CHEYENNE – Gwen Sheldon spent the summer between her junior and senior years of high school coming to terms with the fact her senior season might be her last as a competitive volleyball player.
She had earned all-conference accolades the previous two seasons at Thompson Valley High in Loveland, Colorado, but her efforts there and in the club ranks hadn’t garnered her any real interest from colleges.
“I was starting to look at places to just go to school,” Sheldon said.
One of her cousins played basketball at Casper College, and suggested she attend its camp. Sheldon did, but didn’t catch the eye of longtime Thunderbirds coach Angel Sharman.
Laramie County Community College’s elite camp was Sheldon’s final chance to get an up-close look from a college coach. With the Casper College experience fresh in her mind, Sheldon didn’t arrive in Cheyenne in pursuit of a scholarship.
“I was just trying to learn and get better,” Sheldon said.
She may not have come to the Capital City looking for a scholarship, but it didn’t take Sheldon long to snatch up the one offered by former LCCC coach Austin Albers.
“I never thought I would end up here, but I’m sure happy I did,” Sheldon said.
Like most incoming freshmen, Sheldon needed a few weeks to catch up with the speed of play at the college level. She bridged the gap the same way she earned her scholarship – effort.
The Eagles struggled early during Sheldon’s freshman season. The team had several proven weapons returning from a National Junior College Athletic Association tournament team, but sat 6-6.
The offense wasn’t firing the way Albers expected. A change needed to be made.
The coach made it nonchalantly, telling Sheldon to join the starting group during a team portion of practice.
The Eagles went 26-3 the rest of the season, and finished ninth at the NJCAA tournament.
“The sophomores put a lot of trust in me last season,” Sheldon said. “I played hard in practice and tried to push
our team and be a leader when I needed to be. I had to earn their trust and keep working to be the best setter I could be.”
The turnaround can’t be entirely tied to injecting Sheldon into the starting lineup of course. But she played a big role in the Eagles’ reversal of fortunes, dishing out 408 assists to go with 122 digs.
First-year LCCC coach Keri Coats is expecting Sheldon to have a similar impact this season. Coats spent three weeks coaching her team during spring practice after being hired to succeed Albers. Sheldon was a different player in person than she was on video, Coats said.
“For most players, they grow the most between their freshman and sophomore years, and (Sheldon) is a great example of that,” the coach said. “I can see a big change in her demeanor and how she handles herself. She is trying to be our No. 1 setter, and she is bringing great leadership qualities.”
What Coats likes most about Sheldon is she constantly peppers her with questions about how she wants the offense run.
“She is communicating with everyone well,” Coats said. “She is asking me if she made the right choices, or if she is setting people in the right positions and things like that.
“She sees the game better and has a better volleyball IQ about where to get the ball at what time. She is taking ownership of the role and the ins and outs of it.”
Sheldon admits some of the questions might not be necessary, but she would rather ask a question than assume she knows what Coats wants.
“There (have) definitely been questions I asked that I would have gotten the answer to if I had just waited five minutes,” Sheldon said with a laugh. “But I’m asking all these questions because I want to be my best for the team and I want for us to be successful this year.
“We want to go back to nationals and finish higher than we did last year. So, I think it’s always better to ask the question than not.”