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The NWSL season begins March 25.
Evelyn Shores may be labeled a left back, but to those closer to her, those two words don’t tell the full story. Yes, Shores often patrols the left side, running up and down the field all game, known for her work ethic and desire to win.
But when her parents and high school coach speak about Shores, the words they use to describe her game are much broader: creative, playmaker, unpredictable.
Wherever the high school senior is on the field — defense, midfield or forward — she brings that magic which can unlock defenses and make observers marvel.
“She just amazes me all the time,” says Sharon Loughran, Shores’ coach at Westminster (Ga.) High School and a former Olympic Development Program coach. “She’s hard to defend because you’re not quite sure what she’s going to do.”
Shores has been turning heads on the soccer field since she was 4 — even at that young age, her mother Debbie recalls there being something special about her daughter. Thanks to her ingenuity on the ball and a tireless work ethic, Shores is ready to take the next step. The No. 7 recruit in the Class of 2023, according to TopDrawerSoccer, Shores was a first-team selection to the inaugural Just Women’s Sports All-American girls’ soccer team last spring. She signed with UNC earlier this year, an integral part of their No. 1-ranked recruiting class.
A part of the U.S. youth national team set-up since the U-14s, Shores has one more season of high school soccer left. Her position may be fluid at times — she plays attacking midfield for Westminster — but her talent is undeniable.
“She’s an extremely creative player,” Loughran says. “We need more creative players in the U.S. and that’s one of her strengths.”
Shores, for her part, credits the different positions she has played with her growth and improvement.
“Playing forward and attacking mid has really unlocked a new part of my game,” she says. “It really showed me how the attacking side works and how to join the attacking play as an outside back.
“As I continue to learn how to play in the attack, it’s helped me as an outside back.”
Loughran used to scour the state for Georgia ODP, searching for standout players. She has seen plenty of talented players excel at the youth level, including two-time World Cup champions Morgan Gautrat (née Brian) and Kelley O’Hara and World Cup winner Emily Sonnett.
Even with that decorated history in the sport, Shores caught Loughran’s eye from a young age.
“She’s always been an amazing player since she was little,” Loughran says.
Shores, the youngest of three siblings, started playing for Atlanta’s Tophat Soccer Club at age 4. She still plays her club soccer there today, a rarity among youth players. Her earliest memories include Debbie coaching her teams and the joy at getting to play alongside her best friend.
“From there, my love for the game took off,” Shores says.
Debbie recalls her daughter’ precocious coordination and balance, the ability to look behind her and keep dribbling.
When an opponent suddenly appeared in her way, Shores blazed past them. In fact, she usually went too fast, often dribbling the ball out of play.
“Gosh, if the kid ever learns to turn the corner, she’s going to be great,” Debbie recalls her co-coach, a mother of one of Evelyn’s friends, saying.
Perhaps just as important as Shores’ athletic and technical ability is her desire to constantly improve.
She is always exploring ways to get better, quizzing her coaches and mentors on speed and agility training or soccer drills, and even picking up yoga to increase her flexibility.
“She’s always been very competitive with others and herself,” says Shores’ father, Steven. “She’s had an internal desire to always perform at the best and highest level.”
That desire was further fueled by her first national team experience, a U-14 camp in California. Training alongside 23 other standout players, Shores began to form bonds and friendships with girls who had similar dreams and desires to compete at the top level.
“The amount of time and commitment that athletes put in, especially around that age, is unique,” Debbie says. “To be able to meet other athletes who had similar goals and similar mindsets and a similar mission was really formative.”
Shores watched the U.S. women’s national team growing up, cheering them on during the World Cup and Olympics. After that camp, she started consuming soccer at a voracious level, learning a little more each time she turned on a match.
That passion for the sport is evident to Loughran each day in practice. Sometimes, it’s too much.
When Shores was preparing for a U-20 camp, she trained with the Westminster boys’ team to stay sharp. She got so competitive during practice, Loughran worried she might pick up an injury. Go home, Loughran told her, and rest up ahead of her national team trip.
“She outworks everybody,” Loughran says. “It’s relentless.”
Shores aspires to compete on the international stage with the U.S. Already this past summer, she helped lead the U-20s to a Sud Ladies Cup title and just missed out on a spot at the U-20 World Cup.
Her dreams also include winning a national title at UNC, her mother’s alma mater and her favorite school since she was little. But first, she has more immediate goals. She aims to lead Westminster to an eighth consecutive state title this spring, this time as a captain. It’s an unusual role for Shores, who never took the captain’s armband while playing up with girls two or three years older at Tophat.
It’s a role that comes naturally to her, though.
“What I notice most is she has probably the most national accolades of all the (Westminster) players, and you would never know it,” Loughran says. “Because she inspires all those around her.”
When Shores is on the field, she always smiling. Her joy for the game comes through in her play. Sometimes at Tophat, Shores is tasked with controlling the entire left side of the field. She’s given free rein to surge forward and drop back.
Shores’ trickery on the ball, the ability to pass through a defense or run by a defender, is an embodiment of that happiness she feels each time she steps on the field, whether it’s a practice or game.
“Evelyn is just a playmaker,” Debbie says. “She doesn’t have to take the glory. She just loves to create.”
Loughran marvels at Shores’ versatility, recalling a time she put her at forward after the starter got injured, and she proceed to score a goal “in two seconds.” Loughran does envision Shores playing left back at the collegiate level and beyond. But put Shores anywhere on the field, and she is going to produce.
“She’s the total package,” Loughran says.
Phillip Suitts is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports. He has worked at a variety of outlets, including The Palm Beach Post and Southeast Missourian, and done a little bit of everything from reporting to editing to running social media accounts. He was born in Atlanta but currently lives in wintry Philadelphia. Follow Phillip on Twitter @PhillipSuitts.
The NWSL season begins March 25.
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