Shopa’s folks were career military and, like any military family, moved around a lot. That he’s homeschooled added a degree of difficulty at times, as not all schools are receptive to homeschooled kids participating in extracurricular activities.
“We’re a military family, so we were moving around every couple of years,” Shopa said. “Some places I played soccer, some places I didn’t; I didn’t get to play at all in middle school.”
Things changed a few years ago, however, with Shopa’s folks retiring from active duty and the family settling in Powell. They found Park County School District No.1 to be receptive to homeschoolers and soon Shopa, the oldest of 10 children, was able to pursue his love of soccer unabated. His siblings, ranging in age from second to seventh grades, all play the sport as well.
“I’ve been playing soccer since the second grade, even though it has been on-and-off,” Shopa said. “Even when I didn’t actually play the sport for a team, I played with my siblings, and we’ve always enjoyed it.”
Further illustrating that soccer is a family affair, Shopa’s mom Melinda played the game at a high level — competing for West Point — and passed on a passion for the game to her kids.
“My mom, she’s the one that really instilled the love of the sport in all of us,” Shopa said.
Panthers head coach Jeff Dent said Shopa’s love of soccer is evident in how he works in practice, as well as how he plays during games. Now in his third season with the Panthers, Shopa is finding success as a defender, earning a starting position.
“Steven [Shopa] knows what he wants. He has his goals in his head and he’s always working towards them,” Dent said. “He’s really stepped up. Last year, he was a decent player, but not as skilled as we would have liked. This year, his skill level, his intensity and his focus are so on track that we’ve been starting him.”
Asked what Shopa brings to the team, Dent points to his player’s character, as well as his ability to stay cool under pressure.
“He’s always encouraging the guys, and he doesn’t get frustrated or worked up too much. But when he does, he does it in a positive way,” Dent said. “He’s an excellent communicator — he’s a thinker out there. He’s a leader on the field and in practice, and a young man I’m very proud of.”
Pointing to Shopa’s work ethic, Dent has high expectations for this season and beyond.
“He’s trying very hard to improve every day,” Dent said. “He’ll ask us daily what he can do to improve, and then go out and do it. And when we leave practice at night, more nights than not, he is still on the field working on drills and techniques we have discussed.”
Though he’s not yet a team captain, Shopa has emerged as a leader — a role he takes pride in.
“During the practices and in games, helping people with what to do if they don’t know,” he said. “And just being able to see the field, help give directions when needed.”
Technically a junior, Shopa said it was initially difficult to break in with his teammates, many of whom have been playing together for as long as they can remember. But now, with a couple of seasons with the Panthers under his belt, Shopa is just one of the guys.
“I definitely enjoy playing with this team; they’re a lot of fun,” he said. “Rob [Sessions], Kyler [Muffett], Jace [Smith] are all great guys, hard workers. I have some good friends on the team.”
The Panthers are off to a 1-3 start, though they could just as easily be 2-2 if an overtime game against Pinedale had gone their way. Shopa said he thinks this team is talented enough to make some noise as the season progresses. He’s hoping that, after a rough loss to Worland, the Panthers can get back on track with this weekend’s tournament in Green River.
“The Green River tournament will be a good experience for us. It will be a good challenge to see if can keep things together and learn from our mistakes,” he said. “I think we can definitely get some wins on the road, we just need to put everything together our coaches have taught us.”
And are there plans for the postseason?
“Our plan is to go to state,” Shopa said. “We didn’t go last year, so we’re really hoping to go this year.”