AYER — Work ethic, communication skills, athletic ability and drive. These are things that coaches look for on a resume when it comes to selecting a captain. A coach must look for the intangibles that can elevate a player to the role of a leader.
At Ayer High School, coaches Jane Steinberg (volleyball) and Charlie Noonan (basketball) have been blessed. When starting the season, they have been able to put a lot of responsibility into the hands of Olivia Shultz. The senior has all the aforementioned skills and a solid sense of humor that keeps the mood light at all times. That mixture has been instrumental in the recent success of both programs.
“Olivia is an outstanding leader and is a great role model not only for teammates but for younger kids in the program,” said Steinberg. “Whether it was a practice or a game, Olivia was always giving a maximum effort. When we ran, she was always out in front leading the pack. No matter what the drill, Olivia was always ready to go. She has an amazing attitude and was an outstanding captain.”
Shultz’s leadership extends to the basketball court.
For Shultz, the leading is easy when the group is so solid.
“I enjoy having the responsibility of being someone who is counted on,” says Shultz. “But it is easy to lead when you are surrounded by great people. The girls are always working their hardest and both coach Steinberg and coach Noonan are always trying to make you better. It is fun to lead when everyone is in it for the right reasons."
During the fall, Shultz was instrumental in leading the Lady Panthers to best volleyball season ever. The 5’8” outside/middle hitter garnered Mid-Wach B Most Valuable Player honors while helping Ayer to a 16-3 record and their first ever trip to the District semi-finals.
Upon receiving word of being named the Most Valuable Player of the league, Shultz was taken aback.
“It was the end of the practice and Coach Steinberg was talking to us and then she told everyone that I had won the league MVP,” said Shultz. “It took a minute or two for it to sink in, especially because I didn’t expect it. I know there was no way I could have won it without the support of my teammates, they all played so well this year. It was a nice accomplishment but I would have preferred a District title.”
For Steinberg, it was an overall joy to coach Shultz in what could be her final year at the school.
Shultz has a mutual admiration for Steinberg who came back as a coach two years ago.
“I enjoyed playing for Coach Steinberg a lot,” explains Shultz. “She is an amazing coach and leader who did a great job motivating us through the last two years. Her dedication to the program is amazing and she only wants the best for the girls. What I will take from her is the intensity she brought to the team. It was a great run for us and she was a major part of it.”
After a taste of District basketball last year and a solid nucleus coming back, Noonan knows that his team needs someone who can keep them going throughout the season. He is counting on Shultz to be a vocal leader but more importantly by example.
“The one thing you can always count on from Olivia is an effort that goes above and beyond,” said Noonan. “No matter how things are going, you know Olivia will be diving for a loose ball or going hard on the boards. She never gets outworked which is something you can’t coach. Her motor is always running and she has a great amount of energy. I have high expectations of a captain and Olivia fills those with ease with her work ethic being her best quality.”
That work ethic is tested daily by the defense that Noonan implemented. By playing a 2-3 match-up zone, there can be no let down and Shultz enjoys that aspect.
One of the keys to Noonan’s defense is Shultz’s ability to be a power player in the post.
“When you play the type of defense that we do, you need someone who can bang around with the big bodies,” said Noonan. “Olivia has the height to be strong on the boards and the willingness to be a physical presence. She does a great job of helping limit other teams to one shot a possession which is our goal. Her defense in the post allows us to gamble up top and can lead to transition points, which is key for us.”
Behind strong defense and an ever improving offensive game, Shultz believes that Ayer can make some noise come District time.
“After a little success last year, our goals are high this season,” said Shultz. “We want to win the league and District title. I think we can make states if we play as hard as we can. After playing year round, the girls are more comfortable with each other which I think can only help us. I can see us having a really strong run this year.”
Olivia’s success as a two-sport star has been shared by her entire family. Whether she is spiking a set or knocking down a jumper, there is always a member or more of the Shultz family there to give their support. That family atmosphere has helped Olivia develop into the player and person she is today.
The same holds true during basketball season.
“Olivia comes from a great family that has always been there for her and her team,” said Noonan. “No matter where the game is , you can always count on seeing the Shultz family represented. That overall support is great.”
“The encouragement that my family has given me has been awesome,” said Shultz. “I had a brother and sister that both went through Ayer and I feel like I am carrying on for the family and they have always been there for me. I really appreciate everything they have done for me over these years.”
While the high school experience has been great for Shultz, college is right around the corner and the options are plentiful.
“What ever college Olivia decides to attend will be lucky to have her,” said Steinberg. “She has an incredible knowledge of volleyball and really found her way this year. Olivia is realizing a dream right now and that dream is coming true because of her hard work.”
“Olivia has been a delight to have on the team, but is even more delightful off the court,” said Noonan. “She is truly the whole package as a person. Her athletic ability is an added bonus.”
For sheer athleticism, Olivia may not be at the top of the list at Ayer High School over the years. But few, if any, have combined athletic ability, a can-do attitude and outstanding leadership the way she has. Her unique blend of ability, humor and heart has made her the person she is, and that person will be remembered in the Panther community for a long time.