The first time College of Charleston soccer coach Ralph Lundy laid eyes on keeper Kevin Shields, he saw a tall, skinny, lanky kid with a tremendous amount of potential.
Shields, who started his collegiate career at Division II powerhouse Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., was looking to transfer and had his list down to Winthrop and the College of Charleston.
The Cougars had a couple of solid keepers already on their roster, but Lundy knew that you could never have too many quality goalies in your program.
“Kevin was a good high school keeper, but hadn’t really developed physically,” Lundy said. “He was 6-4 and skinny, but he was pretty athletic and I did some homework on him and realized that he had a pretty high ceiling. Some people, some athletes, just mature at a different speed, and I thought Kevin’s best soccer was still ahead of him.”
Lundy was right.
The Cougars (7-7-2) will take on James Madison (4-9-4) in the quarterfinals of the Colonial Athletic Association soccer tournament at Patriots Point on Saturday at 7 p.m. It is the first time the fourth-seeded Cougars have made it to the CAA Tournament since joining the league in 2013.
A big reason why the Cougars are in the tournament is the play of Shields.
Despite playing in only 13 games, Shields ended the regular season ranked second in the CAA in save percentage (.803), saves per game (4.69) and saves (61). The Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., native ranks 20th in saves per game (4.69) and 36th in save percentage (.803) nationally.
Not bad for a guy who didn’t begin the season as the Cougars’ starter in net. Alex Young, a fifth-year senior, opened the season as starter, but injured his shoulder early in September.
“Coach is always stressing that you’ve got to be ready when your time comes and I was ready,” said Shields, who sat out last season after transferring from Lynn. “You never want to see a teammate go down and Alex was playing great for us, but when my opportunity came, I knew I needed to make the most of it.”
Shields’ first start came against UC Santa Barbara, a traditional power on the West Coast. Despite giving up a late goal in a 3-1 loss, Shields was the star of the game, making nine saves.
“I was a little nervous before that game because they’ve got such a great team,” Shields said. “I don’t think the final score really indicates how close that game was. That late goal really bothered me because we’d played them pretty tough.”
From there, Shields settled into the starting lineup, making save after save and giving the Cougars a chance to win every game.
“I’m not sure we’d be in the tournament and had as good a season as we had without Kevin playing like he did,” Lundy said. “He’s just had a great season. He keeps getting better and better every day. He stepped up after Alex had started out the season so strong. Kevin just takes care of business and he continues to grow.”
Shields is convinced that close losses to second-ranked North Carolina (3-2) and 21st-ranked Elon (1-0, 2 OT) and a win over nationally-ranked Hofstra gives the Cougars plenty of momentum going into the CAA Tournament.
“Everyone in our locker room believes that we can win the tournament,” Shields said. “We beat Hofstra, lost to Elon in double overtime, so we’ve proven we can play with the best teams in this conference.”