BY JEFF FALK
Sure everyone wants to play. Sure everyone wants to start. Sure everyone wants to star.
But sometimes it’s good enough just to be there, just to be a part of things. Especially when it’s something special.
The role that Eryn Schultz is filling on the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball team isn’t the one she had hoped for even the one she would’ve chosen. But the inspiration she provides for her teammates by just being there makes her an important part of the Flying Dutchmen’s success.
“Oh yeah, this is something special. Big-time,” said Schultz, by phone from Fredericksburg, Virginia on Wednesday evening. “It’s something you dream of when you’re a little kid playing in the driveway. You dream about going to college and playing basketball. And not just playing, but being successful. I couldn’t have asked for a better career than the one I’ve had at LVC.”
Schultz’s career, especially the latter half, has been marred by injuries and reduced playing time. But during the fifth-year senior’s career, Lebanon Valley College has experienced unprecedented team success on the floor.
On Friday night in Virginia, the Flying Dutchmen will take on host and undefeated Mary Washington in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Division Three tournament.
“It’s awesome,” said Schultz. “Any time you can make it to the NCAA Tournament you know you have to be one of the top 64 teams in the country. There are 16 teams in Division Three still playing. There’s something like 400 Division Three teams in the country. That’s special. It’s a huge deal.”
Near the end of a Feb. 9th practice, Schultz came down, landed awkwardly and tore the ACL, LCL and meniscus in her left knee. A similar injury to her right knee had limited her 2010-11 season to three games.
“I landed funny and heard a pop,” said Schultz, who holds LVC’s record for three-pointers made in a career. “I knew right away what was happening. It was the same sound and the same intense pain. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t the same injury, but I knew it was.
“The right knee felt great,” Schultz continued. “But I struggled a little bit at the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, things happen.”
In the face of her second setback, Schultz did not pout or felt sorry for herself. In fact, she has carried on like it never occurred – if that is possible.
She attends every home game, away game, practice, team function, team meal, team meeting. Schultz continues to do everything in her power to help her team win.
“I’m at everything, just like I was healthy and playing,” said Schultz. “You’re still a part of the team if you’re injured. It’s important to be there for my teammates and cheer them on.
“My teammates were so supportive of me when I went through my injury last year,” Schultz added. “So I just feel like I have to return the favor and be supportive of them. I love being around the girls and coaches. I couldn’t see myself not being part of the team.”
Schultz’s injury has certainly put a different perspective on things. She has discovered things about herself, her teammates and the team as a whole, that she couldn’t have possibly learned if the injury hadn’t happened.
“Not playing and being able to observe definitely gives insight on what’s going on on the court,” said Schultz. “I might point out something to one of the other girls. The thing is we’re all good at taking criticism. But it’s not just me, it goes through the whole team.
“I don’t view myself as a coach,” Schultz added. “I view myself as a player who’s hurt. I don’t try to do the coach’s job. He does a great job. He doesn’t need help from me.”
Schultz is one of two senior captains on the Lebanon Valley squad. In the 11 games she did appear this season, Schultz played sparingly.
“Honestly, I was just happy to be back on the court and happy to be playing again,” said Schultz. “I may not have had the seasons I had before. But I was happy to go in there, make a few shots and contribute during the minutes I was out there. I struggled mentally last year with the injury. But I enjoyed just being a part of the team.”
Schultz has also had a front row seat for the emergence of this year’s version of the Lebanon Valley College women’s basketball team. With the graduation of Commonwelath Conference player-of-the-year Andrea Hoover and solid contributor Suzie Noyes, this current group of Flying Dutchmen had to discover their own identity.
“I expected to make it back to the (Commonwealth Conference) championship game, and not only to get there, but to win it,” said Schultz. “Some people were worried that we weren’t going to be as good. But we’re still a good team. And that’s the beauty of our team, there’s so many pieces and we fit together. That’s hard to beat. That’s why we’re so good.
“Other than Hoover and Suzy, we still have some good core players from last year,” continued Schultz. “Renee (Fritz), (Caitlin) Bach, Tierney (Hiltz), they’re all good players. And we’ve added Kiely (Chaklos) to the mix. People came into the season saying, “Oh, you’re not going to be as good because you lost Hoover and Suzie.’ We’re definitely not the same team, but we still have some of the core pieces left.”
And Schultz has witnessed a steady growth, a noticeable progression in her teammates and team.
“We definitely built upon the start of the season,” said Schultz. “We had losses in the middle of the season that we grew from. Now, we’re definitely peaking. We seem to be getting better and better each time we step on the floor. And that’s a good thing.”
It’s alll good.