CLAY — For quite some time now, Shaelyn Vassar has been a staple of Clay’s softball success.
The senior shortstop is a pillar of the Panthers’ eight-name senior class … one that includes the likes of starters Jensen Warnock, Cassidy Wells, Hannah Oliver, Lila Brown, Ryanna Bobst and Elisa Collins.
Those names have been a unit since their little league days and now are in the midst of one last season together, one they hope turns into their best yet.
Clay, sitting at 13-2 overall and 8-1 in the SOC I, still has business to attend to and. Following last season’s exit in a Division IV regional semifinal — a 5-4 loss to Strasburg-Franklin in 15 innings — Vassar and her teammates seem poised to get back to that level and earn a different outcome.
We had a chance to catch up with Shaelyn and discuss how close the Panthers are on and off the field, Clay’s rich softball history, what her best on-field trait is and much, much more.
Q: Can you describe your season so far, in a team and individual aspect?
SV: As a team, our season has started out great. We have put the ball in play and have made our opponents work. All of our victories have been complete team efforts. Everybody has stepped up, including our underclassmen. When it comes to my individual performance, I have such high expectations for myself, and sometimes, that doesn’t work out in my favor. Through the beginning of this season, I have grown tremendously as a player in which I have improved my mental game, as well as my physical. During this season, I have learned to have fun and just play the game I love.
Q: Clay has a rich softball history. You know that better than anybody. What is this team’s ceiling? How far can you guys go?
SV: The sky is the limit for Clay softball. We have unbelievable talent in every aspect of the game. This isn’t uncommon for this program, for Clay has had this undeniable talent for decades. After losing in 15 innings to the state runner-up last year, we are so driven to make it all the way this year. With our heart and skill, I believe that we can achieve anything together as a team.
Q: How close is your team, on and off the field?
SV: I can say that I play the game I love with the people I love. These girls have been my rock throughout my whole softball career. I can say the same for every single player. We all love each other and truly want each other to succeed. Even off the field, we can all count on each other for anything, and that means a lot when we get on the field. We have so much chemistry, and that chemistry will drive us to the top.
Q: You personally, what is your best on-field trait and what do you like the most about the game?
SV: My favorite on-field trait is probably being quick on the base paths. It’s such a rush running those bases, and the best feeling is when I’m able to cross the plate for my team. Honestly, I get excited when I get on base because it’s one of my favorite aspects of the game. Additionally, my favorite part of the game would have to be the multiple chances that you are given. Throughout my years, I have learned that even if you make an error or strike out, you always have another chance to make up for it. Attitude is everything, and I love that I can be optimistic about every single play. That is what gets me through all of my games. Softball has brought me so much peace, and all my worries disappear when I step on the field.
Q: You’re still in the conference title hunt. But you’ll have to avenge and earlier season loss to Notre Dame and, of course, win the rest of your SOC I games. Can you tell me why you think that’ll happen?
SV: Last week was definitely a rough week for us. Every single girl played with a heavy heart for our dear teacher that had passed away. It was very difficult to be in that game with such a loss. With that being said, we will be back on our grind next week. We will play our hardest in honor of Mrs. White. We have worked so hard to be where we are today, and for most of us, this is our last chance to make a statement on the field. Our experience is the driving force behind our motivation to win it all. Since little league, we have wanted this success so bad, and I know that we can achieve it.
Q: What’s it like playing for coach Gearhart and what does he do to help you be a better player and person?
SV: I’ve been blessed with coach Gearheart as both a coach and a role model. Since I was a little league player, I always put in the extra work with him. I was so eager to be able to play for him when I was finally old enough. From my freshman year, he has been the reason for the improvement of my game. He pushes me every single day to be better than I was yesterday. He believes in repetition, and that has paid off in all aspects of my game. We have worked almost every day for so many years, and his time and effort have made me a better player. He has also made me a better person in which I have learned the importance of self-discipline. I know to always push further and work harder. With that self-discipline, I am sure to succeed not only in the rest of my softball career, but the rest of my life.