Freshman steps up when needed most

Kaelia Neal and Sara Levering

It’s rare for a freshman to join a team as a crucial player and exceed expectations, but Shelby Saylors did just that.

“I didn’t think I would be a key player my freshman year. It’s a great thing as a freshman to be playing at this level,” Saylors said.

Saylors brings more to the team than just athleticism.

“She is very hardworking and dedicated and also provides comic relief when it is needed,” teammate Danielle Duman said. “She is such a joy to be around and someone you know is going to come to practice every day to get better for the team.”

Saylors started playing tee-ball around the age of five and fell in love with softball from there.

“When I hit fifth grade I knew I wanted to play college softball,” she said.

In high school she also played soccer and basketball, but her heart remained set with softball.

“It’s the main sport I really enjoy doing,” Saylors said.

The political science major began her journey as a Wildcat not knowing she would make a significant impact on the softball team.

Linfield Catball is one of the most successful athletic programs at the school. Since 2002, the team has successfully been led to numerous victories by Coach Jackson Vaughan. From 2002 to 2015, the team’s overall record is 523-125-1.

Last season, Catball placed third in division III NCAA finals, and an asset to the team was Linfield pitcher, Montana McNealy.

The star pitcher was a senior last season, and with losing her there were certainly concerns with the pitching staff for the 2016 season. But the team remained optimistic and confident in their abilities to work together to perform the way Catball plays.

“At the beginning of every year it is always an adjustment finding our groove as a team with who is playing in the field. Every year is different because no one team is ever the same especially as seniors graduate and others try out new positions,” Duman said.

“Our mindset as a team is to always support and back up our pitchers and one another regardless of who is on the mound or on the field,” Duman said.

Indeed, Linfield softball has had yet another successful season so far.

“Over the course of the season we have really improved and made an identity for ourselves,” Saylors said.

For the 13th consecutive season, Catball has earned a spot to the NCAA Division III softball tournament after conquering George Fox University and Whitworth University.

And Saylors, the 5-foot-7 rookie Wildcat pitcher, dominated the field at the conference championship tournament. She now looks to the rest of the season with excitement and ambition.

The goals are “to win our next games for the rest of the season,” Saylors said.

“Each and every week she comes to practice with the mindset of getting better to improve her spins and become more precise with her locations of pitches,” Duman said.

Saylors has enjoyed her first softball season so far as a Wildcat because of the team’s success and camaraderie.

“It’s been a great experience getting to know these girls and playing with them,” Saylors said.

The team is a “big group of awesome girls that are goofy and hilarious yet incredibly talented,” she said.