by Jackie Jenson
Photography by Thru Him Photography
Detroit Lakes’ Shay
Nielsen is all in.
A senior at Detroit Lakes High, Shay’s 2014-15 year will mark her last spin as a DLHS volleyball, basketball, and track and field starter – something she has readied herself for in the only way she knows how: putting in the work and setting the bar high.
“I like to set pretty high goals,” notes Nielsen. “It gives me something to work for.”
Nielsen has a zeal for all sorts of athletics, though; it’s in her blood. “I’ve been playing sports since
kindergarten,” remarks the three-sport phenom. “My dad was an assistant track coach and I used to go to the track with him, basically mess around and watch my older sister practice. By middle school,
I decided to participate myself.”
Although she enjoys participating in lots of different sports, Nielsen’s true passion is being part of a team and helping them piece together a successful season. With the rigors of playing back to back varsity fall, winter and spring sports, however, Shay’s time has been in short supply for five years and counting.
“I don’t think I have had more than two weeks off since the ninth grade,” Shay comments.
To handle the tight timetables, Nielsen has become extremely good at coordinating overlapping practice schedules. Even her summers need to be tightly organized so that she can work on all three of her athletic endeavors.
“All sports have a summer season now so getting them all to fit is tricky,” explains the lady Laker.
To get everything done the last
couple of years, Shay says she has stuck to the same summer
schedule: playing volleyball and basketball Monday, Wednesday
and Fridays and throwing on her days off.
Somehow along the way, she found time to have a summer job too. A few shifts at the pizza shack in the Hotel Shoreham restaurant located near Detroit Lakes. According to Shay, it was hectic having a job, but really, it was just another thing to put on the schedule.
“Shay is an amazing athlete,”
explains Detroit Lakes High
School track and field coach Mike Labine. “I’ve coached lots of really good athletes that have never accomplished the things that Shay has [accomplished]. Her work ethic is what sets her apart.”
“It was a crazy summer. Working in the pizza shack meant my nights were busy too.”
Nielsen chalks up her personal success to being able to realistically assess her performance and make adjustments to keep goals within striking distance. This stance also keeps her open to making changes; which she did in volleyball this year.
Nielsen says “I evaluate where I am at regularly and make adjustments along the way so I can make my goals.”
A veteran middle hitter in
volleyball, Shay’s ability to modify her play has also allowed her to test out a new position, even as a
senior– a time when most high school athletes are hunkering down and playing to their established strengths.
“I was a middle hitter for years but just recently moved to the outside. I found more rhythm there which was a better fit this year,” details Nielsen.
Having completed her volleyball season, Shay is currently concentrating on basketball. With state aspirations, her thoughts are on the team and their ability to move the ball down the court effectively.
“We play best when we pass and shoot the ball well and play together and we are doing all those things. Things are looking good.”
Success has already found Shay midway through the 2014-15 girls basketball season. That is when she hit the 1,000 point mark, only the eighth Detroit Lakes’ girls basketball player ever to do so.
Shay’s quick feet and sheer strength make her a tough match-up and formidable opponent for the other posts that guard, explains Detroit Lakes girls basketball coach Mike Hoganson.
“Shay is one of those special athletes,” confides Coach Hoganson. “Over the years, she has worked very hard, spending countless hours working at her game. Reaching 1,000 points amounts to scoring between 12 and 15 points every game she has started since the eighth grade. I am very proud of her.”
A consummate team player, Shay also strives to be a positive leader. When Shay talks, her teammates listen, says the veteran basketball coach.
Making four state track and field teams, the three sport athlete and academic all-star has achieved those victories, according to Coach Labine, thanks to an old-fashioned notion: hard work.
“I don’t know if I have ever been around an athlete that has dedicated herself to becoming the absolute best that she can be at everything she does,” he explains. “Shay, time and time again has been willing to put in all the extra time needed into all of her sports.”
It is rare, notes Labine, for an athlete to be able to devote such time to more than one sport – just one more thing that sets her apart from the competition.
“Many athletes will choose one sport support and commit a huge amount of time to that particular activity,” describes the varsity track coach. “Shay, however, has really worked hard at making sure they all get the attention they deserve.”
“Success means hard work. Hard work pays off,” notes Nielsen.
Throwing shot put and discus will be Shay’s last sport of her DLHS athletic career. Selected to participate in the Minnesota Track & Field State Tournament since eighth grade, Shay took third in shot during her 2014 state appearance.
“I qualified for state in shot put in eighth grade, but was hurt and couldn’t go at that time.”
Nielsen didn’t stop there, though; she qualified her ninth, tenth and eleventh grade years too. She also added discus to her state resume last year, taking tenth in that competition. With her sights set on state once again, this time she is seeking a coveted first in shot put and third for discus.
“It is exceptionally unique to qualify for state as an eighth grader in a throwing event. Older girls are generally stronger and more physically mature and, therefore, have quite an advantage in the throws,” notes Coach Labine.
Nielsen says her senior year has been ‘going by fast’, adding she will miss the community which has been so encouraging of her high school athletic career.
“I love sports and all the things it brings together. This community has been great to me. They are so supportive of their athletes. Props to my parents too, for teaching me to have a good work ethic as well as a good moral compass.”
In stride with her previous years’ game plans, she is now readying new goals and preparing to work hard for a new challenge: college athletics.
Concludes Nielsen: “I have big dreams for track in college. I signed with the University of Minnesota,” she explains. “I signed with the U because I really wanted to push myself and throw for a Big Ten College and see how far I can go there.”