By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Erin Shanahan has a cousin, Meghan Keelan, who attended the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Shanahan is in her third year at University of Virginia, where she’s a government major.
They have yet to talk about UMBC’s historic upset of UVA in last season’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament, but Shanahan knows that conversation is coming.
“I’m sure over the holidays I will get some grief about it,” she said.
Keelan is head coach of the women’s lacrosse team at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. Shanahan played lacrosse for two years at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn, Md., before giving it up to focus on field hockey.
Her prowess in that sport earned her a scholarship to UVA, where she plays forward in head coach Michele Madison’s program. Shanahan’s ceiling as a player?
“Whatever she wants it to be,” Madison said.
In 2016, Shanahan contributed six goals and one assist as a key member of a UVA team that won the ACC tournament for the first time in program history.
As a sophomore last season, Shanahan started 12 games and totaled five goals and eight assists.
She’s started every game this season and has two assists for No. 7 Cavaliers (3-2 overall, 1-0 ACC), who were scheduled to play No. 1 North Carolina (6-0, 1-0) at 4 p.m. Friday in Chapel Hill. The game was postponed because of the threat of severe weather from Hurricane Florence.
The ‘Hoos are coming off a weekend in which they split two overtime games at the Turf Field, defeating No. 10 Syracuse and losing to No. 21 Old Dominion. Their challenge, Shanahan said, is to “figure out how to bounce back after a tough game for our next one in the same weekend.”
Shanahan is from Pasadena, Md., about 12 miles north of Annapolis. She picked up a field hockey stick as a girl because, she said, her older sister, Kasey, started playing, and “I wanted to do everything like her when I was younger.”
At Archbishop Spalding, Shanahan had a sensational career, totaling 94 goals and 50 assists, and as a senior she was named the area’s player of the year by three newspapers: Annapolis’ Capital Gazette, the Baltimore Sun and the Washington Times.
As she considered her college options, Shanahan said, “I wanted to stay within a five-hour driving distance to my house, and I wanted to go to a top-10 D-1 [program]. I was looking at a couple places, but when I visited here, my parents and I were like, ‘Wow!’ “
Her UVA experience has met her expectations, Shanahan said. “It’s been great so far. I love the school. I love the atmosphere and the Grounds.”
On the field, Shanahan went through a transition period, as many newcomers do. After joining the Cavaliers’ program, Madison said, Shanahan “had to make an adjustment to the speed of the [college] game.”
A greater commitment to fitness allowed Shanahan to play at the tempo required for success at the highest level of college field hockey, Madison said.
“She has the skills to do it,” Madison said.
Shanahan returned Charlottesville in August after an uneventful summer. She was identified years ago by USA Field Hockey, the sport’s national governing body, as a top prospect, and in June she competed at the Young Women’s National Championship.
As a result of her performance at that tournament, Shanahan was named to U.S. Women’s Development Squad, a team for players who are not eligible for the Under-21 U.S. Women’s National Team but may one day be candidates for the senior USWNT.
UVA goalkeeper Carrera Lucas was a repeat selection on the U.S. Development Squad, which trained and competed in Lancaster, Pa.
Shanahan had previously played in the Young Women’s National Championship, but this marked her first appearance on one of USA Field Hockey’s national teams.
“I was nervous a little bit, just because it was my first time, and I was playing with girls who’d done this in U17 and U19,” she said. “But I was also pretty confident in my abilities to hang with it.”
Her involvement with USA Field Hockey made for a busy summer.
“This year it just seemed I was getting selected again and again and again,” Shanahan said. “I had to push back some vacations, but it was worth it.”
As might be surmised from her name, Shanahan comes from a family with strong Irish roots. “On both my mom’s side and my dad’s side,” she said.
Her father works for the Anne Arundel County police department. “I don’t want to be a police officer myself,” Shanahan said, “but I think what he does is very interested.”
A career related to the law is a possibility for Shanahan, who lives with teammate Anzel Viljoen, former teammate Averi Bent and women’s soccer player Sarah Maurer.
She’s in no rush to make that decision. It’s early in the school year, and much of her focus is on field hockey. Virginia lost its top two scorers – first-team All-Americans Tara Vittese and Pien Dicke – from its 2017 team but added a large, talented first-year class.
Shanahan has taken on more of a leadership role this season and believes the ‘Hoos will steadily improve as the fall progresses.
“I think we’re really excited to see where it goes,” she said.