Some kids just have a vibrance about them, a dynamic personality that lifts those around them.
For Michigan City’s volleyball team, that plug-in is junior Reece Shirley.
“I would say she’s the heartbeat of the team,” MC coach TR Harlan said. “She’s our energy kid. You can see it. We had a long talk about it this summer at Western Michigan. There was a time when we were really down and I told her, look, you can’t have days like that. If you don’t do it, they will follow you. Now she can be a little bit over the top, but she’s so good, I put up with it a little bit.”
It hasn’t always been that way for the upbeat Shirley, who now radiates a positivity on the court.
“I like to have fun, try to make the best out of it,” she said. “That changed a lot this year. You mess up, it’s all right, everyone makes mistakes. I have to move on. I can’t slack off. They really need me, I have to be an example for the younger girls. I’m stepping up, being more of a leader. If one person’s up, it builds everyone’s momentum. If one person’s down, I have to try to pick them back up because it just brings everyone down.”
City’s 26-7 record is a bit of a surprise, given the absence of Hannah Noveroske for much of the season, and Shirley’s a big reason why the success level didn’t wane.
“Freshman year, I set in the back row and hit in the front row, same thing sophomore year,” Shirley said. “I played but it was like I didn’t contribute as much as I thought I could. It just wasn’t my year. Last year, we had a lot of seniors who were big players. Junior year, this is my year. I feel I’m contributing a lot to the team. I’m hitting a lot more.”
That’s not all. Harlan lists Shirley at or near the top in kills, digs, assists, blocks and serve reception, the latter of which she’d never done before.
“I remember when I took over, there was this skinny little freshman everybody said was really, really good,” Harlan said. “I could see this kid can really play and eventually she’s going to be really good. She just didn’t have enough strength yet. Her body filled out. She’s got a big jump. She’s really athletic, which is why she is able to all the things we’ve asked her to do. She loves it. We’ve asked her to take on a huge role and I couldn’t have asked her to do any more than she’s done. There have been games where it’s been set the ball to Reece 45 times. We had to do it and she responded, every single time. She’s been sensational.”
The Wolves were already down some hitting strength when Noveroske got hurt, putting the onus to lead the attack on the 5-foot-10 Shirley and senior Emily Kinney.
“I just had to have more swings, be the type of hitter the setter could rely on to get more kills during crucial times in a game,” Shirley said. “When Hannah came back, it just have us another option to rely on. It spaces out the blockers. Not all the pressure is on me all the time.”
A product of Elston parents, Shirley started volleyball early in early elementary school, joining the Dunes club, and has done so ever since. She dabbled in softball, soccer and basketball, though volleyball took front and center. She is considering playing softball, where she used to pitch and play shortstop, this spring.
“I don’t know what it was, it just kind of clicked,” Shirley said. “I’m more passionate for (volleyball). I love the sport.”
Shirley is drawing college interest and Harlan expects her to land a home.
“Let’s say I don’t anticipate her having to pay for college,” he said. “She has the talent to play a lot of places. It’s just her size. If she was 6-2, she’d be a D-I kid.”
Academics certainly won’t hurt Shirley’s chances. She’s an A student who’s also involved in HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) and Spanish Club. While her career pursuits are ever-changing, she knows she wants to go into a field where she can help people.
This week, she hopes to help the Wolves to another sectional title.
“I think we’ve had some rough games but we learned a lot from those games,” Shirley said. “Our focus is on what we need to do to get better as a team. We’re going hard at practice, trying to get everything ready. We have a good shot. With Emily and Hannah (being seniors), we have to make sure we do our job this year. I think we’re headed in the right direction for that.”