At peace on the pitch: Nevada Union alumna Cayce Shaw balances pursuit of Ph.D. with new soccer opportunity
When Cayce Shaw is playing soccer, everything else in her life fades into the background.
“I love playing,” said Shaw. “It’s something that when I step on the field, everything else goes away.”
For Shaw, a 2015 Nevada Union graduate, soccer is a sport she has dedicated herself to since she was a child. And, through the years, soccer has reciprocated with life lessons, opportunities and mental tranquility.
Shaw, 24, first started playing soccer when she was in second grade. At first it was just a fun way to spend time with her friends. She soon discovered she had a knack for the game and joined a club team, the Placer United. At the high school level, the talented footballer was a four-year varsity player for the Miners. She was a team captain in her junior and senior seasons, and was named to the All-Sierra Foothill League team twice.
“I just really grew to love it and wanted to pursue it in college,” she said. “Having leadership roles and being around such a good community really inspired my passion to keep playing.”
Shaw’s prowess on the pitch, as well as the classroom, landed her at the University of California, Santa Cruz, where she majored in bio chemistry and played four years on the women’s soccer team.
“It was a really good fit academically and athletically,” she said.
Shaw played center-forward for the Banana Slugs, and across her four years with the team she started 56 games, scored 18 goals and had eight assists. During her senior season, she led the team with eight goals and was named the 2018 Offensive Player of the Year among Division III independent teams. The Banana Slugs reached the NCAA Division III playoffs in three of the four years Shaw was on the team.
After her time at UC Santa Cruz concluded, Shaw made the move to San Francisco to pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco. Shaw’s studies focus on Alzheimer’s disease, and more specifically the differences between how males and females are affected by the disease.
“I love teaching and would love to be in academia,” Shaw said of her career pursuits. “Hopefully, be a professor and do my own research. Have some kind of research lab and also teach courses.”
Shaw said she truly enjoys the work she’s doing at UC San Francisco, but it does come with its fair share of stress.
“I thought that I was done with soccer once I graduated (UC Santa Cruz), but I started grad school and was feeling a lot of pressure and needed a way to try and help me cope,” Shaw said. “I found this group, the Nighthawks, which is a bunch of former college players. It’s a really good community of other people in the city I can play soccer with, and I’ve found that it’s a really healthy way to manage my stress.”
Shaw signed with the San Francisco Nighthawks Women’s Soccer Club in January 2020, but COVID-19 forced the season to be canceled. The club plans to be back on the pitch for the 2021 summer season, though, and Shaw is looking forward to competing once again.
“I feel so lucky that I was able to find this group in San Francisco,” Shaw said. “When I finished in college I felt like something was missing in my life. It was such a big part of my identity. … So I feel pretty lucky that I found the Nighthawks and was able to make the team and get signed (to the roster).”
At its highest level, the Nighthawks compete in the Women’s Premier Soccer League, which is the second tier of women’s professional soccer in the United States and Canada. The club also has teams that compete in the Golden Gate Women’s Soccer League. Shaw is currently listed as a member of the club’s GGWSL First Division team.
As for handling the rigors of her academic pursuits while playing soccer at a high level, Shaw said it’s made easier when you love what you do.
“Finding something that brings you a lot of joy is helpful,” she said. “Whether it’s your career or the sport that you’re playing, it shouldn’t ever feel like it’s a task. I genuinely love the academics that I’m doing as well as playing soccer, so I feel like that joy has made me want to put in the extra hours.”
The summer season for the Nighthawks is set to start May 29, said Shaw.
“I’m excited for summer to really prove myself,” she said. “And, hopefully, get more time on the field.”
To contact Sports Editor Walter Ford, email email@example.com
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