By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE – During his illustrious lacrosse career at the University of Pennsylvania, John Shoemaker was an All-Ivy League attackman for whom shooting was the first, second and, sometimes, third option. He left Penn with a grand total of 11 assists and never had more than five in a season.
His younger daughter, Avery Shoemaker, has had a more varied impact at the University of Virginia. In her four seasons with the Cavaliers, she has 38 assists. Like her father, though, Shoemaker is first and foremost a goal-scorer.
“I think it’s just always something I’ve been good at,” she said.
At Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, the 5-7 Shoemaker scored a staggering 237 goals in her four seasons on the varsity, 71 of them as a senior. At UVA, where she’s in her third year as a starting attacker, she’s been prolific, too.
With at least two games left in her college career, Shoemaker has 133 goals. Teammate Sammy Mueller, a junior midfielder, is 10th all-time at UVA with 136, Kate Breslin (2004-07) is ninth with 138, and Liza Blue (2012-15) is eighth with 139.
Shoemaker, a first-team All-ACC selection in 2018, was named to the second team this spring. She’s a natural right-hander, but as a girl she developed a strong left hand in workouts with her father. That’s made her especially versatile on the lacrosse field.
“She’s a super-talented athlete, and she’s a great shooter with both hands,” UVA head coach Julie Myers said. “I want to keep her with me for as long as I can, because she is a money shooter, and they don’t come around too often.”
Heading into the ACC tournament, Shoemaker has a team-high 46 goals this season. (Mueller is next with 40). At 2 p.m. Wednesday, in the second ACC quarterfinal, UVA (12-5) takes on fourth-seeded Syracuse (14-3) in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
When they met March 2 at the Carrier Dome, the Orange defeated the Cavaliers 16-11. That was Virginia’s first game without midfielder Annie Dyson, a talented freshman who four days earlier had suffered a season-ending knee injury.
“It was such a blow to lose Annie, but Syracuse played well,” Myers said. “We dug a ditch early, and we started to climb out of it, but it was too late and too big.”
UVA enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak. The Wahoos closed the regular season Saturday at Klöckner Stadium, where they scored the game’s final six goals in a 13-10 victory over Virginia Tech. Shoemaker contributed four goals and an assist.
“I had a great experience,” she said. “I feel like I’ve always watched [teammates] going through their Senior Days, and I was like, ‘I’ll never get there.’ ”
When it finally arrived, her Senior Day provided plenty of drama. Deep into the second half, the Hoos were in danger of losing a Commonwealth Clash point to the Hokies.
“I was telling my parents, our team definitely likes to keep things exciting,” Shoemaker said, smiling. “I feel like the whole time we knew we were going to win that game. When we were going to come back was the question.”
That Shoemaker became an elite athlete should surprise no one. Her father scored a program-record 44 goals for Penn as a senior in 1987. Her mother, Alison, played ice hockey at St. Lawrence University.
“I had a lot of competitive genes,” said Shoemaker, a media studies major at Virginia.
At Penn Charter, whose alumni include former UVA basketball players Sean Singletary and Sammy Zeglinski, Shoemaker became known for her prowess in lacrosse and field hockey. Off campus, she played ice hockey for Wissahickon Skating Club through the ninth grade.
“I played with my boys my whole life, just because there wasn’t really a girls team [nearby],” Shoemaker said. “The problem was, my ninth-grade year is when the boys started actually growing. And that was kind of when I started getting hit a lot harder. I got a concussion, and there wasn’t much the guys on my team could do to help me.”
Shoemaker, a left wing, loved playing ice hockey for Wissahickon, “just because it was a close-knit club program. But I was definitely targeted by other teams. When I would do a good move and score a goal, they definitely got angry.”
And so she chose to focus on lacrosse. Still, her experience on the ice has helped her on the field.
“I think in general just playing with guys taught me to be aggressive and taught me to stand up for myself,” Shoemaker said. “And I think that’s why I can score so many goals, just because I don’t really care who’s in my way. I’m just going to go to the goal, no matter what.”
That can be a problem, she acknowledged, “when I start getting charges during a game, and I have to hold myself back and be able to play a little smarter, but that aggression definitely has helped me in being able to stand up for myself. The guys were able to beat me up a little bit, but I was able to bounce back and play a little smarter than them.”
At Penn Charter, Shoemaker played lacrosse for head coach Channing Weymouth, whose sister, Blair, starred for Myers at UVA.
Shoemaker has strong family ties to Penn and seriously considered staying in Philly for college. “I loved Penn,” she said, “but I always had this dream of playing in the ACC.
“I was looking at other [schools too], but I narrowed it down to Penn and UVA pretty quickly. I really loved Julie when I met her and fell in love with the school when I came here for a camp.”
She committed to Virginia in January of her sophomore year. She finished her career at Penn Charter with 88 assists, but her talent as a goal-scorer overshadowed her playmaking ability. She often shot out of necessity.
“That’s what I did to keep our team in games,” Shoemaker said.
Myers said: “She was definitely the best player on the team, but it was not a great team. Everybody was like, ‘Just go, just go.’ Even her teammates were like, ‘Our best chance of winning is if Avery shoots.’ “
Shoemaker’s role changed when she arrived at UVA, where she played in only six games as a freshman in 2016.
“She joined a pretty good attacking team her first year,” Myers said, “and she could score goals, but she had to learn how to play with her teammates. She had never had the experience in high school where she was one of the seven out there. She was always the one of the seven. And so it took a little bit of time for her to learn how to move with the ball and with her teammates and when to feed and when to go.”
As a sophomore, Shoemaker became a starter and finished with 46 points (on 34 goals and 12 assists). She was third on the team with 62 points in 2018, when Virginia advanced to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. This season, Shoemaker and Mueller are tied for the team lead with 61 points apiece.
The ACC tournament runs through Sunday at Boston College, and all seven games will be broadcast on the ACC Regional Sports Network (RSN) and ACC Network Extra. Then comes the NCAA tourney, to which the Cavaliers will advance for the 24th consecutive season.
Shoemaker knows the end of her college career is approaching, and “it’s definitely surreal,” she said. “Every year when you get to this point of ACCs and the NCAA tournament, everything kind of goes by so fast that I’m almost trying to hold on to the moments a little bit and make it go a little slower.”
The Hoos haven’t reached the Final Four since 2014, and that’s a major goal, Shoemaker said. “But I think ACCs right now is probably our biggest focus. We’ve talked about it a lot, and this is something we really want, and it’s definitely within our reach.”
Injuries to Dyson and others have slowed the Cavaliers’ momentum at times this season, but they’ve also created opportunities for other players, Myers said.
“From top to bottom it’s just a super-cohesive group, and they love playing with each other,” she said. “Their drive is not only to win, but it’s to keep their season going, because they don’t want to leave each other anytime soon.”