Donal Kaehler could hardly believe his ears when a community college coach said Raimee Sherle wasn’t the right fit for his program.
But after coaching Sherle for four years at Rocky Mountain High, Kaehler knew something that coach didn’t. Sherle was never going to be the type of soccer player who fit into a program, she was the type of player a program is built around.
While there were certainly some college coaches interested in Sherle, there were plenty more — including several in the Mountain West Conference — who turned the 5-foot-2 forward from Meridian away.
“She doesn’t have the physical size that people often associate with collegiate soccer,” said Boise State coach Jim Thomas, who recruited Sherle to the Broncos. “... But you don’t have to be tall in order to play or big in order to win. So I think there’s that, and then obviously this is small market.
“People are unconvinced that a player doing what she did at the high school and at the club level is real, because she’s doing it for an Idaho-based team. They just struggle with that, and they’ll often take a player with less ability, less tools, but they come from a market that’s more reliable.”
One can only imagine what Sherle’s detractors are thinking now.
Sherle and the top-seeded Boise State women’s soccer team host the Mountain West Tournament this week at the Boas Soccer Complex. The Broncos (16-4-0) play the winner of Tuesday’s first-round match between No. 4 New Mexico (10-7-1) and No. 5 San Jose State (7-8-4) in a 2 p.m. semifinal on Thursday. The Broncos beat both teams 1-0 during the regular season.
The championship game is set for noon Saturday, with the winner receiving the conference’s automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament.
In four years at Boise State, Sherle has established herself as the best offensive player in the history of the conference. Her 57 career goals are a Mountain West record and the second-most in the country among active players. She broke the previous career goals record during her junior season and set the league’s career points record (now at 130) at the start of this season.
“She’s been the tip of the sword now for three straight years,” Thomas said. “I think as a freshman, we were still trying to figure out what it was. There hadn’t been a player like that in the conference, not that had taken over that way. She did in three years what no one else had ever done in the history of the conference in four. You’re still trying to wrap your head around it.”
A natural from the start
Even at 6 years old, Sherle instinctively understood the importance of angles and spacing in soccer.
While the rest of the kids crowded together and fought for the ball, Sherle would wait patiently outside the group until the ball popped out. When it inevitably did, she’d race downfield and score a goal.
Sharing didn’t come quite as naturally.
“I was the kind of player that would take the ball from my own teammates because I wanted it so bad,” Sherle said.
Sherle’s parents were quick to correct their soccer-obsessed child, and she’s been a model teammate ever since.
“She likes others to shine,” Thomas said. “She’ll laugh at your joke, even if your joke’s not funny. She’ll listen to your story, even if your story’s boring. She’s that kind of kid. She wants the best for everyone around her. She just kind of makes the room comfortable that way. You feel good putting yourself out there when she’s in the room.”
An unassuming star
Sherle gave her parents the impression she’d be lucky to make varsity her freshman year at Rocky Mountain.
Imagine their surprise when she trotted out among the starters for the first game of the season.
“We were like: ‘Whoa, wait. How come we didn’t even know any of this?’ ” said Lisa Sherle, Raimee’s mother.
“She just kept telling us she hoped she’d make the team,” dad Craig Sherle said.
It took a bit of coaxing from Kaehler to get Sherle to stop deferring to her older teammates that first season.
“I remember a game at Rocky Mountain when she had a wide-open shot and she passed the ball,” Kaehler said. “I pulled her off the field and I said, ‘Raimee, what are you doing?’ She says, ‘Oh, well, you know, she was open and I passed it.’ I said: ‘Yeah, she might have been open, but we need goals. We don’t need assists out of you.’ And I said, ‘If you ever do that again, I’m pulling you off the field.’
“From that moment on, she recognized what her place was and she recognized what her responsibility on the team was and everything kind of fell into place.”
Sherle went on to score 100 goals with 62 assists over four years at Rocky Mountain and was selected for the 2015 High School All-American Game.
