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StarBulletin.com

Meleana Shim followed her dream and landed back in Hawaii


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POSTED: Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The afternoon practice was nearing its end, and the girls, playing on a truncated field stretching 15 yards goal-to-goal, were having difficulty maneuvering the ball.

"First team to score doesn't have to put away the goals!" instructed Kamehameha girls varsity soccer coach Michele Nagamine amid the playfully frantic shouts of her players.

After being jostled in a scrum of blue and white jerseys, the ball ricocheted off a player's shin, coming to rest at the feet of senior Meleana Shim standing five yards behind her own goal.

Despite being out of bounds, play continued. Left unguarded, Shim launched a powerful kick. The ball sailed over the heads of her defenders and just beyond the outstretched arms of the goalie, landing in the goal 20 yards away.

For onlookers, the message was clear: Meleana Shim is no ordinary high school soccer player.

Entering this season, the attacking center midfielder from Kamehameha is a four-star prospect and ranked the 20th best player nationally in the class of 2009, according to TopDrawerSoccer.com. She has already accepted a scholarship to play for Santa Clara next year.

Locally, the left-footed Shim earned Star-Bulletin All-State first team honors as a freshman and was named the most outstanding player in the 2006 state tournament in leading the Warriors to a 3-1 victory over Mililani in the championship game. The Warriors repeated as state champions each of the last two years under Nagamine.

This year's team is favored by many to win the states for a fourth straight time. Already the Warriors are 11-0-1 this season, outscoring their opponents 64-2. Shim is doing her part, amassing 10 goals and 12 assists.

For Shim, her goals are simple, "number one, win the ILH. Number two, win the state championship. There is nothing else."

"She's very motivated," said Nagamine, who took over as head coach at Kamehameha in 1993. "She's got an explosive left foot, is tremendously athletic, and has great technical ability.

Possessing a skill-set far beyond her age, many consider Shim a natural, albeit one whose playing career began rather inauspiciously.

Like many Hawaii parents, Sri and Laurel Shim enrolled their youngest daughter in the American Youth Soccer Organization, where Meleana joined the Lavender Lightning.

As the Lightning took to the Kapiolani Park field for their first game, Shim, who was smaller than her peers, sat down in the middle of the field. When the game started, she didn't budge.

"She didn't know what to do, so she just sat there," said mom Laurel. "All the other kids were kicking the ball, and we were all screaming at her from the sideline."

Five minutes passed before Shim decided to give soccer a try.

"Once she got up, she took off playing," said Laurel. "Once she figured out what to do, she was gone."

Since then, her opponents, both past and present, probably wish she had stayed down.

With Hawaii as her home base, Shim has taken every opportunity to travel, becoming a mainstay on the national club soccer circuit. She estimates that soccer has taken her to approximately 25 states in addition to England and Costa Rica .

"(Soccer) is my biggest passion, I just love the game," said Shim. "There's nothing else I'd rather be doing than playing soccer."

Shim played on the local club team Hookalakupua for coach and longtime soccer mentor Jason Goodson for seven years until 2005, then played for Nagamine when Hookalakupua merged with the Leahi Soccer Club.

Despite playing alongside Hawaii's best, Shim felt unfulfilled. So she decided to take a risk.

Before the start of her junior year at Kamehameha, Shim convinced her parents to let her spend the year in Arizona playing for Sereno, a Nike Premier-sponsored club whose under-16 youth girls team is among the best in the nation.

Shim stayed with and was homeschooled by a friend's family she met while participating in the Olympic Development Program the year prior.

"She is so good at what she does and loves it so much," said Laurel. "It was her decision, she approached us, and we knew we had to support her."

As Shim soon discovered, competition was fierce and the adjustment to living in Arizona was difficult.

"It was hot, I was without my family, training three times a day and traveling almost every weekend (to play)," said Shim.

Despite her hectic schedule, Shim kept close tabs on her Kamehameha team back home.

On the night Kamehameha played Punahou for the state championship last year, Shim stayed on the phone with her parents for the entire game, listening to their play-by-play and rejoicing in the Warriors' eventual 1-0 victory.

"When I left, it was hard because I felt like I jumped ship," she said. "But all the Kamehameha coaches were so supportive. I can't thank them enough."

Shim's decision to play on the mainland reaped big rewards, as increased national exposure eventually translated into Santa Clara coach Jerry Smith offering Shim an athletic scholarship, which she accepted in March.

"It was the best experience ever," she said. "This was me pursuing my dream. It was something I drove myself to do, so it meant a lot to me."

With a scholarship in hand, Shim returned to Hawaii eager to help Kamehameha win another state title.

"I have to hand it to her, she's grown up a lot," Nagamine said. "The Meleana that I see now is even more focused, determined, and settled."

Worth more than a championship, though, is one last chance to play high school soccer again with her friends on the field and family in the stands.

"It's the most amazing thing ever, playing for this team," said Shim. "Everything about it, I missed it so much."

"I mean, look at this place," she said, her eyes scanning the picturesque Kamehameha soccer field as the sun set on a panoramic view of Oahu's south shore. "There's no place I'd rather practice than up here."