By Tim Letcher
SEC Digital Network
Ann Shelton is the ultimate team player. Even today, nearly five years since she last played in goal for the Ole Miss soccer team, Shelton remains the consummate team player. Getting Shelton to talk about herself, rather than her team, is tough because no matter the situation, she seems to take a team approach.
Growing up in Tullahoma, Tenn., Shelton had eyes for another sport before soccer. “I had always played basketball, so I thought I was going to go to college and play basketball,” she says. “Soccer wasn’t big growing up in Tennessee, so I played basketball. Because I was so tall, they wanted me to play post, and I said ‘no, I’m not going to be this tall forever, I’m the point guard, I’m not going to play post.’ Basketball was my first love.”
Shelton didn’t start playing soccer until she was a freshman in high school, and she believes that her experience with basketball helped her. “I think that’s what allowed me to be a good goalkeeper,” Shelton says. “The hand-eye coordination, agility, there were a lot of similarities which allowed the transition to be easy.”
Shelton happened to be playing high school soccer for one of the best 4A teams in the state. “Girls soccer was pretty big in Tullahoma, simply because we always had a really good team,” she says. “The four years I was there, we made it to the final four in the state tournament (each year), and we made the state finals once.”
During Shelton’s career, Tullahoma could never seem to get over the hump and win a state championship. And she seemed to be denied each year by some players that became familiar faces to her. “We always lost to someone who I eventually ended up playing with at Ole Miss,” she says. “Lyndsey Williams played for Germantown, and they beat us one year. Brittney Potts played for Franklin and they beat us one year. My senior year, we beat Cordova to go to the state final, and three of my future teammates (Ashley Ferree, Cori Mehan, Chrissy Strini) played for them that year.”
While Shelton was having plenty of success on her high school team, colleges began to take notice when she made a name for herself on a national stage. “I made the Olympic Development Program regional team, and once you make that team, you can pretty much go anywhere (college) you want to,” Shelton says. “It’s kind of like being a McDonald’s All-American for basketball. That really helped the recruiting process. My stock went up significantly.”
But not every team was recruiting Shelton, and she knew why. “Being a goalkeeper is like being a quarterback, there has to be a need there,” she says. “Teams don’t always need a goalkeeper. However, most of the schools in the SEC were recruiting me.”
When considering a college, there were a few that stood out, and Shelton decided to go and visit them. “I visited Tennessee, Florida, Alabama, Vanderbilt and Ole Miss,” she says. “I knew I wanted to stay in the SEC. My parents actually never missed a game, no matter where we played. So, I wanted to be as close as possible for them. It was important for me that they wanted to be there and I wanted them to be there.”
While taking her visits, she travelled to Oxford to visit Ole Miss. And the trip didn’t get off to a great start. “I remember driving to Ole Miss, and there was no easy way to get there,” she says. “It just seemed like it was in the middle of nowhere, and I was thinking, ‘there’s no way I’m going to school here.’”
However, once she arrived in Oxford, Shelton’s mind quickly changed. “It’s like renting an apartment, you walk in and you know it’s for you or you don’t,” Shelton says. “When I walked on campus at Ole Miss, it was beautiful and it had that something about it. At the time, it was like 17,000 students, it was pretty small, you could walk everywhere. The facilities at Ole Miss are amazing. It just felt right.”
Shelton was anxious for her college career to get started, but she had a setback right before she headed to Oxford. “In the spring of my senior year of high school, I tore my labrum,” she says. “I had surgery and they took out part of my collarbone. I had six months of recovery time.”
That meant Shelton would have to redshirt during her first year at Ole Miss. She missed playing soccer, and felt that she had a lot of catching up to do once she returned to the field. “Being away from playing that long, some of your footwork is off, not seeing live shots and the flight of the ball,” she says. “You have to get back in a rhythm of playing and seeing the ball again.”
