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DLN ALL-AREA: Renee Shultz adjusts to new position, leads Bishop Shanahan to state final

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DOWNINGTOWN >> This fall, Bishop Shanahan’s Renee Shultz was volleyball’s version of a franchise quarterback or star point guard.

The senior was the quintessential coach on the floor for one of the state’s premier programs. There were very few possessions that didn’t go directly through Shultz. As the team’s designated setter, she directed everything and was a stabilizing force for the Eagles, who managed to overcome several key injuries/illnesses and wound up advancing all the way to the state title game.

“In my opinion, (Shultz) was the best player in the league regardless of position,” said West Chester Rustin head coach Harry Bitzberger.

“The kid can do it all,” added West Chester Henderson coach Greta Neff. “She leads with poise and confidence.”

The testimonials from opposing coaches are, indeed, impressive. And the raw statistics are overwhelming. The 2017 Daily Local News Player of the Year was simply the most impactful performer on the area’s best squad. She was recently named to the Class 4A All-State team by the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.

“Renee experienced growth, both physically and in her maturity, as a volleyball player,” said her coach, Greg Ashman. “It was fun to watch and to be a part of.”

Shultz wasn’t just a four-year high school starter, which is impressive enough. She was a four-time, first-team All-League honoree, and she saved the very best for last. Her off-the-charts numbers for 2017 include 713 assists, 330 digs and 46 aces. And, for good measure, she added 108 kills, which is an astronomical total for a setter.

“She became a very dangerous setter from both the front row and back,” Ashman explained. “She ran our offense and kept the opposition guessing where the attack was going to come from.”

A hitter/setter a year ago, Shultz took over sole possession of setting role when teammate Ceandra Ashman was forced to miss most of the season with migraines. It meant that Shultz had to give up the glory of kills and blocks at the net.

“I realized this season that I’m primarily a setter and I enjoy playing the position,” Shultz said. “I didn’t get to hit as much, but I didn’t really mind that.”

With Shultz distributing, directing and leading, Shanahan cruised to an unbeaten regular season, the Ches-Mont National title and the program’s third straight District 1 crown. And the Eagles did it all without sophomore hitter Cara Shultz, who is Renee’s younger sister. A year ago as a freshman, Cara was an All-Stater, but a stress fracture ended her season back in September.

“Renee’s consistency as a setter helped with a lot of things,” Ashman explained. “It allowed our hitters to get comfortable knowing where she was going to put the ball.”

Heading into the PIAA playoffs, Shanahan lost another key hitter when Natalie Ogden went down with an ankle injury. But the Eagles kept on winning.

“It seems like every year we get hit with injuries, but we do our best to adapt to whatever gets in our way,” Shultz said. “In the end, we had a lot of success, so it worked out.

“We had a lot of crucial injuries. Natalie’s injury near the end of the season gave us a little bit of doubt. The biggest thing was to stay level headed, not panic and avoid the mindset that things are over. We were confident that somebody would step up and fill the gap because all season we’ve been preparing for that type of situation.”

Severely shorthanded, Shanahan made it all the way to the PIAA Class 4A title game before bowing out to North Allegheny. The final record was 25-1. And during Shultz’s four-year high school career, the Eagles went 121-15-6.

“I would be shocked if anybody, going forward, would ever come close to breaking that at Shanahan,” Ashman pointed out. “It’s an astronomical number. It’s a pretty good run.”

Schultz added: “It’s something I am proud of, and I am so proud of the things we accomplished in my four years. It’s been the most fun years I could ever ask for.

“We progressively got better with each year. But those numbers aren’t mine alone — it’s a tribute to everybody in the program.”

In three of her four seasons at Shanahan, Renee played alongside a sibling. As a freshman, it was her older sister Rita. And for the last two seasons, it’s been with Cara.

“I tried to be the same kind of leader for Cara that Rita was for me,” she said.

Over the years, Shultz developed into an effective leader. She had the kind of unflappable demeanor and focused temperament that helped the Eagles weather all kinds of challenges.

“She is very even-keeled with her emotions. There is never a real high-energy, excited Renee, but never a mopey, grumpy Renee,” Ashman said.

“For the most part, I don’t let fans, or refs, or the surroundings get to me,” Shultz added. “I just play my game and try to keep my teammates calm as well. I’ll never get to the point where I am going to give up.”

A National Honor Society member, Shultz sifted through a lot of offers and decided to attend Yale in 2018 and play volleyball for the Bulldogs.

“I am so excited,” she said. “It was a process narrowing down where I was going to go. But once I figured out what I was looking for in a college program and talking to the coaches at Yale and seeing the campus, I pretty much fell in love with the whole thing.”

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