Telluride Girls' Lacrosse head coach Lindsey Mills, right, aids THS senior Sophie Sheppard — using her left hand with her dominant right immobilized due to a recent shoulder injury — in signing paperwork committing her to become a student-athlete at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. Sheppard will play for the school's NCAA Division III women's lacrosse team. Her decision was recognized Monday morning inside THS' MinerDome. (Photo by Joel Priest/Telluride Daily Planet)

Watched by Telluride Girls’ Lacrosse coaches Lindsey Mills, Jenna Hanson and Mary Mandell as she announced the next-level continuation of her student-athlete days, THS senior Sophie Sheppard knew a fourth was also scoping out the celebratory scene Monday morning inside the MinerDome:

The mentor who’d first put her on track towards becoming Pacific University’s newest goalkeeper recruit.

“In third grade, I started (playing) as a midfielder … running all over the field. And then one night in Grand Junction our goalie freaked out, and my coach kicked me into goal,” Sheppard recalled. “And ever since then, I’ve loved it.”

And though Lindsey Welch, a bedrock lacrosse proponent in the area, had passed away barely a year before (Feb. 9, 2022), she might have been prouder than anyone to see that Sheppard was never freaked out by or shied away from such a contact sport.

Probably would have laughed hardest, too, over the irony of Sheppard committing with a Boxers hoodie covering an immobilized right shoulder — she’d put pen to paper with her non-dominant left hand — separated in a hockey game days before.

“Hockey, the breeze going through your helmet — it’s really fun,” said a grinning Sheppard, with parents Adam Geetter and Tina Every-Clayton looking on. “Something about being cold and having to go skate is fun — the crispness is really good.”

And if blades and proverbial axes couldn’t scare her off the ice, no way basket-equipped sticks and balls could ever budge her off more-forgiving fields. Even the global COVID-19 pandemic, robbing her and her THS teammates of their entire Spring 2020 season (and pushing the ’21 campaign, delayed until mid-May, into mid-June), failed at that.

“Junior year we kicked it off and … we all connected, one way or another. And I got nominated for the best goalie on the Western Slope, had one of the best save percentages,” stated Sheppard, interested in outdoor leadership studies. “It’s awesome.”

Sounds like the sort of mentality a college crew would want to have protecting the net.

Even if Sheppard had never heard of a certain NCAA Division III school located in Forest Grove, Oregon.

“They actually found me. I never knew about the college until this year! I don’t even know how it happened; they just reached out and they were like, ‘You look awesome,’” she explained. “And we started talking with them; the coach was like, ‘We have a Jammin’ January Jambo(ree), which is basically like all the high schools near the college getting together, playing against each other for a fun day’ and we flew out there. I met the coach, saw the college and fell in love with it.”

“Their goalie’s leaving (after) this year,” Sheppard continued, “so they needed a goalie.”

Now-senior Amelia Haindl returns in 2023 after being named Honorable Mention All-Northwest Conference. She led the circuit in saves last spring with 164 in 15 games played (10.93 per), and played 870 of a possible 900 minutes for skipper Brittany Hartmann — Pacific’s 2012-13 Female Athlete-of-the-Year and Spring ’13 graduate — who will be entering her fifth season directing PU’s still-developing program.

Picked in the late-January preseason coaches’ poll to finish seventh out of seven squads in ’23, Pacific went 2-14 overall (0-12 NWC) last spring but lost only three seniors — including Honorable Mention All-Northwest attacker Katrina Boyd — off the roster, meaning the foundation for success should be improved.

Having already played an exhibition game upon Ledbetter Field at Hanson Stadium on Feb. 16 versus Portland, Oregon-based Multnomah University (NAIA), the Boxers’ 2023 season officially begins this Saturday afternoon, with an NWC game in Spokane, Washington, against Whitworth University’s Pirates.

A retrograde haul to Walla Walla — only six miles north of Oregon — follows the next day for conference action at Whitman College, before Pacific returns home to host non-conference Alma (Michigan) College Thursday evening, March 2. Conference work then resumes on March 4 versus Willamette (Salem, Oregon) University.

Part of CHSAA’s Class 4A Mountain West League, the Lady Miners (5-9, 3-5 MWL in ’22) are slated to get underway March 11 in Carbondale at 4A Mountain East member Roaring Fork. A trip to MWL rival Montrose on March 23 follows, preceding Telluride’s home opener on March 25 against MELers Gypsum Eagle Valley.

It’s reasonable to assume that any number of the preschoolers who took a field trip to witness Sheppard’s revelation might be in attendance for that 11 a.m. Saturday start. After all, she admitted she’s still, to an extent, one of them.

“I ‘grew up’ in the preschool,” she declared, “so I’ve known all the rules, and I think I’ve taught them since I was little! I’ve always tried to help out in the community, help upcoming freshmen or little kids trying lacrosse — encourage them once in a while and say ‘Go out there! Have fun!’ Lacrosse, hockey, skiing … whatever they’re interested in, go out and have fun!”

“Seeing kids I’ve, like, taught and watched grow come and watch me sign — like ‘Oh, that’s a person I know and can look up to!’ — was just awesome.”

DID YOU KNOW: The National Football League’s Dallas Cowboys held their first training camp (July 1960) at Pacific.