This week’s Player Journey features college and professional athlete, Shelby Dalton! Shelby is from Moab, Utah and played for the University of Utah as an opposite, graduating in 2015. While in college, Shelby dominated the competition and played on both the College National Team and the Pac-12 All-Star team. After college, Shelby went on to play for LP Kangasala of Finland (where she was the top point scorer in the Finnish league) and Panaxiakos of Greece.
Read on if you have questions like
- How can I promote myself to college coaches if I’m from a small town?
- How can I constantly push myself to improve and play at the next level?
- What does it take to play professionally? How can I get recruited?
BOS: You came from a small town. How did you originally get noticed by college coaches? Is there anything in particular that you did that helped you to get noticed and get recruited?
SD: Growing up in a small town there was only high school volleyball to participate in. Growing up I only played volleyball for about 3 months out of the year. Once I got to high school some of my other teammates and I would go to college volleyball camps in the summer.
The summer after my freshman year we went to a University of Utah volleyball camp. I’m not even sure why we picked that camp because it’s 4 hours away from my hometown and there are a lot of other colleges that are closer. After that camp was over, I was invited back the next week to participate in the High Octane Camp, which is a camp that you have to be invited to. Before this I had had some attention from smaller schools, but this is the first time a University took any interest in me.
BOS: It sounds like athletes at smaller schools need to be more proactive to get noticed. Was that true in your case?
SD: Small high schools don’t get a lot of attention from bigger colleges, so I had to go to them. I don’t think I would have ever gotten noticed by a Pac-12 school if I didn’t go to that camp. I didn’t do anything in particular to get recruited, I was actually very naïve to the recruiting process in high school. I didn’t really think I was good enough to play in college at that age.
BOS: What was it about the University of Utah that caught your attention? At what age did you commit to play there and what led up to that decision?
SD: I was very familiar with the U before I got recruited. I had an older sister that went to school there and my grandmother only lived 20 minutes away. I was attracted to the U because I had family around and I knew it was a good program. I committed in May of my sophomore year of high school. I was playing softball at the time and one day after softball practice the assistant University of Utah coaches came down from Salt Lake because they wanted to watch me play.
I never played club volleyball so they hadn’t seen me play since the fall. My high school coach and setter helped run a little mini practice so they could watch. I remember it was so weird because I couldn’t really talk to them and they were just walking around the gym taking videos of me. About two weeks later I got a phone call from the head coach and she offered me a 4 year full ride scholarship. I was so excited about the offer, I said yes right away on the phone. I knew I wanted to play in college and I felt like that was the best opportunity I was going to get and I wanted to play for the University of Utah program.
BOS: What was one of your favorite experiences from playing for Utah?
SD: My favorite on the court experience was my senior year when we beat Washington, who was ranked #2 in the nation at that point. It was such an exciting game and the team chemistry that game was one of the best I have ever experienced.
Off the court I just really enjoyed travel trips and seeing new place. It was fun to walk around other cities. We would always sneak down to the hotel store or to a CVS to get candy and treats and then hang out in a room and play cards or just talk.
BOS: What advice do you have for athletes who live in small towns or attend small high schools? How can they promote themselves and get recruited?
SD: My advice to athletes that grow up in small towns and have aspirations to play in college would be to play as much as possible. After high school practice there was always a group of us that would stay later and keep practicing. Go to a gym and play pickup whenever possible, even if the level isn’t very high. I went to as many volleyball camps in the summer as I could, to get extra playing time and to play against higher caliber players. College coaches can’t recruit you if they don’t see you play so I would reach out to colleges you are interested in and invite them to watch you play if you are ever close to them.
BOS: What led up to your decision to play professionally?
SD: I had heard about players continuing their career by playing overseas. There was another player from the University of Utah that was 4 or 5 years ahead of me and one time she came to a camp and talked about playing overseas and it seemed like a really fun opportunity. I wasn’t even sure I was going to play overseas until the February after my senior season was over. My coach randomly texted me and asked me about it. That same day the thought had come into my mind about playing overseas, so I thought it must have been a sign. I wasn’t done playing yet and I wanted to travel and see other parts of the world.
BOS: How did you find your professional team? Did you use a recruiting service? Which one?
SD: I found my professional team through my agent. I worked with Bring It Promotions.
BOS: What advice do you have for athletes who want to play professionally? What can they do to prepare themselves?
SD: When I was thinking about it, I emailed other girls I knew that had played overseas to ask them about their experiences. I asked girls that had played in all different countries. To prepare I would tell other girls that it won’t be anything like college. The culture and language barrier can be very difficult at times. I would advise them to immerse themselves in the culture and enjoy being in another country. There will be a lot of things that happen on the club team that will seem bizarre, but you must understand it is normal in their culture. I really had to learn to just go with the flow.
BOS: You played at some of the most competitive levels of the game. What qualities helped you to be successful?
SD: My coaches always told me I was mentally strong. I grew up very competitive and that carried over into college. When I got to college, I felt really behind all the other girls that had played club and had a broader volleyball vocabulary that I did. I worked really hard to learn the game. I felt like I had to prove that I was good enough to be there. I tried to absorb as much information as possible and apply it in practice and games.
I wouldn’t let little things get to me. If I got blocked, I wanted the ball back immediately to try again. I think some of the best things you can do to be successful at as high level is to be coachable, work hard, put time into learning the game, and be mentally tough.
BOS: What does your athletic career mean to you now?
At the time I don’t think I appreciated college and my professional experience as much as I should have. Whenever I think back on it, I am so glad I got those experiences. Volleyball gave me opportunities that the 18 year-old me could have only dreamt about. I’ve been able to play volleyball in one of the best conferences in the nation, travel the world, and make life long friends.
BOS: What are you doing now?
SD: I am currently going back to school for nursing. I have just under 2 years left. I am currently playing on a women’s league that plays about once a week and I play in a few random tournaments here and there.
A huge thanks to Shelby for sharing with us about her career! If you’ve got a story to tell and a desire to help other athletes breakout, please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org