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Senior defender Laura Shelton has come a long way during her four years at Penn and has started the last 18 games for the Quakers.

Credit: Amanda Jiacheng Shen

Laura Shelton might not score much, but she is a force nonetheless for Penn field hockey.

In the 2018 season, the Schwenksville, Pa. native started 13 of the team's 17 games, playing every minute against 10 opponents. So far this season, she has already seen 234 minutes of action against the first five opponents. But the senior defender's field hockey journey and path to Penn started far before her time on campus. For her, the sport runs deep in her family.

“My aunt is the head coach at [North Carolina] and her husband is also a coach at UNC. This is her 39th year, so she was the main reason I got into field hockey," Shelton said. “My mom never played, and I think she was my only aunt that did, so she recommended it for me and recommended what club to go to and it always made sense to me. I played other sports growing up, but field hockey was just always my favorite.”

While she grew up playing the sport like most other collegiate field hockey players, Shelton’s recruiting path was a bit unconventional.

“My path to Penn was a little different than most field hockey recruiting. Typically, you commit in fall of your junior year of high school, but I wasn’t even looking at Penn until winter of my junior year," she said. "I was looking at other Ivies and other schools close to where I’m from, like Villanova and Lehigh … but then I just knew I wanted to go close to home, which is 45 minutes outside of Philly, so I emailed Coach Colleen [Fink] and Coach Colby in probably January of my junior year, and they invited me to a clinic and then offered me a spot. So it worked out perfectly.” 

Credit: Gillian Diebold

It really did work out perfectly; Shelton’s reflections of her past three years at Penn have been overwhelmingly positive, both on and off the field. She says her favorite moment thus far was when the team upset ACC powerhouse Syracuse.

“When we beat them, I think they were ranked [No.] 10 in the country and we hadn’t beaten any ranked teams in any of the past years," she said. “So that was just a crazy, crazy win and a huge stepping stone for the program in showing everyone that we really are here to compete in the NCAA.” 

Off the field, Shelton says her favorite thing about Penn is the people, both on her team and in the classroom.

“I come from a pretty small, suburban town and never really ventured outside my city," the senior said. “So just coming to Philly and meeting all different types of people and seeing different personalities has been very eye opening.” 

With only a few months left in the season and even in her entire senior year, Shelton, like the other field hockey seniors, must grapple with the reality of her legacy and with making the most out of her remaining time at Penn. Shelton hopes that her legacy with the program inspires younger players to work hard, prepare, and perform.

“I think the biggest thing for me is leaving the program better off than when I came, and I think the biggest thing I can do is just do that by meeting other people, setting a good example, and showing that hard work really pays off," Shelton said. “That’s what I think I want my legacy to be. … When people think of me, I want them to think of someone who is hardworking at every practice and that it shows in games.”

When it comes to what Shelton will do after the season, the future still remains unclear.

“I don’t know yet what I’m going to do yet in the spring, since field hockey is my whole life here. Actually in-season I think it’s a lot easier to cope with school because I’m on such a strict schedule and have to get things done because I have such limited time," she said. “So I’m not sure what the spring is going to look like yet.”

As the season continues, Shelton and the rest of the field hockey seniors will look to make the most of their remaining time with the Red and Blue, both on and off the field, before it is time for graduation.

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