By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Usually the pink on the cheeks of Munford’s Sami Jo Schulz reflects her happiness or joy from an athletic accomplishment.
Over the past four years, Schulz had many reasons to smile going to four Sub-State appearances in volleyball, reaching State three times in softball and earning a scholarship to The University of Memphis to play on the diamond.
But that trademark joy on the face of Schulz seemed to fade away this past spring as the pink on her face became a symbol of the pain she was enduring battling hip and back pain. And despite only playing two weeks for the Lady Cougar Softball team, Schulz accomplished enough this season to win the 2013 Millington Star Female Athlete of the Year.
“This is so surprising,” she said. “The fact that I only played 8 games in softball this year.”
In those 8 contest, the Lady Cougars were unbeaten. But before April could conclude, doctors informed Schulz to shut it down ending her senior campaign prematurely.
But helping Munford go 8-0 on the diamond and earning District 13-3A MVP in Volleyball earned Schulz The Star’s top honor for a female athlete.
Since her freshman year, Schulz’s school year started with volleyball.
“Volleyball was actually really fun,” she said. “It’s kind of the sport I did to stay in shape for softball. In middle school when I played, I was still really small. So I was the setter. So when I got to high school and Coach Mak wanted me to be a blocker and spiker I was sort of confused. I had to learn how to do everything. I ended up getting to start my freshman year. So I guess having white girl hopes helped.”
Head Coach Nina Makris saw Schulz’s potential to play as a hitter from day one. Coming into the program, Schulz was aware that the best hitter on the team was Scarlet Gable.
When she was in middle school, Gable entered Munford as a ninth grade sensation. At one practice, Schulz’s older brother Steven tried to block Gable and was unsuccessful.
Gable took Schulz under her wing and helped groom her natural athletic ability to play volleyball at a high level. Schulz helped make Gable’s senior season special by stepping up her play and reach the 2010 Class 3A State Volleyball Tournament.
“It was fun and you don’t know what to expect,” Schulz recalled. “When you get there, everybody is so much bigger than you are. But making it as far as we did and being able to play with Scarlet was really, really great.”
When Gable graduated to Belmont for college, players like Schulz, Lauren Zvolanek, Kelsey Hale, and Scarlet’s baby sister Cecily kept the Munford Volleyball program at an elite level.
“This past year we decided we were really going to push it to make it back to State again,” Schulz recalled. “It was our last year and we all wanted to be able to go back. We did some moving around and figured out some stuff. We actually came together as a team this year. There wasn’t as much drama as in years before. We were more of a family.”
The Lady Cougar family fell short of its goal falling in Sub-State. By the time her final Munford Volleyball season was over, Schulz was district player of the year, All-Region and a member of the All-Sectional team.
During the volleyball season, Memphis Lady Tiger Head Softball Coach Natalie Poole made Schulz an offer for softball.
“I was shocked getting offered that,” she acknowledged. “When I did, I took it. It’s close to home and it’s a D-I school, anyone would be thrilled with that. After I met Coach Poole and the girls, then had my official visit, I knew that was the place I wanted to be.”
Schulz verbally committed and on her birthday in November she signed her national letter of intent to play for the Lady Tigers. It was years of hard work on the softball diamond that attracted Poole to the speedy, slap hitter.
And the success for Head Coach Glenn Goulder and the Lady Cougar Softball team proved Schulz was a winner. In 2011, Schulz and her Lady Cougar teammates validated their success by becoming the first Munford Softball team to reach State.
“You feel accomplished,” she recalled. “I just helped to make history. Everybody is really, really thrilled. Being a freshman and underclassman starting, being as big of part as I was, was huge to me. I felt so helpful. I love that.
“My junior year was good,” Schulz added. “Playing next to Jodie, we had the strongest left side. Other coaches were like, ‘You have a really strong left side. You guys are like a wall.’ We were like, ‘Yeah, it’s kind of cool.’ Being able to play beside her and doing what we did was phenomenal.”
During her junior campaign Schulz stepped up to be a leader on the team with her off the field actions and play at shortshop. At third base was Jodie Duncan.
Both Lady Cougars earned Best of the Prep nominations and each took a turn as Star Softball Player of the Year.
Duncan established herself was a lethal bat in the middle of the lineup while Schulz was the dependable leadoff hitter. The expectations for 2013 were high after back-to-back State appearances.
“My senior year was in jeopardy from the very beginning,” Schulz acknowledged. “During conditioning, I actually pulled my groin the summer before. And I hadn’t played softball since. It was during the volleyball season I did that. I had the groin and I really couldn’t stretch and it hurt when I was running.”
The pain Schulz was suffering came from her hips and back. She visited two doctors before being cleared to play in April against rival Brighton. The Lady Cardinals entered the showdown undefeated in district play. With the help of Schulz the Lady Cougars won a classic 5-4.
“During that game, I got up to bat, ‘It’s been a while,’” she recalled. “I hadn’t touched anything. I was so afraid I was rusty. I was scared I was going to make a mistake. I was going to let my team down. Then I got up there and got into the box, and it felt like normal. And I hit the ball and ran it out. Coach Tony (Reed) was like it’s good to have you back.”
But she would only be back for a limited time. Schulz went back to the doctor and was diagnosed with sciatica and a herniated disk. The senior leader knew her contributions to the Lady Cougars would have to come from the sideline.
“At first it was really difficult,” she acknowledged. “I came to some games and got into the dugout some games. I didn’t really want to be in there for the games because it’s tough watching your senior year.
“And I realized not only do they need me playing, they needed me there,” Schulz continued. “Then after Jodie hurt her hand, I was like they’re going to need both us. They need us there or they won’t be able to do this. Both of us got in there and they made it.”
On the Lady Cougars’ road to a third State appearance, Schulz had a chance to lend her expertise to her veteran Skipper.
“They called us coaches,” she said with a smile. “When we were at one of the tournaments, Sam (Scott) was pitching and Coach Goulder was calling pitches, She had an even count. I said, ‘Throw a change up.’ He said, ‘She can’t throw a change-up.’ I said, ‘Throw it.’ She struck her out.”
Striking out was something Schulz rarely did. And she said her battle with sciatica won’t defeat her either.
“I’ve played through pain before,” she said. “And I will figure out a way to do it again.”
Schulz said the 2012-13 year was full of highs with two teams reaching Sub-State, a MVP award and the Star’s Female Athlete of the Year Award. But she said her greatest reward might be the life lesson she learned.
“Don’t give up and don’t give into your pain,” she concluded. “You can work through anything. God is going to be there for you. And you’ve been blessed so use it. If you don’t use it you will lose it at anytime. So don’t take it for granted.”