PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Schultz sharpened skills in family barnWith help from father, Northwestern senior excelled at new postion
By: Emily Kram, Superior Telegram
In his years of coaching, Scott Janigo has come to recognize patterns. One is what it takes for a pitcher to be successful.
“Behind every great pitcher is usually a dad that puts in many of the same hours to hone the craft of pitching,” said Janigo, head coach of the Northwestern High School softball team.
That is certainly true for NHS senior Shelby Schultz, whose father, Brad, has been with her every step of the way.
Schultz, the 2012 Superior Telegram Softball Player of the Year, had a breakout season in her senior year. She finished the season with a 2.00 ERA and 89 strikeouts as she led the Tigers to a 14-10 overall record and 7-7 mark in the Heart O’ North Conference.
At the plate, Schultz hit .269 with a .352 on-base percentage an d five doubles. She was a unanimous pick for the HON All-Conference first team and won two Northwestern team awards: Co-MVP and the Hurler Award.
Janigo said Schultz was a wonderful leader for the Tigers who provided her teammates with the confidence they looked for in a pitcher. But that’s not what impresses Janigo most about his senior pitcher.
“What makes Shelby’s story incredible is she started pitching one month before the start of her freshman softball season in high school,” Janigo said Scott.
Going into her freshman season, Schultz was prepared to play first base. She’d never pitched before, and had no intention of testing her skills on the mound.
Then Janigo approached her with the idea of pitching.
“Coach came up to me at a basketball game and asked me if I wanted to (pitch),” Schultz said. “I’m tall and I have long arms, I guess.”
Schultz agreed to try and began her search for a practice space. It turned out she didn’t have to look far.
Schultz got her start pitching in her family’s barn in Cloverland. A basketball court had occupied the upper floor of the barn, so Schultz and her father decided to utilize the space for pitching practice instead.
“It was kind of the perfect distance from the mound to the plate,” said Brad Schultz.
For the first few weeks of practice, Schultz and her father worked on the basics. Accuracy was the biggest problem for Schultz. She had plenty of speed, but the ball didn’t always go where she intended.
“I chased a lot of balls,” Brad Schultz said. “We spent a lot of time sitting on a bucket and talking through different situations. But she put the work in and I was happy to catch for her.”
When softball season arrived, Schultz went right to work. She had no live game experience as a pitcher, but she was the only player on the junior varsity roster listed as a pitcher.
“Obviously I was really terrible my first year,” Schultz said. “It was scary.”
Despite her inexperience, Schultz helped lead the JV team to a winning season in her freshman season. She also found a role model in varsity pitcher Lindsay Garay, who was then a senior. Garay pitched every game for the Tigers in her senior year and finished with a 17-7 record.
“I always looked up to Lindsay Garay. She was like my idol,” Schultz said.
For her sophomore season, Schultz was back in the barn practicing with her father. She spent the next two years throwing one to two hours every other day, and sometimes every day.
“I think she just made up her mind, and she was going to do it,” Brad Schultz said.
Shelby Schultz played for both the JV and varsity squads in her sophomore and junior seasons and moved up to the varsity team full-time as a senior. She was expected to share pitching duties, but Northwestern’s other experienced pitcher — Tiana Arseneau — was sidelined early in the season with a broken ankle.
That left Schultz to handle the pitching duties all alone, just as in her freshman season.
“I feel like a lot of people doubted me,” Schultz said. “Going into the season, this is my first year of being the pitcher. A lot of people didn’t expect me to do as well as I did.
“Don’t ever doubt yourself,” Schultz continued. “If people tell you that you can’t, become better. You just have to work harder.”
Over the course of the season opponents came to respect Schultz, and the senior helped lead the Tigers to some memorable wins.
“I think my favorite game was when we beat Superior,” Schultz said. “That was our team’s favorite game, I think, because Superior is Division 1; you’d think that they would beat us.”
This fall, Schultz plans to attend Western Tech in La Crosse to study nursing. The school does not have a softball team, but Schultz said she hopes to continue playing the sport.
If she needs somewhere to practice, she probably won’t have to look too far from home.