After years away, UHV freshman back on the pitch
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Until this week, Sheilat Akapo had never traveled to California.
The trip to San Marcos, Calif., with the rest of the UHV women's soccer team illustrated just how unique her journey was to college soccer.
"It's my first time going to California and I get to go with family," said Akapo, who is called Sheila by her teammates and coaches.
Akapo, a freshman from Houston, played eight matches this year - the first of which was against Texas A&M-International Oct. 8 - and contributed three goals, an assist, and a new variable to the Jaguars attack this season.
Not bad for someone who had not played organized soccer in nearly five years.
"I have played for fun at the YMCA, but I never played on a club team, or a high school team," Akapo said after an Oct. 24 match.
Akapo started playing soccer in middle school. At the time she was on a team, but once she arrived at Houston Kerr she mostly played pick-up soccer, since Kerr didn't have a varsity soccer team.
UHV soccer coach Adrian Rigby probably has a number of stories to tell when it comes to the recruitment of his players. Akapo's may be one of the more unique.
Usually, Rigby will scout a player at a tournament, or watch them during their club, or varsity seasons. With Akapo that wasn't possible.
"We were emailing back and forth throughout the summer," Rigby recalled earlier this week, while the Jaguars were training for the Association of Independent Institutions tournament in San Marcos. "We always like to see the kids play before they come in for the preseason. We gave her the opportunity to come out the first day of classes.
"She came out and impressed us. You never want to turn down a girl that can score goals."
UHV lost to No. 15 Cal State San Marcos 2-0 Friday afternoon in the A.I.I. conference tournament to close its season with a 7-11 record. Akapo started the match at forward. She didn't have a shot, but did pick up a yellow card in the 84th minute.
In the offseason, Rigby said he looks forward to working with the freshman about the mental and tactical side of the game.
Akapo's physical gifts are apparent to even the untrained eye. Her speed, dribbling ability and calm finishing gave the UHV attack another dimension in the second half of the season.
Though her teammates have readily bonded with Akapo the freshman forward is very quick to deflect away any attention to others. She thanked her teammates for quickly accepting her and making her feel like one of the girls.
"Sheila is very, very fast," said defender Arielle McGillis. "That's one of her main strengths. When we clear it, and we're under pressure in the back, then we know that Sheila can get onto the ball because she can beat anyone of those defenders."
At 5-feet-8-inches tall, she also has the size to hold the ball up and allow fellow attackers like Lauren Maresh, Ciara Devore, Nori Martinez, Iris Mares and others to get forward as well.
"She's been a great surprise," Rigby said. "I'm really looking forward to working with her and giving her more knowledge about the game."