Jessica — better known as “Jess” — Shields of the Loyola softball team has been playing softball since she was eight years old. Although she started her college career at Division II school University of Wisconsin-Parkside, she transferred to Loyola this year in hopes that she could make an impact in some way.
Shields, 21, currently boasts a .452 on base percentage, which ranks third on the team. She also has scored the most runs on the roster, crossing home plate 39 times this year, and sits third on the team in batting average with .390.
“She scores a lot of runs,” said Loyola softball head coach Jeff Tylka. “It’s allowed some of our other players behind her to not have to sacrifice bunt as often or things like that because now she can get herself into scoring position. When she gets on first base, there’s a good chance that there’s going to be a solo base somewhere in there.”
As soon as Tylka knew she was looking to leave UW-Parkside, he started recruiting. He said she brought a dimension to the team that wasn’t there previously — stealing bases and getting on base. Tylka said Shields has been on his radar for a while, but due to a lack of money missed out on the opportunity originally.
“She was a kid that her travel ball coach told me about when she was in high school, kinda later into her high school career,” Tylka said. “We just didn’t have money available at that time. It was one of those situations that if she ever decides to leave then to let us know and we’d be interested in talking to her.”
Shields’ said her fast start wasn’t something she expected. Coming from a D-II school, she said she was nervous for the different level of play. She added the transition from D-II to D-I was instrumental in her game. She said the coaching staff at Loyola helped her work on her swing mechanics.
“At Division I, there’s a lot more depth on a roster,” Shields said. “The pitching is better in Division I. Division II is still really competitive, in my opinion, but you just see a little bit higher caliber here.”
The switch from Wisconsin-Parkside to Loyola was a match made in heaven, according to Shields. Not only did it satisfy her athletic needs, but her academic needs as well. She said she wanted to take a different path academically and was grateful Tylka had a spot available for her.
Outside of her economics major and finance minor, she said she wanted to make an impact on the team — no matter how big or small.
“I didn’t really know what my role was going to be coming in,” Shields said. “Whether that was going to be being a cheerleader for my teammates and making sure that I’m supporting everyone or doing my job on the base paths or getting on base.”
Her impact has gone farther than just being supportive. She’s quickly become one of the leading contributors on the team and has started all 42 games this season.
Shields added transitioning to a different team dynamic worried her. She said she enjoyed her old school and her team was worried about clicking with the other players at Loyola. Tylka said he was never worried about how Shields would fit in — but after talking to people close to her, he knew she’d be a perfect match.
“After she had made her decision to leave, I had talked to a good amount of people about [Shields],” Tylka said. “Most of the conversations I had didn’t revolve around softball. They were simply about what kind of person she is, what kind of leader she is and those things. Every single person I talked to said she’s just a phenomenal human being.”
But her biggest worry was whether or not she made the right decision.
“It’s been a process,” Shields said. “[But I knew I did] when I started to get to know all my teammates and figure out that these girls were going to be lifelong friends is really what did it for me.”