“I was a field player until I was 12 or 13,” said Shelton. “Our goalkeeper broke her arm. They asked for a volunteer.”
She seldom left the net again.
She became known for her colorful uniform and shoe choices, as well as for her enthusiasm and sense of humor. But she can look back and say, without question, that there were times when it wasn’t all that much fun to be a goalkeeper on a team that struggled for goals and wins throughout her career.
She is the new Atlantic Sun career all-time saves leader with 565 entering her final game Friday with Murray State at 6 at the Lipscomb Soccer Complex. Shelton and midfielder Sara Green will be honored on “Senior” Night.
“The saves record is fantastic," said Shelton. "But if we lose it doesn’t matter how many saves I have. We still lost. We win as a team. We lose as a team. I am just put in a position where individually I am going to stick out more than anyone else.”
Shelton has collected more individual awards than anyone in the history of the program. But she has paid a price, playing her freshman season with a dislocated kneecap and then having to sit out a season. She was still recovering from shoulder issues when this season began.
“I had played some of last season with a shoulder problem,” said Shelton. "The team did a lot better job protecting me this season. It was stated at the beginning of the season that if we wanted to win games we had to play good defense. We had some girls in the back who have stepped up this season and played like they have never played before. If it wasn’t for that other teams would have hammered me for 40 shots a game."
Lady Bisons coach Jon Ireland wanted his team to not only cut down on shots, but to reduce the number of quality shots.
“Last year we gave up too many quality shots from places like 18-yards in the box that were forcing Katie to have to dive, do a full extension or have to tip it over the cross bar," said Ireland. She has not had to make a ton of tough saves this season. She has made big saves, but she hasn’t had to dive all over the place. By limiting the quality shots we have allowed Katie to make the three or four spectacular saves that keep us in a game.”
Ireland inherited Shelton as the goalkeeper two seasons ago when he took over the program. He realized quickly that she was a top performer at her position.
“When I saw her workout I realized she was very athletic,” said Ireland. “On this level you have to have size as a keeper and have a strong enough body to withstand all of the hits that you take.
“She has all the tools she needs to be a very, very good goalkeeper. A lot of kids have athletic ability and size but what separates her is her determination and competitiveness. She hates to lose. She hates giving up goals. When she gives up a goal all you have to do is look at her face. She is going to let her defenders know that she is not happy.”
As a freshman in high school she played the sweeper position. She played in goal as a sophomore at Beech High School in Hendersonville, Tenn., but she also split time at the forward spot.
As a junior she realized that her place for the rest of her high school career would be in the net. She admits she wasn’t all that enamored with the prospects.
“In the beginning I was a little upset about it,” said Shelton. “Our team was really good at the time. When you play for a good team, and you are the goalkeeper, you don’t get to participate all that much.
“It was very difficult for me to go from being a field player to goalkeeper. I was always that person who wanted to be a part of every single play. In the beginning I was a little bitter about it.”
Shelton was also a basketball player and had received several small college offers. She needed more financial help and decided being a goalkeeper was the path she needed to follow.
She received some extra incentive from a coach that told her she would never play as a goalkeeper on the NCAA Division I level.
“The coach told me I was a workhorse on the field, but I would never make it as a keeper,” said Shelton. “That added fuel to the fire for me. I wanted to prove him wrong. When I graduate I want to be able to say I was Division I goalkeeper.
“It was a personal goal. Forwards that want to be the best they can be want to score goals. My job is to not allow that to happen. Lots of goals have been scored against me, but I’ve done the best I can do.”
Shelton had a goal to be a Division I player, but Lipscomb wasn’t in her plans originally.
“It was kind of a last minute decision for me to come to Lipscomb,” said Shelton. “I was going to Tennessee-Martin, but Jenger Parrish (former Lady Bisons coach) came along and made me an offer.
“I wanted to be a Division I player. I realized my junior year that I had a better chance of playing goalkeeper in college than being a field player. My junior and senior years I took it fairly seriously. I trained every day, even on the days the team was off.”
Before she committed to Lipscomb she talked to several of the players already on the team. They told her she would not be bored due to a lack of activity in goal.
“They told me I was going to have my work cut out for me,” said Shelton. “I wanted to come in and help give us a chance to win some games. I wanted to be able to come in and turn the program around and try to make a difference.”
Ireland stresses that Shelton has accomplished that goal. With Shelton between the pipes the Lady Bisons always have felt they had a chance to win.
“The pressure at her position is greater than any other,” said Ireland. “It is a team game, but without question she has been a huge reason why we have gotten the results we have had this year.
“With this program struggling her willingness to not ever give up and to continue no matter who we were playing or how many goals we had given up was amazing. To have that many saves you have to have something inside of you that is bigger than you athletic ability. She is willing to make a save no matter what the score or the time left in the game.”
In addition to the career saves record, she is the only Lady Bisons soccer player to ever be named First Team All-Atlantic Sun. She was the Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year in 2007. In 2006 she was ranked No. 1 nationally in saves with 206. Shelton has served as team captain for the past two seasons.
Shelton admits that she has mixed emotions about her last game.
“It will be very exciting,” said Shelton. “It is the last soccer game I see myself ever playing in.
“But I am excited to see what the program is going to do and what the next goalkeeper is going to do. It is exciting to me because it is a chapter of my life that is closing.”