Radford University senior Kristen Shifflett is headed to the majors.
The standout shortstop, who is set to graduate this May, was drafted by the Chicago Bandits of the National ProFastPitch League with the 16th overall pick in the 2011 draft. Shifflett becomes the first female athlete from RU to ever be drafted by a professional sports organization, and only the second to actually play in the NPF, as RU alum Ashley Carlson (2005-2008) was picked up by the Bandits three years ago after a walk-on tryout.
“It’s really very exciting, but it’s also pretty overwhelming,” Shifflett said. “It’s just coming at a crazy time because I am still in school, and we are still playing our season here at Radford. I haven’t had much time to think about it or dwell on it, but it’s definitely exciting to think that I have the pros to look forward to after graduation.”
The NPF is the only professional softball league in the United States, and the Bandits have won five out of the past six regular season titles to date. The Bandits have also built a reputation of thoroughly dominating a young league that scouts top players from all over the country, and some jokingly refer to the club as the “New York Yankees of the NPF,” due to their rich history of winning.
“I was pretty shocked when I found out that I had been drafted,” Shifflett said. “When I found out, it didn’t even seem real. I was like, ‘There is no way this is right. This isn’t true.’ I was very overwhelmed, but in a good way.”
Shifflett has carved out her own reputation as an excellent fielder as well as being a powerful presence at the plate. The Charlottesville native has been a starter for all four of her years at RU, earning all sorts of accolades on her way to becoming not only one of the most consistently feared players in the Big South Conference, but also one of the most feared players in the country. This year, Shifflett was named to USA Softball’s 2011 Top 50 Watchlist after earning All-Big South first team honors each of the past three years.
Her laundry list of accomplishments includes being named the Big South Student-Athlete of the Year for 2010, along with being named the Big South Tournament MVP that same year. Shifflett has also been selected to the All-State team in each of the past three years and seems poised to make the team for her fourth and final time.
This year, Shifflett got off to a slower start than usual because of an early season injury. Shifflett tore her MCL and her meniscus in her left knee, which caused her to miss a total of four weeks of practice, along with 19 games. After rehabbing for six or seven hours a day for four weeks straight, Shifflett was able to come back from an injury that oftentimes leads to lost seasons.
Despite starting in only 10 games so far, she’s still hitting a solid .263 and owns a respectable .447 slugging percentage, along with a .300 on base percentage. Since Shifflett returned from her injury, the Highs have won five out of their last six games and they stand at a respectable 19-11 overall mark on the season.
Shifflett’s return brings some much-needed firepower to a struggling Highs’ lineup whose offensive firepower was seriously lacking in the perennial team MVP’s absence. The senior shortstop is back and healthy now, and is leading her squad into the start of Big South conference play. The Highs figure to be thick in the race for the Big South championship with stars like Shifflett, juniors Nichole and Michelle Beall, and senior outfielder Shannon Keefe leading the way with a strong bullpen to back them up.
Looking beyond this season, however, Shifflett will have a chance to officially sign with the Bandits once she has completed her final season for the Highs, per NCAA regulations. The 2011 regular season, Shifflett’s first as a professional softball player, will begin on June 9 when the Bandits open the season at home in the brand new stadium set in Rosemont, Illinois.
The Highs are still in the middle of a tough season, though, and the two-time Big South champions have a crown to defend. While many analysts are predicting a three-peat for RU in the Big South conference, Shifflett said she thinks the team can go much further.
“To me, [going professional] is a huge opportunity,” Shifflett said. “I think it’s going to hit me so much harder once this season ends. It’s nice to know that once I’m done here, there will be something else. But as of right now, we still have some unfinished business to take care of. We’re talking about Super Regionals, and even the [Collegiate] World Series. That’s our overall goal as a team, and we’re just trying to work hard to get there.”