When asked what makes University forward Jessica Shelby so good, Cubs coach Melissa Ramsey had to take a second to think of the answer.
Shelby isn’t the type of player who is going to assume a vocal role in leadership, and the offensive system the team employs doesn’t necessarily focus on any singular player.
But there’s one thing Shelby has proved for sure this season — when the Cubs need a goal, she’ll be there.
As a junior, Shelby leads No. 2 U-High (22-1-3) with 30 scores this season, more than doubling her next closest teammate and putting her near the top of the state leaderboard. She accounts for nearly a third of the team’s 320 total shots through 26 games, of which she has yet to miss a single match.
She’s anchored the Cubs offense this year all the way to the Division III girls soccer state championship, where they’ll face off with defending champion and No. 8 Pope John Paul II on Thursday night. It’s U-High’s first appearance during the Ramsey era and first since losing in the 1998 finals.
“I think the older you get, the wiser you get and the better you get, and I think that she’s realizing she can take over the game,” Ramsey said. “As a sophomore and freshman, that’s hard to do.”
The biggest detraction from Shelby’s game lately is that she’s been too good, and opponents are beginning to take notice.
As her reputation grows, Ramsey said teams have begun to man mark Shelby as she draws most of the defense’s attention, often times creating a mismatch for her teammates.
“It’s tough to actually play my game because you’re worried about, ‘OK, I have three people around me,’ ” Shelby said. “But that also opens up opportunities for other people around the field. If I have more people around me, then my very good second forward can have more time on the ball.”
Shelby and U-High’s secondary option up top, sophomore forward Kirby Miller, propose a deadly one-two punch in the Cubs’ attack.
Shelby said she isn’t the type of player to create a lot offense for herself, so she relies on the help of Miller — the team leader with 10 assists — to get in the right position.
“She’s really good with the ball at her feet,” Miller said. “She has a really hard shot. If you can get the ball to her feet inside the box or near it, she can hit most of them in.”
Shelby said she’s a little nervous heading into Thursday’s final, but hopes to turn those nerves into something positive during the biggest game of her high school career thus far.
But no matter what happens at Tad Gormley Stadium this weekend, Ramsey will still have another season to figure out exactly what it is that makes Shelby so talented.
“The good thing about her being a junior is that I get her for another year,” Ramsey said.