Shannon Aitken shrugs off her accolades.
While her awards and accomplishments decorate her office at Steinbrenner High, that’s still a lot of shrugging by the Warriors girls soccer coach.
“A lot of people even say, you should (talk about your soccer accomplishments) more, but I don’t know — I don’t like the attention,” Aitken said. “I played because I loved playing. … All the stuff up in my office, it was just sitting in a box in the garage, so after like three years of white walls, I figured I put it up (laughs).”
It’s only then that her players realize just how big a deal Aitken was, and still is, to the local soccer scene.
She’s a state champion. A national champion and player of the year. A record holder and a hall of famer.
“All of her awards she put up, so when you walk into her office, you’re like, ‘Oh, OK!’” junior forward Aaliyah Pitts said.
“I personally didn’t know until I saw the national championship banner and there’s her face!” added senior defender Maddie Green. “She’s been a great coach, especially for me because she used to be a goalkeeper. She’s been able to help me with my position and help me grow into a leader on the team.
“I wouldn’t be in the place that I am if it wasn’t for her.”
The same goes for Aitken.
All on her own
When Aitken was just 15 years old, she moved out due to family issues, knowing it would be best for her future.
She bounced around friends’ homes until a teacher finally let her move in until she graduated from Land O’ Lakes High in 2004, as arguably one of the most decorated Gator athletes ever. Aitken was a three-sport athlete, but it was soccer that brought her fame and glory.
A four-year starting goalkeeper, she was integral for the Gators winning the Class 2A state championship in 2003 — a team inducted into the Land O’ Lakes Hall of Fame in 2016. She won every award, including Sunshine Athletic Conference Player of the Year and was named to the Class 5A All-State team as a senior. She had the Pasco County record for saves (551) and shutouts (70) during her high school career.
She would then move on to the University of Tampa (UT) and become the Spartans most decorated goalkeeper in program history. In 2007, she was named National Player of the Year as keeper for the Division II National Championship Team. After 59 wins and 197 saves in college, she was inducted into UT’s and the Sunshine State Conference Hall of Fame in 2014 and 2018, respectively. In October, Aitken was inducted into Land O’ Lakes’ Hall of Fame, as well.
At Steinbrenner, Aitken is 106-34-8 in the midst of her ninth season with the Warriors, but it was a long road getting there, starting out by being a substitute at Pine View Middle in Land O’ Lakes — also Aitken’s alma mater.
“After the (Land O’ Lakes) Hall of Fame (ceremony), someone asked me, ‘Why are you still a high school coach?’” Aitken said. “I was just thinking about it and I want to help girls with whatever they need help with. I want to help the girls on my team, helping them the way I needed help when I was in high school.
“I love high school soccer,” she added. “There’s something about putting together 20 girls and getting them to bond and figuring out which puzzle pieces can play with each other the best.”
As Steinbrenner’s coach, she’s respected and not because of all her accolades.
“She’s always going to be there for us,” Pitts said. “Even if we have a bad game, she’s not going to put us down in any way and having a supportive coach is a big thing. She’s the best.”
And being the best, she learned from the best.
Aitken is a Hall of Famer who played for a Hall of Famer.
Land O’ Lakes’ longtime coach Vicky King also is in the school’s hall of fame, being Aitken’s high school coach and now friendly rival in nearby schools. And while scheduling a yearly game between Steinbrenner and Land O’ Lakes is difficult because of the conflicting county athletic rules, the coaches try to get in a preseason match, if possible.
“When we do play each other,” King, in her 37th season, said, “I like to introduce Shannon to our current team because the girls don’t know a lot of history, but we enjoy it — it’s always a friendly match.
“I wouldn’t say surprised (Aitken became a coach), it’s not something that I saw coming,” King added. “Sometimes players don’t want anything to do coaching, but she implements things she learned a long time ago, like giving back to the team or community.
“She has put that into her coaching philosophy and that makes you proud.”
Aitken admits she never saw herself as a coach, certainly not when she was playing. In fact, she was in nursing school while tending goal on her way to a national championship. However, the day of the title game, she opted to miss her sixth clinical, knowing she would either have to restart nursing school or pick a different career path.
Aitken has no regrets about her decision.
“Playing, and winning, a national championship is great — it’s awesome and the best thing you ever want to win, no matter the division,” she said. “I wouldn’t trade UT for anything else in the world.”
Adding to the accolades
If there’s one accolade Aitken won’t be shrugging off, it’s another state title, this time as coach.
While Steinbrenner girls soccer already has a state championship — Class 4A in 2011 — Aitken wants another banner for the Warriors, however, this time it would be in 8A, the highest classification in the FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association).
It’s why she’s turned down collegiate assistant coach jobs. Aitken’s time at Steinbrenner is not done, nor is her job.
Not until she gets one more accolade.
“You walk around the halls at school and no one knows you because you play club (soccer) — they know you because you’re always on the news or the morning announcements,” Aitken said. “I love being at Steinbrenner and working with the girls, being able to check in on them. That’s what I want, but sometimes you want the next step, too.
“I think about going somewhere else, but it’s hard to leave. I’ve spent nine years here building this program, and sure, Vicky has me beat by a ton, but I’m trying to catch up to her. I want to catch up to her — our state championship!”
Published December 06, 2023