TARBORO – For weeks in advance, Tarboro built up a 2012 game against Wilson Beddingfield.
Beddingfield had long ruled the Eastern Plains Conference, especially at Tarboro’s expense. Coaching a team he said he wouldn’t coach and playing a team Tarboro couldn’t beat, Leshaun Jenkins found himself in two places he never though he would be. Jenkins, who once told himself he never would coach girls’ soccer, had accepted the task of coaching a dormant Tarboro program, and the Vikings – who were accustomed to winning two games per season – played well enough to have a 2-0 lead in the second half against Beddingfield.
Jenkins had made the simple decision of turning defender Shayla Thorne into a forward earlier in the season, and at that point in the game, the Vikings needed some form of attack to relieve the pressure the Bruins were administering.
Thorne took the ball on the right side and found herself in space. She tore down the right wing and cut to her left foot as a defender nearly made a play on the ball, took one more touch and curled a left-footed shot around the goalkeeper and into the net.
3-0, Vikings. Beddingfield didn’t challenge again.
“I’ll never forget that goal,” Jenkins said. “That goal made our vision of beating Beddingfield a reality right here on our field.”
Jenkins and the Vikings found their elusive win against Beddingfield, and in a broader sense, they also had found a born goal-scorer. Thorne went on to score many important goals in her Tarboro career, and it is no accident that the three most successful years in program history coincided with Thorne’s three years as a striker.
Thorne scored 89 goals in her career, including 61 in the past two years alone. As a junior, she scored more goals by herself than any team in the conference scored total. She averaged more than three goal per game during the past two seasons and helped the Vikings to their first playoffs appearance in 2012, first conference championship in 2013 and first ever playoffs win in 2014.
For her role in the program’s rise, Thorne was selected as the Telegram’s 2014 All-Area Girls’ Soccer Player of the Year.
Thorne initially wasn’t sure what a position change would mean for her, but it didn’t take long for her to learn she was a forward at heart.
“It was a new start, but once I got used to it, I was like, ‘I love this position,’” Thorne said.
The forward position, perhaps more than anything, requires patience and an understanding of the game. Even as a freshman defender, Jenkins, who wasn’t yet the coach, saw Thorne understood the game’s movement.
He knew a forward when he saw one.
“I remember seeing Shayla as a freshman and thinking, ‘Wow, she’s athletic, she’s really fast,’” Jenkins said. “When I got her as a sophomore, I knew her time as a defender was over.”
The patience part came from home.
Being a striker often requires making 10 or 12 or 20 fruitless runs before seeing a shot attempt. Playing at the top of formation means opposition in every direction, with many chances to have an attack fall apart.
Thorne’s mother, Melanie Sherrod, didn’t know much about the game when she signed up her daughter for soccer, but she saw quickly how it had to be approached.
“Even at age 4, soccer was a strenuous, hard game to play and took a lot out of you,” Sherrod said. “You fall down a lot, but I always told her that if we don’t see blood, we get up. We keep getting up if there’s no blood.”
And when Thorne turned into a proficient goal-scorer, her love of soccer grew.
“I played in middle school, but it was just a game,” Thorne said. “When I got to high school, I started having a passion for it, started loving it and understanding it. It’s such a team game.”
The goals yielded more than wins. Thorne will play for N.C. Wesleyan in college, and Jekins, though he admits bias, said he thinks Thorne will be an All-American for the Bishops.
Whatever happens in her college career, Thorne’s place at Tarboro is secure.
The Vikings’ rise as a women’s soccer program cannot be separated from Shayla Thorne.
Nick Piotrowicz can be reached at 407-9952 or npiotrowicz @rmtelegram.com