Sometimes you have to go away to realize what is in your backyard.

Such was the case for Kelly Shulenberger, who went from Big Spring High School to American University to play field hockey.

Yet this fall, Shulenberger was back in the area, playing and winning a national championship for Shippensburg University.

As it turns out, one of the closest schools to home that she never considered has been a perfect match.

“American just wasn’t a good fit for me. It didn’t have everything I was looking for in a school and program,” she said. “It was one of those things that the sooner I could transfer the better.

“I was well aware of Shippensburg. It wasn’t a specific school I looked at. My club team was big on looking at Division I schools and I never considered the opportunity to look at Division II, and now that I am in D-II I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Or course, it’s not as if Shulenberger made much of a step down from American to Shippensburg.

In fact, the Raiders may be close to the top of collegiate field hockey at any level. Shippensburg winning the last three national titles makes the point hard to argue.

It was that way under now-retired coach Bertie Landis and has continued with Tara Zollinger in charge.

“The biggest thing is we train at Ship the way they do at any Division I that I looked at,” Shulenberger said. “Tara was a national champ as a player at Maryland, and a champ as an assistant coach at Syracuse. I’ve seen so many things she brought from Division I, it’s like looking in a mirror. It’s awesome.”

Shulenberger played in 17 games this season, finishing with five goals and two assists. Her 12 points ranked fifth on the team. She had a hat trick and an assist in a PSAC win against Seton Hill.

Playing close to home was nice.

Playing for championships is what makes Shulenberger go.

“American was a great experience. I loved living in [Washington, D.C.],” she said. “It was always a very good school in the Patriot League, but on national level not as much. I realized there was little chance of winning a championship there.

“When I talked to Tara and saw Shippensburg won their second in a row, I said, ‘That is where I need to be.’ There was no doubt in my mind they were going to win another one.”

Ironically, Shulenberger didn’t take up field hockey — or any team sport — before entering Big Spring High School.

An accomplished ballet dancer, she was on stage from age 3 through middle school when an injury helped her rethink what activity she wanted to do.

Her plan was to try field hockey, basketball and track for the Bulldogs, which she did as a freshman. Field hockey hooked her immediately.

“I told my mom I wanted to try conventional sports,” Shulenberger said. “I loved every minute of field hockey, It was the greatest thing ever. How did I not know about this?”

Being a standout in high school and with her WC Eagles club team led her where she is now — part of a team that keeps on winning.

“I am from Newville, Pennsylvania, a small town, and there is not many student-athletes that have become national champions. I get to represent all the Bulldogs, all of my friends that went on to play sports in college.

“I am really excited getting to be part of a program that is making an impact historically. Not many schools get to go for one national championship, rather than multiple in a row. As athletes, we are opening doors and showing anything is possible.”

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