by Siera Jones
Music blares from the Norfolk State Softball field, and laughter erupts from the dugout as Head Softball Coach James Inzana arrives to lead practice. Team leader Shelby DesChamps is in the center of the lighthearted chatter as she prepares alongside her teammates.
The close relationship between DesChamps, Coach Inzana, and the rest of the team is apparent, and they laugh, dance, and crack jokes. Nonetheless, the team is intently focused on achieving their goals for the season. Leading the charge is DesChamps, a redshirt senior outfielder, who has been named MEAC Preseason Softball Player of the Year.
DesChamps is the first Norfolk State softball player to earn the award since 2013. She garnered the respect of the MEAC’s coaches because of her production, leadership, passion and determination.
“I couldn’t have done it without my team, and my coaches as well. They’ve pushed me to be a better person,” DesChamps said. “It does drive me to work harder, because I know what’s expected of me and all eyes are on me now.”
After missing out on playing in 31 games during her first year at NSU due to a torn ACL, DesChamps was determined to return to the field despite a taxing rehabilitation process.
“It was definitely more of a mental challenge and a physical challenge,” she said.
“You could tell she was hungry because she lost the year, and she wanted to get it back,” said Coach Inzana. “Since she got back on the field, she’s definitely gone after it.”
Upon her return to the softball diamond in 2017, DesChamps has played an instrumental role on the team, starting in a total of 108 games while earning many honors, including All-MEAC Academic Team honors, making the All-MEAC First Team, and the All-State Second Team twice.
Throughout her career thus far she has maintained an overall batting average of .359, a fielding percentage of .944 and scored 90 total runs for the Spartans.
“She has monumental impact,” Coach Inzana said. “She is one of our key components on the offensive and defensive sides, but I think that’s what people don’t see is what she does behind the scenes. Her leadership ability, the way she mentors younger players and even experienced players…That’ll be greatly missed, but she’s going to leave us in very good hands.”
DesChamps named her mother as her main role model throughout her career and was visibly emotional while describing the impact that her mother has had on her life.
“She helped me focus on the right things and strive to become a better person all around, and it’s helped me become a better person on the field,” DesChamps said.
She also listed her coaches as sources of inspiration and support throughout her career, saying “they definitely have had a big part in who I am and they keep me focused.”
DesChamps’ excitement was infectious as she spoke of her expectations for the 2020 season.
“I still hold myself to the standard of how I played last year,” she said. “It’s no different… As far as a team, I hold us to a higher standard from last year because the returners have had time to grow together, and we do have a lot of freshmen who have a lot of strengths that they bring to the team as well.”
Coach Inzana also expressed his excitement for the future of the program.
“We have a huge freshman class that came in some really key players that we’re going to fill in,” he said.
The abundant youth further highlights the importance of DesChamps’ leadership, the coach added.
“Getting them to mature under her tutelage, and some of the other juniors’ tutelage is instrumental in keeping the program going the direction it’s going, and continuing to win,” Coach Inzana said.
The team is determined to succeed this 2020 season and has set their sights on the MEAC championship title. However, the Spartan women have a little extra motivation this year because of a promise from Coach Inzana. The Spartans head coach has decided that once the MEAC championship is cinched and the team wins at least two regional games, he will tattoo each of his players’ names on his arm to commemorate the accomplishment.
The team is on a path to success with players like DesChamps setting examples on and off the softball diamond.
Her keys to success: “Knowing what you’re capable of and pushing yourself past that is big, because I’ve done many things that I didn’t think I was capable of.”