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USA softball: A new perspective

Jessica Shults earned a spot on the American squad for the second straight summer

Posted: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Hart High graduate Jessica Shults, who will be a senior at the University of Oklahoma in the fall, felt the sting of defeat in the NCAA and World Championship finals this summer. But that hasn't stopped her from looking at the bright side of things - she's back on the softball field.

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It was certainly a summer of ups and downs for Hart High graduate Jessica Shults — but that doesn’t mean she’d trade it for anything else.

When you’re playing at the highest level, ups and downs are certainly to be expected.

While the United States’ collective sporting audience was transfixed on the lead up to the London Olympic Games, Shults was representing her country in a different forum.

Shults, who will be a senior at the University of Oklahoma in the fall, is a member of the USA Women’s National Softball team.

And that has made for a busy summer.

Oklahoma opened its season on Feb. 10, with a 6-0 win over Cal State Bakersfield in Las Vegas.

Since then, it’s been non-stop softball for Shults.

The Sooners blossomed into one of the nation’s top teams, led by Shults, the team’s starting catcher, and National Player of the Year pitcher Keilani Ricketts. Oklahoma advanced to the championship series of the Women’s College World Series, where it won the first game before dropping two straight to Alabama to fall short of a title.

Shults, though, didn’t have time to let the sting of that loss affect her. Just a few days later, she was on a plane to Ashland, Ohio to compete for a spot on her second straight national team.

“It was a little quick after the World Series, but I wouldn’t have changed it,” she says. “It was nice to be able to get right back into softball again and not have that time to dwell on it.”

Things continued to move quickly from there.

The catcher was named to the national team, beating out a group that included former Valencia star Madison Shipman.

And with that, came a chance to travel the world playing the sport she loves.

From June 27 through July 2 the team competed in Oklahoma City, winning its sixth World Cup of Softball title.

They then traveled to Canada, taking second in the Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship behind Japan.

Finally, Shults ended up back in Canada for the 2012 International Softball Federation XIII Women’s World Fastpitch Championship.

In a cruel twist of fate, the scene played out similarly to Shults’ Oklahoma experience.

The Americans rolled through the tournament, dispatching Japan to reach the gold medal game, and sending the Japanese to a loser’s bracket match.

Japan, though, defeated Australia in that game, and returned to defeat Team USA in the final, 2-1.

“It was kind of like a flashback to college,” Shults says. “But it happens. Japan worked really hard. They came back. It’s a game of inches, and the ball fell that way for them that day — the ball fell for Alabama — and you have to learn from it.”

But if Shults isn’t letting either loss bring her down, there’s probably good reason.

Her illness in 2011 that kept her out of Oklahoma’s run to the postseason has been well documented.
Shults was diagnosed with pan ulcerative colitis, which at the time, she feared could end her softball career.
Fully healthy this season, Shults has played with a new perspective.

“It motivated me for this year,” she says. “I wasn’t taking any at bats for granted. It was really hard to watch the postseason in the hospital, so I was giving it everything so I could get back with my team.”

And get back she did.

Shults was one of the nation’s top players this season, named one of the top-25 finalist for national Player of the Year honors.

So, yes, if Shults isn’t letting the losses bring her down, there’s definitely good reason.

“Yes, it’s one of the biggest games we’re going to play in. But at the end of the day, I was able to play in the game and be in that position,” she says. “A year ago, I wasn’t in that position. So it’s perspective. You have to look at the bigger picture.”

Now, she’s enjoying a brief reprieve back in Santa Clarita, where she says she’s “just relaxing, getting my nails done and being a girl for a week.”

But after that, it’s right back to Oklahoma, where she hopes she can share some of her international experience with her teammates.

The Sooners return the majority of their core players, including Shults and Ricketts, and look poised to make a return run deep into the postseason.

“We were right there, it was a great experience and we’re all still not over the loss (to Alabama),” Shults says. “But we’re excited to get back on the field. No one wanted to leave after the last game. It’s exciting to know everybody’s on the same page.”


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