Nov 13, 2013, 10:24 AM EDT
Who remembers the good old days of rec league soccer? Almost everyone had some sort of rec soccer experience growing up and can nostalgically remember the oversized reversible green and white jerseys, eating oranges and Capri Suns at halftime and running through a parent made tunnel after the game, win or lose.
Harrison Shipp sure can. When asked how he started playing soccer, the senior captain jokingly responds, “Isn’t it just what everyone did in elementary school?”
Once he started playing, however, there was no turning back. Soccer quickly became his favorite sport.
“I can still remember the first time I played—I just loved it,” Shipp recalls.
It’s surprising that a senior captain and integral member of the Notre Dame men’s soccer team had no previous connection to soccer before he signed up with everyone else as a kid.
Today, Shipp is a finalist for the Senior CLASS Award— an honor given to seniors who excel in community, classroom, character and competition. He has helped the No. 1-ranked Irish to a 12-1-5 record in their breakout season in the ACC. Although there’s no longer the promise of fruit snacks and juice boxes, Shipp is more passionate than ever about soccer and hopes to continue playing in the future.
In the beginning it never occurred to Shipp to take the sport seriously. For him, soccer was all about having fun and staying connected to his siblings— he never thought about the future.
“My brother [Michael] plays on the team too,” Shipp explains. “He’s a sophomore. And then my sister—who’s a twin with Michael—plays soccer as well, so it was always the three of us playing soccer together in the backyard and in the basement.
“It’s funny. We joke that if I hadn’t chose soccer that they might have never actually played the sport seriously.”
Shipp started to show more commitment to his future soccer career once he began high school and was looked at by schools all over the country. One of these schools, Notre Dame, held a particular interest in him.
“My mom went to Notre Dame so I’ve always had kind of a connection,” Shipp remarks. “When I was younger, I used to come to football games and stuff on the weekends. Probably once or twice a year we’d come down to campus. But I was never actually set on wanting to come here even though I visited all the time.
“My dad didn’t go to Notre Dame so he would jokingly tell me to hate it just to make my mom mad. But once I actually started looking at schools and they started recruiting me, it was a school I definitely was interested in going to.”
Once he came on his visit, Shipp felt an instant connection based upon a strong combination of school and athletics. Ultimately, he decided it was the right place for him.
Although he felt an instant connection to Notre Dame and his new teammates, Shipp faced struggles both on and off the field and had to quickly learn how to adapt to fit in within the higher level of play.
“Athletically the college game is a lot different— it’s a higher level of athleticism,” he explains. “I’m not the biggest, fastest or strongest person, so it took me some time my freshman year to get used to how much bigger, faster, and stronger everyone was. But I think I was able to make up for that with speed of thought. That faster I was able to think on the field the more I was able to neutralize other people’s athleticism.”
Using that speed of thought, Shipp quickly got the hang of soccer at the college level and was a huge contributor right off the bat. The Lake Forest, Ill., native appeared in every single match of his freshman year, starting three times. By the end of the season, Shipp had made a name for himself and was selected to the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team.
“I’d like to think that’s my strength on the field,” Shipp says. “All players have to think a few steps ahead of the game normally in terms of knowing where to be, but I think that I can process one or two steps ahead of the rest of the people playing which gives me an advantage on the field and has helped me succeed.”
This adaptability and ability to find a way to succeed have also helped Shipp in the classroom as he faced the problem all freshman experience—learning time management. As a five-time consecutive member of the Mendoza College dean’s list, it’s safe to say that Shipp has figured it out. But the senior confesses that schoolwork at Notre Dame was a struggle at first.
“You’re not really in class as much and your day isn’t as structured in terms of school and schoolwork,” he explains. “So you definitely have to learn how to balance that with soccer in terms of figuring out when you actually have time for yourself. Because I think it’s hard to stay sane here if you don’t have some enjoyable social time.”
A lot has changed for Shipp since his freshman year. Although he is no longer struggling with time management or fighting to fit into the team’s lineup, Shipp has bigger responsibilities now as he serves as one of the teams tri-captains alongside Andrew O’Malley and Grant Van De Casteele. Their main aim is to help the team succeed. So far, the three have been able to achieve this goal, leading the team to one of their best seasons to date and a No. 1 ranking.
Working together has been easy for the three captains, and Shipp maintains that they have the perfect balance. With both O’Malley and Van De Casteele being more vocal and outgoing, Shipp serves as the silent leader by example through his hard work and consistency.
“I try to bring a consistent work ethic every day,” Shipp says. “That’s what I learned from some of the people who were captains and leaders on the team before is just how important consistency is. Not just in game, but every day in practice I want to be the one who’s working hardest just to show a good example for all the younger guys.
“In terms of captains, I think Grant and O’Malley are a little more vocal than me, both on the field and off. But I think I can bring that consistent work ethic and example and lead more by what I do than what I say. And then when I do say stuff, people tend to listen because I don’t say very much.”
Shipp’s younger brother Michael reaffirms this. The sophomore insists that Harrison is one of the hardest working people he knows.
“He’s probably one of the best players on the team—maybe one of the best players in college soccer,” Michael maintains. “But he’s still always trying to get better; he’s always putting in that extra work and bringing 100 percent in practice.
“I definitely look up to him, as a soccer player and as a person. He’s been my role model the past 20 years. We grew up together – we shared a room together, and he’s been a role model ever since.”
Although the senior leadership from the tri-captains has been admittedly important, Shipp insists that it has been a collective effort so far. The team’s astounding record and ranking could not be accounted for without the hard work and dedication of all the players and coaches.
“We talked a lot after losing some really important pieces and players last year—we lost a great senior class last year in terms of talent both on and off the field,” Shipp explains. “We sat down in the spring and thought about how we could make this season special and we realized it was going to be a collective team effort and not just the effort of a couple individuals.
“So far this year, everyone is contributing, even more now than at the beginning of the season. Everyone is starting to score and get involved both on and off the field, so it’s really helped us.”
Regardless of Shipp’s humble approach to leadership, his guidance and character have proven to be important and are being recognized at a national level. All of the success of his collegiate career has culminated in his nomination for that Senior CLASS Award. He is one of 10 young men nominated for this prestigious award across the whole entire nation.
“It’s pretty special,” the senior captain says. “I think because it combines soccer, school, character, and community it shows the most well-rounded student athletes in soccer in the country. To even be put in the same sentence as those guys who are doing incredible things both on and off the field is a true reward.”
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