While Harvard did not win another championship this year, Sheeleigh managed 25 points, good enough to lead the Ivy League, and tied Baskind with nine goals. Recognized for her talents, Sheeleigh became the 19th overall draft pick this year in the Women’s Professional Soccer League. Chosen by the Boston Breakers, Sheeleigh is the first Crimson female soccer player to be drafted to the WPSL and only the second player to be drafted in any women’s soccer league following Emily Stauffer ’99.
“It brings a lot of publicity to our program,” co-captain Gina Wideroff said. “It shows that we can compete at the next level. We’re not just soccer players trying to get a good education—we are good soccer players.”
Sheeleigh’s decision to take the year off and study physical therapy instead of playing for the Breakers illustrates her competitiveness off the field, another “Sheeleigh trait” that the team will miss.
“She’s very competitive and very driven, so when she sets a goal, she’ll most definitely reach it,” Wideroff said. “She’s willing to do whatever it takes to get where she wants to be, which is why she makes such a great soccer player, such a great leader, and friend.”
This competitive spirit was best exemplified in this year’s 2-1 overtime loss against Sienna when Sheeleigh notched the 28th goal of her career.
“She just ran straight at the goalie and somehow ended up stealing the ball from the goalie and then scoring,” Baskind explained. “The rest of the team was on the other side of the field, the goalie had the ball, yet Sheeleigh stripped her and scored. It was just so classic, because she works so hard on and off the ball and makes plays happen.”
And while this year’s squad gets ready to welcome a new class of recruits ready to make their marks, they realize that Sheeleigh’s competitive drive and ability to make things happen will be missed.
“Sheeleigh pretty much is and was Harvard soccer for the time that she was here, and we’re going to miss her a lot,” Baskind said. “Awesome person, great leader; [she] really raises the competition every day at practice. She’s a big loss.”
—Staff writer Alex Sopko can be reached at email@example.com.