HAZARD, Ky. — Playing high school soccer for the first time as a sophomore — and stepping into a starting role from the outset at the toughest position on the field at that — can be quite tough.
However, Shelbi Ritchie has proven herself to be a quick study.
Throughout her time on the pitch, hardwood or diamond, Ritchie showcased her multi-dimensional abilities while competing for Hazard High School — one of the most prestigeous high schools in all of Kentucky.
Now, her ability to become a quick study and learn on the fly has led to an opportunity to contribute at a crucial spot for Shawnee State for the next four years.
Ritchie, the Kentucky High School Athletic Association’s (KHSAA) 14th Region Player of the Year in girls soccer, will look to carry over an outstanding career at Hazard to Shawnee State — where the incoming freshman figures to play a huge role in protecting the goal for the Bears over the next four years.
“To sign at SSU means more to me than words can say,” Ritchie said. “I am so excited to be able to attend Shawnee State and be a part of this amazing soccer program.”
Upon making her initial foray into high school soccer, Ritchie joined a program that had won just four games the year prior — and had allowed 55 goals in 18 games.
She immediately proved to be a defensive asset from the get-go, posting six shutouts and allowing nine less goals — allowing Hazard to double its win total (8-10-1) after the Bulldogs went 4-13-1 the year prior.
Over the next two seasons, Ritchie, according to KHSAA statistics, made an astonishing 283 saves over the next two seasons to quickly establish herself as one of the best goalkeepers in the state.
In her senior year in 2019, Ritchie made 198 saves en route to saving 11 shots per game — and accumulated six additional shutouts to lead Hazard to an 8-10 record.
As a result of Ritchie’s efforts, the Bulldogs’ defensive unit allowed 35 goals in 18 contests — the best effort by any Hazard defensive unit since team statistics for girls soccer were kept in 2008 — which led to the senior goalkeeper winning 14th Region Player of the Year honors.
She was ultimately first-team all-53rd District and first-team all-14th Region in each of her three seasons at Hazard.
“My soccer experience couldn’t have been better, in my opinion,” Ritchie said. “The support from my coaches, family and friends drove me to be the best possible player that I could be.”
Along with her abilities on the soccer pitch, Ritchie also started during her junior season for the Bulldogs on the basketball court, finshing fifth on the team in rebounding.
Ritchie also was a three-year letterwinner for Hazard inside its softball program, where the outfielder — in 2019 — led a Hazard program to a 15-win season after the Bulldogs won just seven games combined over her first two years in the program.
During what would end up being her final season of high school softball, Ritchie hit .359 during her junior year, went a perfect 14-for-14 in stolen-base attempts, and finished inside the team’s top-five in triples (second, three), runs scored (third, 34), hits (fourth, 37), walks (fourth, nine), stolen bases (fourth) and RBI (fifth, 24).
As strong as her abilities on Hazard’s various playing surfaces were, Ritchie was just as strong of a representative for the school.
She served as a member of the Hazard High School Tobacco-free Ambassador Partnership — which won a Healthy Kentucky Policy Champion Award — and also served on RAPID, a student technology leadership program that builds 3-D models for schools and buildings to be used as navigation for first responders in emergencies.
To cap off her work, Ritchie was an honor roll student throughout her time at Hazard.
At Shawnee State, Ritchie will provide tremendous help to the backline with her abilities between the posts.
Defensively, Shawnee State allowed three goals per contest, which ranked seventh in the Mid-South Conference of the nine units that were a part of conference competition during the 2019 season.
Each of the six units that finished in front of SSU in the conference standings (Campbellsville, Cumberlands, Ky., Lindsey Wilson, Cumberland, Tenn., Thomas More and Georgetown) all had goals against averages of 1.39 or lower.
In addition to getting the opportunity to compete for a starting spot, Ritchie will get to learn from Michaela Garner — a four-time all-MSC honoree who made 487 saves during her Shawnee State college career.
Add that knowledge into the experience that head coach Natasha Ademakinwa has from her collegiate career at Ohio Valley, as well as her coaching experiences in England and the United States as well as the knowledge that Abdul Khalid has brought to the table, and the result is a staff that Ritchie is thrilled to get to know.
“The coaching staff at Shawnee State really made me feel like I was at home from a schooling standpoint as well as from a team standpoint,” Ritchie said. “The location of the university is fantastic, and the campus, as a whole, is beautiful.”
As Ritchie prepares for her college career, she’s excited about the chance to obtain a degree in sport studies while battling with her teammates to obtain a Mid-South Conference championship.
“My goals are to obtain a bachelor’s degree in sport studies and win a conference championship, in addition to making lifelong friends beyond the game of soccer.”