Nov. 2, 2009
Shelly Moeller has had quite an eventful ride during her three-plus years at the Naval Academy, both on the soccer field and off.
She has helped shape the Navy women's soccer program into not only the most successful in the Patriot League, but into one of the top teams year-in and year-out nationally. Entering this season, Navy was just one of 10 teams nationally to record at least 10 wins in 14 straight years. Moeller has helped by leading the Mids to a 14-4-2 record in 2009 and a 64-15-10 (.775) record during her four years at Navy - the seventh-best mark in all of women's soccer since 2006.
However, last year left a bitter taste in the mouth of Moeller and her teammates. After earning the top seed in the Patriot League Tournament by virtue of the regular-season title, the Mids were topped in overtime by rival Army in their bid for their third straight league title.
However, Moeller says that the team is not about revenge, just about getting back to the top of the league standings and back into the NCAA Tournament.
"We are driven enough as a program to be the top team in the league, so that we really don't need any other motivation," said Moeller. "We used the loss to Army last year as motivation in the game two weeks ago (a 2-0 Navy win), but that is not going to help us down the road. Being in the NCAA Tournament the first two years really makes you hungry to want to get back, especially as a senior. In your minds, that goal is always sitting there. That is our motivation this year."
Moeller attracted the attention of colleges, playing for Ursuline Academy and the Peddie School (N.J.). She was a three-sport standout, but started receiving letters during her sophomore and junior year in high school. She had played volleyball and softball and ran track in addition to playing soccer, but knew once she started drawing interest, that soccer would be the sport she would want to play in college.
"It was hard to give up the other sports, but I knew I had to. I was going to practice after school, then would have to go to club practice after that," said Moeller. "It was just getting tough to balance everything out. It didn't hurt my schoolwork, but I am sure it would have if I continued trying to play everything.
"I was fortunate enough that my high school track coach was also my soccer coach, so she knew of the commitment I had to soccer, and she allowed me to miss track practice a couple days a week, so I could go to club soccer practice," said Moeller. "Her allowing me to do that helped me get recruited and seen, and that is when I realized that I wanted to play college soccer."
However, when the recruiting process started, the Ohio native was not even thinking of attending the Naval Academy. Her top prior choice was Cincinnati and she had also looked at Bowling Green, Dartmouth and Ball State.
She received her first recruiting letter from head coach Carin Gabarra and associate head coach Rob Blanck, and promptly threw it in the trash. If not for the quick hands of her father, Robert, Navy's soccer fortunes may not be what they are today.
"I remember getting the letter from Carin and Rob and throwing it in the trash. I had never heard of the Naval Academy and was pretty sure I didn't want to go to a service academy," said Moeller. "Knowing that I liked structure, my dad fished the letter out of the trash and said, `Just take a look at it and give it a chance.' I came on a visit and fell in love with it. The soccer program was rising, they had just built this brand new, gorgeous facility (the Glenn Warner Soccer Facility) and the campus was beautiful with a great atmosphere. From the beginning, it just felt right."
Even with all the positive vibes from the campus and what it had to offer, one issue sealed the deal for Moeller to become a member of the Navy soccer team.
"The team chemistry that the soccer team has here is unlike anything I had ever seen," said Moeller. "Everywhere else I visited, there were cliques and groups doing their own thing. I never saw that here and have never seen it here. Everyone gets along great and knows everyone's plans. It was moreso like a family than a team."
Once she got here, she was thrown into the proverbial fire since day one. Playing as an offensive midfielder her whole life, Gabarra threw her into the center back position almost immediately as a freshman. Moeller admits the transition was a little overwhelming at first, but she also felt prepared, thanks in large part to a prep-school year at the Peddie School.
"The year at Peddie was huge for me and really prepared me for life at the Academy. The first year is tough enough being away from home and doing all the plebe summer stuff. I was fortunate in that I didn't have to struggle with both things at once. I am not sure what would have happened if I did have to do it all at once," said Moeller. "You just have to get used to people yelling in your face and barking out orders. I just kept the mindset of that it's not that bad and you just get through it. It really helped we were so successful on the soccer field. It kept my mind away from everything."
