By Blake Baxter
EUREKA – Though it didn't last as long as she planned, Sydney Shubert made the most of her time in maroon and gold.
In 43 games over the course of two seasons, the speedy center fielder from Canton left an indelible mark on the Eureka softball program.
After transferring to EC from Heartland Community College as a junior, Shubert slid into the No. 2 spot of the batting order, slapped her way to an NCAA Division III batting title with a sizzling .587 batting average and helped the Red Devils piece together an unforgettable season.
"I think last year was definitely the best year that I've had playing in college, as a team and personally," Shubert said. "I don't think people knew we were going to do as well as we did, and it was just super easy to play. We were all relaxed and having fun."
In 2019, EC softball was picked to finish sixth in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The Red Devils ended up going 14-4 in SLIAC play, clinching their first-ever SLIAC league title on the last day of the regular season and going 3-0 at the SLIAC Tournament to secure only their second NCAA Tournament berth in program history.
A First Team All-SLIAC selection, Shubert became the first EC player to be name SLIAC Player of the Year and was one of the Red Devils' first All-America selections in over a quarter of a century.
In addition to leading Division III in batting, she had the second-highest on-base percentage in the nation (.618) and tied for the third-most runs scored per game (1.33). Shubert finished the banner year with 71 hits, 44 runs scored, 13 stolen bases, 11 RBIs, four doubles and two triples, along with a .984 fielding percentage in the outfield.
Before this spring, the Red Devils were picked to finish at the top of the field in the SLIAC's preseason poll. That, along with a personal expectation to live up to the highs of the 2019 run, left Shubert feeling a little more nervous going into the season than usual.
She tried to compensate by putting in more offseason training hours than ever before, but she says that EC Coach Debi Neff also helped her alleviate some of the pressure.
"I think Coach Neff knew I was kind of nervous and she just told me to play how I can, so that helped a lot," Shubert said. "And I kind of calmed down and when I was playing, I didn't really think anything of it; I just did what I could do."
By the time the Fastpitch Spring Dreams Classic was over, it looked like Shubert was in the midst of another special season.
In 10 games at Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, she batted .548, recorded a .595 on-base percentage and slugged a career-best .710. While the team went 8-2, she tallied 17 hits, including one double and two triples, scored 13 runs, had seven RBIs, stole seven bases and drew five walks while only striking out once. She also made 19 putouts and two assists in 21 chances in center field.
However, on the last day of the tournament, the Red Devils learned that their season had been canceled due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, leading to a quiet, sad flight home.
"We came out pretty strong, and I was super excited to see where things were going to go for the rest of the season," Shubert said, "because I think we had a good chance of going back to the tournament and winning again."
Now, Shubert is looking forward to graduating with a degree in exercise science in August. She hopes to eventually go back to school and get her teaching certificate so she can teach physical education and health. This fall, she plans to help coach junior high and varsity softball at Canton. There, she'll be reunited with her former coach, Bob Barnes.
Over the course of her career, Shubert says she's been fortunate to cross paths with several influential coaches, including early encouragement from her dad.
Chuck Shubert was the youth coach who first helped spark her interest in the game. Barnes was the longtime mentor who taught her how to bunt before high school, and Neff helped bring her game to another level during a victorious final stretch at Eureka.
"When she (Neff) told us we needed to get serious, we would, and when she said that we were okay to go and have fun, we did," Shubert said. "I really, really enjoyed playing at Eureka."