“I think what separates her from a lot of the players she’s up against is how she reads the game,” said Brian Smith, who was Sherle’s club coach for three years at FC Nova. “She sees things two or three steps ahead of everybody else.”
A rough recruiting trail
Sherle originally committed to the University of Montana, but she began to doubt her decision after an official visit during her senior year of high school.
She withdrew her commitment to the Grizzlies in January 2016 without a backup plan.
“When she decided that she couldn’t go to Montana, and she called me, she was just devastated,” Kaehler said. “She thought she had everything all wrapped up, and now all of a sudden, she wasn’t sure what was going to happen.”
Kaehler tried to convince several schools to accept Sherle as a walk-on.
“The coaches said basically the same thing,” Kaehler said. “ ’Yeah, we know about Raimee, but she’s so small. I don’t think she’s gonna make it at this level.’ ”
It wasn’t until late March that Sherle received a call from Boise State.
“I never thought Boise State would have interest in me,” Sherle said. “I thought so highly of Boise State and their program.”
As it turns out, the feeling was mutual.
A star is born
Sherle’s Boise State career began much the way her high school career did.
“I was really nervous and kind of scared. I didn’t know what to expect,” Sherle said. “I knew that the college level, especially in soccer, was much higher than any club or high school game I’d ever been in. When I got here, all the girls seemed really big and fit and I was pretty intimidated.
“But they were so welcoming once I got here. I guess I set my expectations pretty low. I just wanted to kind of get into a rhythm and find my spot and my role within the team and within the program. Then things started clicking and it all worked out.”
Sherle scored seven goals as a freshman and was named the Mountain West’s Newcomer of the Year and All-Mountain West first team. Her sophomore season resulted in Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year honors and she became just the second player in program history to be named to the United Soccer Coaches NCAA Division I All-West Region First Team. Her 18 goals and 42 points in 2017 were single-season program and Mountain West records at the time. She made an NCAA-best nine game-winning goals that year.
With an NCAA-leading 20 goals as a junior, Sherle broke her own single-season Boise State and conference records and became the program’s first All-America recipient. She was once again crowned the Mountain West Offensive Player of the Year and was just five points shy of surpassing the conference’s career points record.
But it wasn’t just her play on the field that left a lasting impression.
“The thing that’s always caught my eye about Raimee is less the player, it’s more the person,” Thomas said. “She’s the kind of person that you want representing your business or company or team. She’s a figurehead. She carries herself so well. She really puts her profession and her teammates, her organization, first. She’s willing to do whatever it takes for her to be successful for the whole.”
A senior season to remember?
Sherle has 12 goals and a career-high eight assists this season. She’s on track to graduate in the spring with a degree in health science, and she’s going to marry her fiance, Hunter Ranstrom, on Dec. 15.
She hopes to squeeze in the Broncos’ first Mountain West Tournament title and an NCAA Tournament run before the wedding.
“You just have to keep your house in order and separate certain things in buckets,” Sherle said. “I honestly think soccer has been therapeutic for me. Every time I get overwhelmed or stressed with wedding planning, and then I go to practice, I can just play and forget about all the stresses. It’s so nice. This place is like my heaven. I just come here and I find peace.”
Sherle’s soccer career won’t end when the Broncos’ season does.
There are multiple National Women’s Soccer League teams interested in adding her to their squad. Where Sherle ends up depends on the NWSL Draft, which is in January. EqualizerSoccer.com included Sherle as a player to watch ahead of the 2020 draft.
“I think you’ve seen this year a way more diverse player that would help at the professional level in multiple different ways,” Thomas said. “Because of her playmaking and passing ability, the ability to use all of her dribbling capacity to create for others, that’s something that when you start playing next to another pro or another international player, all of a sudden that’s the player you want to play with because they are creating for you.”
Most days, Sherle says her soccer success still feels like a dream, so why stop dreaming now?
“It’s easy to be scared of failure, but I think I’ll regret it if I don’t at least try it,” she said. “I just think it would be a dream come true if I got drafted.”