Transfer Shelby Walters Finds New Home, Purpose At Georgia
For Shelby Walters, transferring to the University of Georgia was narrowed down to just three simple factors: family, education and competing for a national title.
For the native of Cohutta, Ga., having her family in the stands and also having the ability to continue chasing her dream in exercise physiology have always been her driving forces. Leaving Duke behind was hard for her, but finding a successful program to play with as a graduate student was a priority.
“I wanted to go somewhere where I could get a degree that was going to help me get to where I want to be in life,” Walters said. “But also being in my last year (of college softball), I wanted to make sure I could play somewhere where I could make a difference and make a good run for a title.”
In a 2022 season cut short by a foot injury, Walters was unable to end her time with Duke on a high note. She had a breakout campaign in 2021, making 31 appearances with a team-best 24 starts in the circle, leading the Blue Devils' pitching staff with a 1.28 ERA and 19 wins.
Now, she is vigorously working to get back to full form and bring the best version of her game to Georgia.
“Getting back has been something that has been very emotionally and physically taxing,” Walters said. “It’s been a challenge throwing live again. You can be an All-American, but getting out there again in front of a batter is an entirely different game.”
While watching from the sidelines last season, Walters used that time to learn about pitching from watching others play the game. Prior to her injury, she had never been sidelined before, so that experience changed her mindset on not just the game, but on life as well.
“(The injury) wasn’t something I wanted or planned for, but I think it has made me a better person, a better player and put me more in touch with myself and pitching,” Walters said. “I understand my body better and I understand the strategy of pitching better. When you watch other people pitching, you have to break down what their thought process is and learn from the game.”
With that new outlook, Walters cemented her place at Georgia by helping some of the younger pitchers battle the mental aspects of the game. She's helped them not just deal with injuries, but also with how to handle the little hiccups that can come a pitcher's way at any moment during a game.
“People talk about the mental side of pitching a lot, but I don’t think it hits home unless you have been out there by yourself and have been tested,” Walters said. “Being able to share that with my teammates and say, ‘I know you haven’t been able to witness this firsthand yet, but this is what I have experienced,’ helps them recognize that situation when they are in it.”
While working alongside Bulldogs pitching coach Chelsea Wilkinson, Walters has implemented new ways to use previous techniques she used as a younger player that she often forgot about during her undergraduate career. Relearning how to gauge the perfect feel of a pitch has already given her a leg up going into the 2023 season.
“I feel like I have come to appreciate a part of pitching that I had when I was younger, and I think I lost (that) a little bit when I was at Duke,” Walters said. “Working with Chelsea, she has come to help me grow that side back where I can do a self-evaluation while I’m throwing. It has helped me to make adjustments with my pitches and enhance and develop new pitches.”
As Walters begins to reflect on all the great years she spent playing softball, she wants to walk away from the game after this season knowing she was the most supportive teammate she could be. To her, that matters more than any accolade or title.
“I want to be able to say at the end of it that I gave it my all and there were no regrets,” Walters said. “Yes, success is always nice, but the way my teammates look at me or think about me in 15 to 20 years down the road is most important. I'd love to have their respect and for them to love the person that I am.”