Once she was healthy enough to play, Shelton became the starting goalkeeper for Ole Miss in the fall of 2004. In fact, Shelton played every minute of every game (1840 minutes total) as a freshman. In 21 games, Shelton gave up 23 goals, made 77 saves, and had a goals against average (GAA) of 1.07.
“I wished that our team had done better the first year,” Shelton says of her Ole Miss team that went 9-10-2 overall and 4-5-2 in the SEC. “Personally, I felt that I grew a lot during the season. Obviously, you make freshman mistakes which wouldn’t happen with experience, but I progressed in a positive way.”
Her progressive play, especially near the end of her freshman year, set the stage for what would be a record-breaking season in 2005.
Ole Miss put together an outstanding team that season. The Rebels went 14-5-2 overall and 8-1-2 in the SEC, winning the SEC West in the process. Ole Miss relied heavily on its defense. In fact, from September 30 through October 23 (eight games), the Rebels gave up only one goal. From September 16 through October 23 (11 games), Ole Miss gave up only two goals. During the entire 2005 season, Ole Miss gave up only 13 goals in 21 games.
Shelton was a large part of the success. Although she was splitting time in goal with Megan Vickery, Shelton was posting eye-popping numbers. She played 964 minutes that season and allowed a total of three goals. That’s right, just three. She made 40 saves, posted a .930 save percentage and a microscopic 0.27 goals against average. That average set an SEC record that still stands today.
Shelton’s level of confidence rose as the season went on. “After you don’t get scored on for so many minutes, you do gain a certain confidence that you carry with you, and it just keeps going,” she says. “(All of the goals that she gave up) were early in the season. I actually don’t think I got scored on in the SEC at all.”
However, while that may seem impressive, it was just the way it was for the 2005 Ole Miss Rebels. “There was this pressure on the defense, because we didn’t score a lot of goals at Ole Miss,” Shelton says. “We knew if we let a goal in, we might not win. That is what was so ‘magical’ about that year, we had all of these last-second goals to win games. We knew if we kept the ball out of the goal, we had a chance to win that year.”
Shelton wasn’t aware that she was setting an SEC record, or that she was at the top of the NCAA standings for goals against average that season. She found out about her special accomplishment in a not-so-special way.
“It was funny, because there was just a plaque in my locker with a note on it for me to come to my coach’s office,” she says. “Then, they told me and they told the team, and it was nice.”
However, being the consummate team player, Shelton didn’t want to focus on herself. Instead, she wanted her teammates rewarded as well. “I think things like that are nice, and it’s nice to be acknowledged for anything, but I don’t think it should go to one person,” she says. “I think (the award) should go to our entire back line. I had an incredible back line that year, and Lyndsey Williams, who was my center back that year, is the most underrated player of all time in the SEC, I think. It (the award) should’ve gone to me and six other people.”
Shelton went on to post 11 more victories in goal for Ole Miss during her junior and senior seasons, despite battling injuries during her final campaign. And she looks back on her career fondly. “Every minute that I got to play at Ole Miss was the culmination of so much hard work prior to coming to Ole Miss,” she says. “I just loved playing. I loved being part of a team, because you don’t ever get that same sort of feeling again. There’s this group of awesome girls that you work hard with every day toward a common goal. It was a fun time, it was exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it.”
After her career at Ole Miss, Shelton headed to Orlando, Fla., to go to law school. It wasn’t a random placement. “I played soccer in 2005 for a W-League team in Orlando, and I lived with a host family who went to Ole Miss,” she says. “He was an attorney (Orman Kimbrough) and they became like my second family. I’m still very close with them today.”
After receiving her law degree in May of 2011, Shelton headed west. “I moved to Los Angeles, where I work as a talent agent,” she says. “I work for Bricken Entertainment. We do voice-over talent, we represent some actors as well, but mostly voice-over talent.”
When asked if she would reveal some of the celebrities that she worked with, Shelton remained a team player. “I don’t know if I can tell you,” she says. “I don’t think I should. I’m not in charge, so I don’t know if I should put forth these associations.”
As she has been since her high school days, Ann Shelton remains a team player.