Like many Minnesotans, of St. Thomas senior Shae Bottum dreams of a January visit to sunny Florida, but he’s after more than just rest and relaxation.
Bottum is hoping for an invitation to the Major League Soccer 2018 player combine Jan. 11-17 at Orlando City Stadium after being named NCAA Division III Player of the Year by the United Soccer Coaches. The 60 Division I combine invitees announced Thursday by a committee of MLS and college coaches will be joined in Orlando by another dozen candidates, including Generation Adidas signings and non-DI players. The 2017 MLS combine roster of 72 players included only one lower-level college player, two-time Division II player of the year Nathan Regis of Pfeiffer University.
He was absolutely dedicated to making himself into the best player and person at St. Thomas that he could, but he also believed in what we shared as our common goal to win a national championship.
UST coach Jon Lowery
“Individually, I’m just training really hard,” said Bottum, hours after completing the last final exam of his fall semester. “I’m really focused on being as ready as I can be if someone gives me an opportunity.”
The chance to excel individually while building a nationally-recognized program at St. Thomas attracted Bottum after he helped Hill-Murray reach the 2013 state class A championship match. Bottum visited DI schools Loyola, Northwestern, and Wisconsin, but Tommies coach Jon Lowery convinced him that St. Thomas could offer the right mix of athletics and academics.
“When Shae came here four years ago, we were in the early days of trying to build this into a MIAC power, a regional power, and ultimately a program that could compete nationally,” said Lowery. “He was absolutely dedicated to making himself into the best player and person at St. Thomas that he could, but he also believed in what we shared as our common goal to win a national championship.”
St. Thomas came up just short of its ultimate objective, falling 1-0 to host North Park University in this year’s national DIII quarterfinals following a run to the 2016 semifinals that ended with a 2-1 loss to eventual champion Tufts. The 2017 Tommies finished 22-2 and set school records with 56 goals and a 19-game winning streak.
Bottum established a school standard of his own with 15 assists, and his nine goals included eight game-winners. The midfielder prepared for his senior season by training with D.C. United, whose academy director, Ryan Martin, coached with Lowery at Wake Forest. Bottum stayed with his older brother, Quinn, who lives and works in the nation’s capitol.
“That really helped my game flourish,” said Bottum, who trained mostly with Martin’s under-23 group, but also with the reserve squad and first team. “The coaches there were awesome, the level was awesome. It helped me really find my confidence and add the last few pieces of my game that I needed to have a lot of success as a senior.”
Bottum’s success as a junior — he was named first team All-MIAC and third team All-America as St. Thomas went 20-2-3 — followed a summer in Wellington, New Zealand, playing for the Ole Academy directed by Shattuck-St. Mary’s product and former Butler All-American Ben Sippola.
“He came back from New Zealand, and he just had a different aura about him,” said Lowery. “It really propelled him into a good junior season as our team also grew.”
Bottum’s offseason experiences and relentless work ethic helped him develop into the leader of a talented roster packed with DI transfers, most of whom were impressed with what they encountered at St. Thomas.
“We had a lot of Division I transfers, and almost all of them said the level here was better,” said Bottum. “The best part about that was they said it about the best player on our roster to the 34th player on our roster. Everyone gave everything at practice, everyone cared, and they couldn’t find that at their previous university, even though it was DI level. The way everyone bought into the team was one reason we had such success, and it’s why I had the success I had.
Bottum and other national award-winners will be recognized at the United Soccer Coaches All-America luncheon Jan. 20 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
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