She keeps Gators reaching for more
By STEVE LEE, Times Staff Writer
LAND O'LAKES -- Junior goalkeeper Shannon Aitken has started all but one game for Land O'Lakes in three varsity seasons.
But if she had not been so tired on one ill-fated drive to school as a sophomore, Aitken might never have played another game.
Aitken had several staples clipped to two spots in her head as a result of a December 2001 car accident with her brother, Jeremy, driving.
"They said I would have been decapitated if I was sitting up straight, but I was sleeping against the (passenger front) door," said Aitken, who has driven with her brother just once since.
Having set the school single-season shutout record (18) as a freshman, Aitken recorded 14 last season. This season, she broke her own record with 19 and has 51 career shutouts.
"She's an outstanding keeper," Land O'Lakes coach Vicky King said. "She's a great practice player and she trains hard."
Aitken's single-season and career marks surpassed the totals of Mandy Stephens (Class of 2000), who had 11 shutouts in 1996-97 and 49 career.
"I'm hoping to get more (shutouts) now," Aitken said. "I've got another whole year."
Aitken thought she had No. 52 Friday in the Gators' 4-1 Class 2A, Region 2 final win over Daytona Beach Seabreeze. Especially after thwarting Lindsay Brauer on a breakaway.
"It was like, "Wow,' " Aitken recalled of her sliding stop against Brauer. "But she scored on me anyway, so she kind of made up for it."
Brauer's goal in the 77th minute, foiled Aitken's shutout bid but wasn't enough to prevent Land O'Lakes from advancing to the state tournament for the first time.
Aitken, who began playing soccer as an 11-year-old in the Central Pasco United Soccer Association, switched to keeper after two years as a forward. That move was made, in part, because she had shortness of breath from anxiety.
Though she allowed a goal between her legs in her first game, Alan Spratley, the father of LOL teammate Sophie Spratley and a former keeper in the English professional leagues, honed Aitken's skills.
Now, Aitken said, "I love playing keeper."
Gators sweeper Tara Eugenides, who also has been Aitken's teammate on Hillsborough United for two seasons, is the most familiar with Aitken. On the Land O'Lakes defensive unit, no one talks more in back than Aitken and Eugenides.
And perhaps no one more than Eugenides has witnessed Aitken evolve from an inexperienced freshman thrust into a starting role to a veteran vying for a state championship.
"She's well-rounded," Eugenides said. "She has no real weaknesses. For as tall as she is (5 feet 9) she gets down real quick. She reads the play well.
"You can't have a good defense without a good keeper and vice versa."
Aitken's .666 save percentage stems, in part she said, because of a solid defense.
"They're amazing," said Aitken, who sported a school-record low .565 save percentage last season. "I would have (faced) a lot more shots if I didn't have Tara and the others back there."
King started Aitken as a freshman to replace Stephens. King chose Aitken over Amanda Smith, the Gators' current backup who played keeper at Pine View while Aitken played sweeper.
"I had seen her play before," King said of Aitken. "She played up a year (on competitive teams in the Central Pasco United Soccer Association), so she played with (most of Land O'Lakes' 10) seniors."
For Aitken, advancing to the state tourney with that group would be even better if the Gators win it all.
"It would be awesome," Aitken said, "especially since I played with them in middle school and on club."
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