Shelby Wilson wasted little time proving NCAA Division I wasn’t too big a stage for her talent.
In the first game of her freshman season, the former Whiteland Community High School standout drilled a base hit for the Indiana State University softball team.
It would be the first of many in the next four seasons for Wilson, who is winding down a sterling career for the Sycamores.
A four-year starter, the versatile infielder has been among Indiana State’s top players all four seasons. Not only that, she’s been one of the best in the Missouri Valley Conference, as well.
Multiskilled in the field and unflappable at the plate, Wilson has — at one time or another — played every infield position except pitcher and catcher and been one of the Sycamore’s top sluggers. She has started 175 of 182 career games and needs only six RBIs to break ISU’s all-time record of 89.
Yet the only numbers that matter to Wilson, who primarily plays third base, are the ones in ISU’s win column.
With 15 games left, the Sycamores are 20-18 and in contention to qualify for the MVC Tournament for the first time since 2009. The top eight teams in the 10-team conference advance to the tournament. Indiana State is in 10th place but is mathematically well in contention to move into the top eight.
For Wilson, reaching the conference tournament — with the accompanying shot of advancing to the NCAA Tournament — is her chief motivation.
“I don’t know the (personal) records. That’s not really what I look at. I just look at wins and losses,” said Wilson, whose team hasn’t had a winning record since 1992. “One of my goals is to make sure
our team goes to the conference tournament this year. I’ve not made it the last three years.
“It would be awesome just to say that, yeah, me and the other seniors were able to change the program around a little bit more and reach our goals, and that would be the conference tourney.”
If the Sycamores reach their goal, Wilson will have played a prominent role.
Despite a series of injuries that have hampered her production, Wilson is hitting .316 this season with four doubles, three home runs and 19 RBIs. She missed two starts early in the season because of torn ankle ligaments suffered during base running but did not miss any games. She served as a designated hitter when she didn’t start.
As another testimony to her toughness, she got hit in the face with a ball early in the season while fielding a grounder. She got stitches, then played the final two innings at third base.
Third-year ISU coach Shane Bouman marvels at Wilson’s determination.
“Work ethic and commitment are the two things she lives by,” Bouman said. “There’s probably not a girl on the team that puts in more time to her craft, defensively or offensively.
“She’s determined to be one of the best nine players on the softball field, and she’s done that the whole time that I’ve been here. When you put in hard work, good things happen.
“She’s the one you want on your team. It’s been fun having her.”
As further evidence of her drive and work ethic, Wilson has been a quick study off the diamond. She needed only 3½ years to earn her bachelor’s degree in criminology. She graduated in December and is enrolled in a master’s program.
A renaissance student if ever there was one, Wilson is also a firefighter/EMT, having earned her certification while in high school, and spends what little spare time she has performing volunteer work with underprivileged children in Terre Haute.
On all fronts, from athletics to academics to volunteer opportunities, Wilson — an aspiring coach — has relished her time at Indiana State.
“It’s been an awesome experience,” she said. “The campus is perfect size for me. It wasn’t too big, it wasn’t to small. It’s a positive atmosphere. Overall, it’s been a great experience.”
Although the Sycamores struggled during Wilson’s first three seasons, her contributions were immediate and meaningful.
She started 44 of 48 games her freshman season and finished with a .241 batting average. The following year, she started all 53 games and hit .329.
Her junior season, she started all 50 games and led the Sycamores in five categories: hitting (.361), RBIs (34), total bases (88), walks (18) and on-base percentage (.445). She also tied for the team lead in hits (53) and home runs (eight) and was one of four players to reach double digits in steals (10).
“Nobody works harder; nobody’s more committed. She’s raised the standards of expectations,” Bouman said. “She expects to make every single play. She expects to get a hit every time. She’s a winner.
“She hasn’t won a whole lot while she’s been here, but she’s one that if you’re starting a program and want a hard worker, you’d want her on your team. We’ve enjoyed having here. She’s fun to be around.”
Wilson has enjoyed the ride and is expects it to continue in the MVC Tournament. She has little doubt the Sycamores will qualify.
“I’m really confident that we’ll make it. The ball’s in our court now,” Wilson said. “It’ll be neat. I know we’ll make it there. It’s going to be a big accomplishment. It’s my main goal, I guess you could say.
“(Personal) records, I don’t really look at those.”