There is no higher praise in team sports than to say a player makes his teammates better.

Channing Shiffert can do just about whatever he wants on a soccer field. But this season the Northern Lehigh sophomore was able to raise the level of his whole team, leading it to a school record six wins.

"This year I had several meetings with the captains," said Northern Lehigh head coach John Sitaras. "I told them they needed to help make the rest of the players better because the skill level of our players varies tremendously. Channing took it upon himself to do that."

Shiffert, this year's TIMES NEWS Soccer Athlete of the Year, set school records for goals (21) and total points (55) and led his league in both categories. He earned a First Team All Colonial League selection.

But the thing he's most proud of this season is helping the Bulldogs to their best season in the nine-year history of the program.

"I'm all for the wins," Shiffert said. "That's what soccer is all about.

"We came together as a team this year, more than when I was a freshman. We had a lot of leadership from our seniors. That was the difference. That was something we really needed."

When he's not playing for Northern Lehigh, Shiffert plays for one of the state's best club teams, FC Delco out of Philadelphia.

Adjusting to playing on a middling team in the Colonial League isn't an easy task even for the most talented players. But Shiffert has been able to not only blend with his teammates, but raise their level.

"That's extrememely difficult," Sitaras said. "He adjusted to that very well."

He's a center midfielder in the club season, where he utilizes his ability to see the field and distribute the ball. Because Northern Lehigh had depth at that position, Shiffert was asked to move up to forward this year. He didn't just fill the role, he became his league's best forward.

"They gave me the job of playing forward and scoring goals, so I did," he said.

Sitaras remembers one game where Shiffert seemed to put the team on his back, scoring all four goals in a 4-3 win over Wilson.

But Shiffert won't take all the credit for his team's success. He knows soccer is an 11-man game. He knows he's as dependant on his teammates as they are on him. He knows teams chemistry is important.

"All my friends are soccer players from the school," Shiffert said. "That's why we have such good chemistry.

"When Marty Everhart steps up, he plays midfield and he was a senior leader this year," Shiffert said, "when he was having an on game I could just do so much more up top. So much more was created."

Shiffert, who is 15 years old, has been playing soccer since he was seven years old. He tried football, back in flags, but he liked the skill required for soccer and the intensity of a big game.

By age 12 Shiffert was playing year round. He spent a few seasons with Lehigh Valley United before making the FC Delco team last year. He's travelled to tournaments in all parts of the country and played teams from thousands of miles away.

But even when he was young he couldn't wait to wear a varsity Bulldog jersey. He can't wait until his senior year, when his younger brother Zeb will be a Northern Lehigh freshman.

"I've never played on a team with him before," Shiffert said. "He's playing on a high level club team."

For now his goal is to get the Bulldogs to their first district tournament in school history.

Shiffert's tactical play, his speed and his athleticism make him a great player, but he's worked hard at refining those skills over the years thanks to the work ethic instilled in him by his parents, John and Stephanie.

"It's always been if you want something you have to work real hard to get it," he said. "I practice all the time. You practice how you play."

He works just as hard in the classroom, saying that he'd take time off of soccer if his grades were ever to slip.

Sitaras feels lucky to coach such a fine player and teammate.

"It's unfortunate," Sitoras said, "and I mean it as a compliment, that he is playing at Northern Lehigh where his talent isn't exposed as much. But he makes no complaints about it. He's content with our program. He's a pleasure to have in the program."