By Joseph Garcia
Liberty Hill’s starting point guard, Shelby Whitten, had a superb sophomore season on the Lady Panthers’ varsity squad this year. She ranked at the top or near it in multiple statistical categories in her first full year on varsity, after being a part of last season’s state-bound playoff team.
The energetic 5-3 guard with quickness, handles and agility will be reduced to cheerleader and coach, however, when the Lady Panthers begin their 2013 playoff run. With the news that her injured middle knuckle on her index finger on her right hand is broken, she is sidelined for six weeks after undergoing surgery on it Wednesday.
Whitten, the tough-minded competitor she is, played through the pain for the past three games after suffering the injury on Jan. 25 vs. Brownwood. In contests against Burnet, Lampasas and Gatesville – what should now be viewed as a heroic effort – Whitten still scored a total of 17 points with the broken bone on her shooting hand.
“I’ve been playing on it for three games because we thought it was sprained,” said Whitten. “When it didn’t get any better my parents got it checked out and it turned out it is a bad break. It was devastating news to say the least. I feel like I’m letting my team down, but I know everything happens for a reason.”
But while she may not be able to dish off an assist or make a basket, she plans to do everything she can to help her team advance as far as possible throughout the postseason.
“I think we’re all a little bit nervous, but excited at the same time,” she said. “We need to have faith in each other and be fearless going into the game. I’m going to support my team in every way I can. I will help them out and encourage them to do their best.”
She will have ample playing time in a Liberty Hill uniform, however. After all, she is still very young, 15, and will come back next season an improved player with leadership qualities. She plans to work on her skills in the offseason to improve her game, but Liberty Hill Coach Matt Kirschner was pleased with her production and all that she learned this season.
He said Whitten is a very consistent player who is constantly working to make herself a better player.
“(Whitten) always wants to get in the gym and work,” said Kirschner. “She also has great court vision, awareness and is the main distributor of the ball while also being a main scoring option for us. She has become more comfortable in my system and is starting to understand what it takes to be the point guard for me. She has a lot of pressure running the offense but has handled it well. Her work ethic and better understanding of the system have allowed her to grow into one of our top players. She has played at a level I knew she could play at. I’m glad I have her for two more years.”
Through the district season (10 games), Whitten finished first on the team in assists (37) and free throw percentage (94) missing just one (15-16) from the charity stripe. She also was second on the team in scoring (averaging 6.8 per game), 3-pointers made (9), steals (28) and in forced turnovers (31).
Whitten helped lead the Lady Panthers to the District 8-3A championship after a 1-2 start. In a season which Liberty Hill was supposed to be “down,” the Lady Panthers galvanized and proved otherwise.
“I feel like we really come together as a team and learned each other’s strengths and weaknesses and formed a team bond,” Whitten said. “I also think the fact that no one thought we would do it motivated us to be the best.”
The sophomore’s athletic season is not over yet, however, as she plans to play softball when her knuckle heals. But sports are not her only interest. Before she became involved with junior high sports, she used to attend horse shows. And while she says she no longer goes to the shows, she still spends time with her horse, Friday.
Whitten, who has lived in Liberty Hill her whole life, enjoys companionship and camaraderie, which she gets from Friday. But those are the main reasons she loves playing a sport like basketball.
“I like that it’s a team sport and I get to play with my friends,” said Whitten, a young lady with many nicknames.
Coach Kirschner calls her “Lil Bit,” her parents refer to her as “Shelbers” and her best friend Ashlee Walker calls her “Boo.”
But no matter which moniker she is called, she will be the best teammate she can be when the rest of the Lady Panthers take the court this postseason. That’s what Whitten is all about: team.
“I have faith in them,” she said. “And I believe that they can do it.”