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McCafferty helps usher in Duluth's soccer era at UMD

Duluth, in the early-to-mid-1990's, was not exactly what you would call a hot bed of prep soccer talent. The sport was still in its infantile stages in the city, and many of the teams participating featured several girls who couldn't discern a bi...

Duluth, in the early-to-mid-1990's, was not exactly what you would call a hot bed of prep soccer talent. The sport was still in its infantile stages in the city, and many of the teams participating featured several girls who couldn't discern a bicycle kick from a bicycle seat. From those humble beginnings, however, came today's soccer craze, made possible by pioneers like UMD forward Shannon McCafferty.
A Duluth Denfeld High School graduate, McCafferty began playing the game at age five. She flirted with basketball and softball, but she gave her heart to soccer as a ninth-grader. That year she played an integral part in Denfeld's first-ever varsity soccer adventure as the team's goalkeeper.
"We recruited pretty much anyone that wanted to play," she said. "We struggled, and I pretty much got shelled."
But she wasn't about to give up. McCafferty eventually received a part-time reprieve from her goal-keeping duties when the Hunters finally found a back-up, and with that, she blossomed into one of the city's most versatile players, leading the Hunters in scoring and earning All-Lake Superior Conference honors.
However, that was nearly the end of McCafferty's soccer story.
"I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to college or play soccer," McCafferty said.
Then she met UMD head coach Greg Cane during the summer following her graduation, and he told her to come to UMD and give it a shot. She still wasn't sure, but she did finally show up to her first college practice - late - after her mom gave her a final prompting.
"She told me that I would miss it if I didn't go," said McCafferty.
Her college career, however, began much like her high school career did, with the then-freshman practicing in goal with the Bulldogs, but the similarities ended there.
"It was really different because you're used to going into the high school team and knowing people," she said. "Here, you don't know anybody. At the team physical they had to keep taking my blood pressure because I was so nervous."
But her nerves quickly calmed when the team's veterans welcomed her as one of their own.
"Everybody was really nice," she said.
By the next year she was once again converted from a goalkeeper, this time into midfielder, playing regularly for the Bulldogs. And when UMD met Winona State with the conference title on the line, it was McCafferty that took a pass from Duluth Central graduate Laura Cheney and passed off to Beth Byers for the game-winning goal.
That moment became the confluence of McCafferty's dreams and Duluth's soccer potential.
"Growing up in Duluth, you always hear about UMD sports, and growing up, I always wanted to be a Bulldog," she said. "And there's a lot of pride that goes along with playing here for me because not many kids from 1996 went on to play college soccer, so it's a big accomplishment. And now more girls from our area are going to be able to have the chance."
And they'll have that chance thanks to pioneers like McCafferty, now a stalwart senior on the nationally-ranked UMD soccer team.
"My only regret would have been if I wouldn't have decided to play," she said.

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