Freshman walks into starting role

North Alabama freshman utility player Hannah Shollenberger returns to the diamond in the Lions’ home game against Southern Indiana Feb. 14. Shollenberger, who has started nearly every game at third base, has worked her way into the starting lineup as a walk-on freshman.

After returning 50 percent of its roster this season, the defending national champion North Alabama softball team needed to find some fresh faces to step up to the plate.

True freshman Hannah Shollenberger has done just that. She is amongst the top three in most batting statistics, including third on the team in hits with 14, fourth in RBIs with seven and first in home runs with three.

Shollenberger has been the team’s new starting third baseman. She’s produced three game-winning hits in her first seven games.

To top off her hot start, Shollenberger is replacing a former four-year starter in Harlie Barkley as a walk-on.

 “I didn’t ever imagine that I would have this kind of start,” Shollenberger said. “I went up to the plate relaxed, just looking for my pitch.”

Shollenberger played high school softball under her father, Brian Shollenberger, at Florence High School, where she was an All-State honorable mention selection at catcher in 2014 and 2015.

Shollenberger had three offers to play college softball after her high school career ended. Those offers came from Northwest Mississippi Community College, Snead State Community College and Wallace State Community College. But, staying close to home and having the opportunity to play for the defending national champions led her to walk-on at UNA, she said.

“Both my parents played sports at UNA, and after visiting the campus and talking to coaches, I was very pleased with the program,” she said.

Shollenberger’s dad was a pitcher at UNA and is one of a handful of Lions to throw a no-hitter, doing so against Wayne State (Neb.) March 9, 1995.

Shollenberger said she credits her father as being a huge influence in her life.

“He always encourages me to do my best in athletics and academics,” she said. “He’s coached me since seventh grade and has always challenged me to compete. He always pushes me and loves the game just as much as I do.”

UNA head coach Ashley Cozart said Shollenberger’s play has been a welcome surprise and key to the team’s wins this season.

“I’m so proud of her,” she said. “She’s playing like a senior and not a freshman, and I just love that about her. She’s been very consistent at the plate, and I’m proud of the effort and the bat that she’s brought to the team.”

Starting for a defending national champion could be a daunting task for a walk-on freshman, but Cozart said the freshman has handled it well.

“I’ve felt some pressure, but there are good leaders on this team who make me feel comfortable,” Shollenberger said. “Also, my coaches — They know how much pressure can be on a freshman. They encourage me and tell me what I need to hear so I won’t have much pressure on me.”

Shollenberger said hard work over the summer months and her eagerness to crack the starting lineup has also contributed to her immediate impact.

To keep her streak going, Shollenberger said she’ll have to keep working hard during practice and putting in extra time, even on off days.

Shollenberger, along with the rest of the Lions, will be back in town Feb. 25-26 for a Gulf South Conference series against the Shorter Hawks.