“Expect the unexpected.”
In 20 seasons at Princeton, Julie Shackford has made that a mantra of sorts for the women’s soccer program. But she still surprised her players — present and past — when she announced in August that this season would be her last.
Whatever sadness came with the news seemed to lighten, Shackford said, when she explained her reason for walking away: She is getting remarried in July and moving, with her three middle-school-age children, to northern Virginia, not far from where she grew up.
Still, to alumni, the idea of a team without Shackford — or “Shacks” — seems hard to grasp. “She really does tie the program together,” said Sarah Peteraf ’09. “You feel like you have some of the same blood running through you: We played for Shacks.”
Dana DeCore Falconi ’00, a co-captain of the first Tigers team to reach the NCAA Tournament under Shackford, said that the program has always mirrored its coach. “She saw in us the qualities, I think, that she has — that grit, that competitiveness, that toughness,” Falconi said.
Having 22 gritty, competitive players on the field at the same time made for interesting practices, said Kelly Sosa ’02, who recalled with a laugh that some scrimmages had to be cut short to keep them from getting out of hand. But Shackford balanced the intensity with fun, Sosa said, and the result was a tight-knit, winning team.
Princeton won four Ivy League titles between 1999 and 2004 while earning six consecutive NCAA postseason bids. In 2004, the Tigers reached the Final Four — the only Ivy team to do so in a 64-team NCAA field — and Shackford was named the national women’s soccer coach of the year. Since then, she’s added two more Ivy championships, and as of late October, her team was vying for another.
Shackford said that because she knew this year would be her last, she’s been able to shrug off the stress of minor setbacks and focus on enjoying the moment. “There’s an element of freedom to it,” she said. “It’s really the way you should coach every year.”