By Jeff White (

CHARLOTTESVILLE — In 2015, when Alexis Shaffer was named to the All-ACC second team, University of Virginia women’s soccer coach Steve Swanson thought she deserved better.

“I felt she had an incredible year for a midfielder in this conference,” Swanson said.

A 5-7 senior from Cary, N.C., Shaffer suffered no such slight this fall. She recently received two of the league’s top individual awards — offensive player of the year and midfielder of the year — and was named to the all-ACC first team after a regular season in which Virginia tied for fourth in the conference.

“I tell the players all the time that when you play a team sport, it’s nice to get the individual recognition, but there are times that you don’t get those for reasons that are outside of your control,” Swanson said.

“I didn’t think Shaff got her due last year. But that sort of thing happens. But for her to put two years together like she has, and to score almost 30 goals and 15 assists in two years playing in the ACC and playing the caliber of competition we’re playing, is pretty incredible.”

With 32 points, on 13 goals and six assists, Shaffer is far and away the leading scorer for Virginia (14-4-2), which meets Penn State (12-4-4) in a second-round game Friday at 11 a.m. at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

In each of Shaffer’s first three college seasons, Virginia played at Klöckner Stadium in the second and third rounds.

“It’s definitely going to be different [Friday], but we have to take it just as we would any other game, as if it was at home,” Shaffer said. “We have to look at the opponent and go out on the field and compete as hard as we can, because if you do lose, you go home.”

The UVA-Penn State winner will face Georgetown or Rutgers in the third round Sunday. The Nittany Lions are the defending NCAA champions, and “I think that definitely adds more motivation,” Shaffer said, “because I think we’re a good-enough team to come out any day and beat any team.”

In 2013, when Shaffer was a freshman, the Wahoos reached the College Cup in her hometown of Cary, where they fell in the semifinals to UCLA in a penalty-kick shootout.

In 2014, the `Hoos advanced to the NCAA title game for the first time in program history, losing 1-0 to Florida State in Boca Raton, Fla. Their postseason run last year ended with a stunning loss to Rutgers on penalty kicks in the NCAA quarterfinals at KlÃÆ’¶ckner Stadium.

Shaffer, who scored two goals in a first-round win over Monmouth last Friday night, has reached the stage of her career where every game could her last as a Cavalier. That doesn’t faze her.

“It’s very exciting,” Shaffer said, “because these are the biggest moments of the whole year, and these are also, I think, the most exciting, because you’re playing for a championship.”

Her profile in Virginia’s program has steadily risen. As a freshman, Shaffer started one game and totaled 15 points (three goals and nine assists). As a sophomore, in a midfield that featured All-Americans Morgan Brian and Danielle Colaprico, she started 18 games and had 19 points (seven goals and five assists).

“I think the mentorship she got, and the experience she got playing with players like Morgan and Danielle, really made a difference for her,” Swanson said.

Shaffer agreed.

“They were definitely my idols and my heroes my first and my second year,” she said, “but they were always very encouraging to me, and I just tried to look up to them and look up to how they played. Because they did tell me, and I did realize, that once they were gone I would need to fill their shoes, and they have huge shoes to fill. But they just gave me a lot of confidence my first two years and also a lot of tips. So I think that’s helped me the past two years without them.”

As a junior last year, Shaffer was the Cavaliers’ second-leading scorer. She had 36 points (14 goals and eight assists), only three fewer than UVA forward Makenzy Doniak, the ACC’s offensive player of the year. With 102 career points, Shaffer is tied for sixth all-time at Virginia.

“She’s just a unique talent,” Swanson said. “There are a lot of qualities that she has as a player that you just don’t see [often]. Her ability to create goals for herself, especially from distance, is rare, and she can do it with both feet.”

Swanson smiled. “It would be like if you had a 3-point shooter in basketball, but not only can she shoot the three left-handed, she can shoot it right-handed.”

For opponents, limiting Shaffer’s effectiveness is a top priority, but that’s no easy task.

“She’s done a remarkable job of creating chances for herself,” Swanson said, “making space for herself on the field and getting goals for herself, despite the attention that she’s gotten from defenses.”

Shaffer comes from a family with strong ties to several other ACC schools. Her grandfather, Lee Shaffer, was the ACC men’s basketball player of the year for North Carolina in 1959-60. Her father, David Shaffer, starred in hoops at Clemson and Florida State.

“They have become 100-percent Virginia fans,” Shaffer said of her family members. “They love this school, they love the atmosphere, they love coming to watch my games, and I wouldn’t be anything without their support.”

A media studies major, Shaffer will graduate next month, after which she plans to pursue a professional career in the National Women’s Soccer League. She’ll miss the University.

“This place is absolutely amazing,” Shaffer said.

In soccer, her dream is to represent the United States on its national team, whose current players include former UVA greats Becky Sauerbrunn, Emily Sonnett, Brian and Colaprico.

Shaffer played with Sonnett, Brian and Colaprico at Virginia, and their post-college achievements inspire and motivate her.

“I saw them work hard their years here while I was playing with them, and so I just think that if I continue to work just as hard as they do, then I’ll hopefully get the [same] opportunity,” said Shaffer, who has represented the U.S. at the U18 and U23 levels.

Swanson, also one of the USWNT’s assistant coaches, has seen Shaffer become a more well-rounded player during her college career. Her ability to defend may determine how far she advances in the sport.

“I think she still has room to grow in that area,” Swanson said, “and that could make the difference for her down the road, about what level she wants to get to.”

When her soccer career ends, Shaffer hopes to work in sports media. For now, she’s focused on her final postseason. Virginia entered the 64-team NCAA tournament as one of the four No. 3 seeds.

“I think the expectations obviously are very high for our team and will continually be high for the team,” Swanson said.

Freshmen and sophomores dominate the Cavaliers’ roster this season, and “I think there’s been some inherent challenges in that, but I don’t think we’re far off from where we could be and should be,” Swanson said.

“When you get to this stage, you’re going to have to play well to win, whether you’re at home or not, whether you’re on the road or not, whether you’re seeded or not. It doesn’t matter. You’re going to have to play well and you’re going to have to perform well to get a result, and I think we’re very capable of that.”

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