All-state. Few high school athletes maintain the commitment and possess the sheer athletic ability necessary to claim such a distinction. Even fewer do so in two different sports. Almost no one can while living in another state.
Meet men's ice hockey junior defenseman Steve Shirreffs. As a senior in high school, the Norwich, Vt., native achieved this feat at Hanover High School in New Hampshire, earning the honor in both soccer and hockey. For most athletes that would have created a tough decision about where to go to college and what to play there – soccer, hockey or both.
A plethora of Division III schools offered Shirreffs a spot on both their soccer and hockey squads, but he wanted to attend a better academic institution.
"I looked at some other schools," Shirreffs said. "Most of them were in the Ivy League because I wanted to go somewhere where I could get a good education."
Having been on skates since early childhood, the athletic choice was a non-decision.
"(My love of hockey) started when I was about five or six years old," Shirreffs said, "and I had an older brother who was two years older than me who played. So I would go and watch him and I picked it up from there. Out of Hanover (High) I knew that I wanted to pursue hockey more than soccer."
Diamond in the rough
No one was more pleased at this decision than men's hockey head coach Don Cahoon. Cahoon was one of the first coaches to notice the New Englander who remained hidden in the relatively obscure leagues of New Hampshire. Despite contact with Cahoon, Shirreffs still needed to take a postgraduate year to display his skills and fill out a slender six-foot, three-inch frame.
"(Just after graduating) Steve was a big, lanky kid with terrific athletic skills, quick feet and tremendous hands," Cahoon said. "But he needed to catch up to his growth cycle."
Shirreffs matriculated to the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., and has not looked back since. Not only did college coaches come calling after the extra year, but his newfound size and exposure even attracted the attention of some professional scouts. After graduating from Hotchkiss, Shirreffs reached high academic and athletic levels, heading to a premier Division I academic institution as well as being drafted by the Calgary Flames of the National Hockey League.
After three years, Shirreffs has evolved into the Tigers' preeminent blue-liner. Ranking fourth on the team in points behind all three members of the high-powered Orange Line, Shirreffs' 16 points (three goals, 13 assists) leads Princeton defensemen. He is also the lone defenseman on the power-play unit and has taken a majority of the blue-line shifts this season.
"He is as good a defenseman as there is out there," Cahoon said, "because of his durability and ability to play so many minutes."
As for when Shirreffs graduates from college, the decision to play hockey no longer rests in his hands. The Flames still hold his rights and will make a decision at that point, but for the time being he will focus on academics and his team's drive for the playoffs.
"He is an All-American candidate and in my mind an All-American," Cahoon said.
That sounds a lot better than All-state.