All Moeller did in her first year at Navy was direct a defense that ranked among the nation's leaders in all statistical categories, record a 21-2-1 mark and advance to the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Moeller was a Soccer Buzz Freshmen All-American, an All-Region selection and the 2006 Patriot League Tournament MVP and co-Defender of the Year.
"At the beginning of the season, I thought Carin and Rob were crazy for putting me in the back. I was thinking to myself that I had been here a month and they are throwing me in the back to fill these huge shoes of Lindsay Adlam, who was the team captain the year before," said Moeller. "I was forced to pick it up and mature quickly. It meant a lot to me that they had that much trust in me.
"As a plebe, it's hard, because you're kind of still learning about your teammates and nervous to ask questions. Christi Coonfare really helped me through a lot of the beginning steps of playing in the back and coordinating the defense and when to step in and stay in position. I am sure I annoyed people with all my questions," added Moeller.
Moeller also has a fan in her head coach Carin Gabarra, who made the wise decision to move Moeller into the back.
"Her athleticism and her ability to stick out made it a natural move. She was not a defender, but she is so athletic and works so hard, that it was an easy decision to make," said Gabarra. "If she made a mistake, she was tactical enough and athletic enough to be able to correct it and recover.
"I think what sets her apart is her ability and competitiveness to switch gears. She is able to train at her best all the time, and is all business all the time," said Gabarra. "She is the same way in classroom. She works extremely hard at being successful in class too. It did not come easy to her and does the extra things to go the extra mile. Once she gets in between the lines or in the classroom, she can switch it on and off quite seamlessly."
Since Gabarra made the move four years ago to install her at the center back position, Moeller has started every game since -- 89 of them and counting. "Coming in as a freshman, I never thought I would start that many. I wouldn't have if it wouldn't be for the people around me, teaching me how to play," added Moeller. "You come in as a freshman and you hope to play a few minutes and hope you start a couple of games, but never would I have expected to start all 85 games. Now, I am the one trying to teach our younger players and keep the program on the upswing."
Moeller, who owns a 3.54 GPA in oceanography and has twice been an ESPN the Magazine Academic All-District II first-team selection and been on the Commandant's List all six previous semesters, is keeping her options open following commissioning. Right now, her main focus in the classroom is testing ocean water, sediment, sands and basically the organisms that accumulate over time. Two weeks ago, she traveled to Assateague Island, obtained core samples and has taken them back to a lab to analyze.
"It's hard to think about what I want to do after my five years of service. I am not going to say I want to get out of the military, because I could picture myself being happy what I am doing," said Moeller, who plans to service select surface warfare with an oceanography option. "Eventually, I guess I want to get out to the Monterrey Bay and study in oceanography and meteorology. I am fascinated by it. It will always be there and will always be changing."
Currently, Moeller ranks 112th on the Overall Order of Merit among Navy seniors, but is 20th on the Military Order of Merit.
"I definitely worked hard to get where I am in the classroom. It's obviously important here with rankings," said Moeller. "To me, it just shows people that you care. The good thing about Navy is that if you need help, you can get help. As long as you stay on top of your coursework and seek help if you need, its definitely feasible to succeed in classroom."
In the meantime, Moeller is going to enjoy her last month of her collegiate soccer career with her teammates and classmates, while focusing on sending Navy to its third NCAA Tournament during her four-year career.
"I have such a great relationship off and on the field with my teammates and classmates. We are always hanging out with each other. We have our other friends and groups, but we spend a lot of time together and we have each other's backs on the field. It's like they are my sisters here," said Moeller. "I love that there is only four of us seniors left on the team. It makes us much closer as a group. If it weren't for them, who knows if any of us would still be on the team. They are just a great group to be around.
"I have been blessed to have such a great support unit. My teammates, Carin and Rob and my family have really enabled me to succeed here. Without any of them, none of this would have been possible," said Moeller, who noted that her parents drive upwards of eight hours one way to watch her play as much as possible.
With Moeller holding down the back, Navy appears poised to reach the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
It would be the fitting end to a standout career.