INDIANAPOLIS — Sydney Shelton doesn’t take kindly to losing. She never has. Powered by a motor perpetually locked in high gear, the Butler University freshman admits for the first time in her career, she had to slow down her expectations.
Truth be told, there were factors at play well beyond her control, Shelton said, and she had to accept them.
On a team without a single senior on the roster and crippled by several in-season injuries to key players, including herself, the Bulldogs labored to a 6-25 record and 2-16 finish in the Big East.
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Her drive to succeed, however, made an impression nonetheless in only her first year at the Division I level as the Mt. Vernon graduate earned Big East All-Freshman Team honors this month.
Shelton, an Indiana All-Star for the Marauders in 2016, was named one of the Big East’s top freshman after starting 24 games for the Bulldogs. She averaged 8.8 points and 27.9 minutes per game.
She scored a career-high 23 points against DePaul on Feb. 12, and as she’s been known for throughout her career, shot 6 of 11 from 3-point range in the game as a starter.
Against Georgetown, Shelton put up 18 points Feb. 17, and she posted a career-best eight rebounds against Villanova on Feb. 19.
More impressively, she started her first college game on Nov. 11 against East Tennessee State as a true freshman for head coach Kurt Godlevske despite being slowed by preseason injury.
Sidelined in October with Achilles tendinitis, Shelton took a month off to recover. Once she returned, the guard had 10 games where she reached double figures in scoring, which was a relief after grinding through an elbow and fibula injury that limited her production as a senior at Mt. Vernon.
The Bulldogs weren’t as fortunate, though. They struggled to break 10 wins due to their youth and afflictions, especially with the loss of Lebanon alum Kristen Spolyar, who tore her ACL in January. Spolyar, a freshman, was second on the team in scoring at 12.8 points prior to the ligament tear.
The Bulldogs endured another substantial blow before their first game of the season when 2014 Indiana Miss Basketball Whitney Jennings of Logansport had to sit out a year due to the NCAA Transfer Rule. Coming from the University of Iowa, Jennings, a junior, is expected to bolster the team next season.
For Shelton, she is working to do the same and remains optimistic moving forward as a rising star for the Bulldogs.
Recently, Shelton spoke with the Daily Reporter, discussing her first year in college, being a starter and being honored this season.
What was the transition like going from the high school game to the Division I level?
When you transition, there is a lot to take in. It’s getting use to a different style of play. Butler plays more half-court, and we run more plays, so there’s getting use to that and figuring out what the coaches want you to do individually. As a young team, we didn’t that majority of older players to tell us what the coaches like or don’t like, so it was difficult sometimes. I think we’re all just trying to figure that out and how we can contribute to the team moving forward.
Speaking of older players, how much will the addition of Whitney Jennings, a transfer from Iowa, lift the program once she’s eligible?
She’s been to the Sweet 16, and was part of a major Division I school that was at the top of the Big 10. She has a lot of experience, so I’m really looking forward to having her actually playing on the team next year. I’m really close to her as well off the court, so that should be fun.
You started 24 games this year; was it a goal to become a starter in your first year?
I definitely worked hard to get it. I think I worked really hard all year and did my best to stay positive, be a good teammate and try to communicate effectively with the coaching staff and with all the other girls on the team. That was definitely one of my goals to be able to start, but I just wanted to play and contribute.
Once you became a starter, did your mindset change at all?
Honestly, I didn’t really change anything. A starting spot is great, and I’m very thankful I was able to start as many games as I did, but for me as a player that’s honestly not that big of a deal to me. A starting spot isn’t necessarily something that you have to have, but it’s something you have to earn and I felt I did. It wasn’t just going to be given to me, so I was thankful.
How thankful were you that you were finally healthy again, especially after your last high school season and the early parts of his season?
It was an answer to a prayer. I had an Achilles overuse injury, which is terrible because you put in so much time in the summer, especially when you get into October, preparing for season. About mid-October, my Achilles began to get swollen. I actually had to miss the first six games because I could hardly walk on it.
I took about a month off and let it rest, and it was an answer of a prayer that my body felt great the rest of the season. College is such a long season, so missing the first six games, I thought it would be a big deal, but it turned out to be more insignificant in comparison to the whole season. I was so thankful, especially coming off my senior year where I had the elbow and then my fibula injury.
How difficult was it to go through such a trying season in your first year at 6-25?
It was rough. I’ve never had a losing season before in my life, so it was different, but I feel like I’ve grown a lot throughout this year. Basketball isn’t life. When you’re a Division I basketball player, it’s like your job. Sometimes you just have to step back and remember it’s not everything. Obviously, I felt that was something we had to do this year to try to make the most of it. I just tried to be positive no matter what and stay up and stay encouraging for myself and my teammates.
I know you’re not happy with your field goal percentage (.286), but it seemed that your 3-point shot (49 made) came around for you?
Yeah, that was definitely something my coach wanted me to do. Toward the end of the season that was something he wanted, for me to be more of a shooter. Hopefully, though, next year I’ll do even better at figuring out my role and what is expected, so I can do more.
Despite the losing record how optimistic are you of the future?
Toward the end of the season I think we all started to pull it together more and played more competitively. The scores were closer, so really it’s only up from here. We’ll have Whitney next year and she’ll be good for us. That should make a difference. It’s about staying positive.
How much of a confidence booster was it for you to be honored as a freshman, especially after such a tough year?
Very much. That was nice because of the season we had. I don’t think I played anywhere near my best, and obviously, I think we could have done better as whole. I do believe in my teammates, and I do believe we have a lot of talent and potential. Getting Big East All-Freshman Team honors was very encouraging for me. I thank God for giving me the opportunity to be on the Big East All-Freshman Team.