April 25, 2014

Former star softball player foregoes senior season to coach Gorloks

By Ryan Jecha

New Webster University softball assistant coach Chelsea Schaffer tosses a ball to freshman Taylor Gibbs during a practice at Blackburn Park on Feb. 27. Schaffer joined the coaching staff a year after starring on the Webster softball team. PHOTO BY MAX BOUVATTE.

Chelsea Schaffer transferred to Webster University in the fall of 2010 to join the softball program. Infielder Tabatha Bahre had heard Schaffer’s name for years as both athletes played high school softball in St. Louis. Bahre knew what kind of player her team would be adding, but didn’t expect to quickly develop a close friendship with her new teammate.

More than that, Bahre did not expect her best friend to be one of her coaches just a year later.

“I told her, ‘If you think I’m calling you coach, you’ve got another thing coming,’” Bahre said.

Schaffer spent her junior year playing softball at Webster after playing two years at Division-I Western Carolina University. After finishing her first and only season at Webster, Schaffer decided to forego her senior season and transfer to the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Schaffer wanted to pursue a degree in social work, a major Webster does not offer.

“It was really difficult to end my career,” Schaffer said. “It was difficult for me to tell (Webster) coach (Chris) Eaton that I couldn’t play for him anymore. But it’s definitely hard to come out here coaching now and see them take ground balls, hit fly balls and I can’t really do that anymore.”

During her one season, Schaffer made her mark on the Gorloks’ softball program. As an outfielder, Schaffer led the Gorloks in most offensive categories. She batted .438 with an on-base percentage of .530 and a slugging percentage of .741.

She had a team-high 83 total bases with six of the team’s seven triples. Schaffer was named a 2011 St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Conference first team selection and led her team to a second-place finish in the SLIAC.

Despite her skill and success on the softball field, Schaffer knew she needed to prepare herself for life after softball. After months of deliberation, Schaffer had to tell Eaton she would not be returning this season.

Trying to take out some of the sting for both her and Eaton, Schaffer offered to come by for the occasional practice should Eaton ever need some extra help. She did not expect Eaton to ask her to join the coaching staff.

“I was looking for a coach and I thought about Chelsea right away,” Eaton said. “I’ve always known what kind of player she was and the kind of attitude, mindset she played with — I thought those would be good to add to the staff. The same qualities that attracted me to her as a player also attracted me to her as a coach.”

After she accepted Eaton’s offer, Schaffer immediately called her best friend Bahre, a senior infielder.

“It was pure excitement,” Bahre said. “I literally started jumping around with excitement.”

What could have been an awkward situation has been anything but, as the Gorloks have taken well to their former teammate being one of their coaches, according to Bahre. Bahre said the team has not found the transition with Schaffer to be difficult.

“With Chelsea, I think (the team) looks at her as a friend, but she was such an authoritative player that they look to her with respect,” Bahre said. “They know if they need help with something they can go to her and she’ll tell them exactly what they need to be doing.”

Eaton said in many respects, not a lot has changed in how the team approaches Schaffer now in comparison to when she was a player on the team.

“She was a great leader by example. She played all out all the time and that raised the level of our team,” Eaton said. “Chelsea was not afraid to say something to a teammate if they were out of line.”

Bahre and Eaton agree, Schaffer earned the respect of her teammates.

“She was always someone that people could go to and feel comfortable with,” Bahre said. “She was a player that everyone looked up to. She would step out and say, ‘This is what you’re doing wrong. If you need help, I can help you.’ She could pick up on things like that.”

Schaffer saw her leadership last season as just being a good teammate.

“In softball, the girls always say, ‘Hey, watch me for this,’ or, ‘I’m not hitting too well today. Can you keep an eye on me and see if I’m doing anything (differently)?’” Schaffer said. “If someone wanted me to watch them or help them, I was there in a heartbeat. It’s just helping my teammates out.”

While the transition to assistant coach hasn’t been hard on her former teammates, it has been challenging at times for Schaffer.

“It was kind of awkward, kind of stressful,” Schaffer said of her first days of practice. “At that point, I didn’t know how some of the girls were going to react to me being their coach now, especially seeing as I’m the same age as some of these girls. But they were all warm-welcoming. I went over and we ran through the planned practice for the day and I went through it as a coach, not a player.”

One of the toughest tasks for Schaffer has been sitting on the bench during games. She was used to delivering clutch hits in 2011, but she won’t be able to help her team in that capacity this year. She knows her role has changed and has accepted it. However, that doesn’t mean the itch isn’t still there.

“It makes it a lot easier (since I’m) not playing the game anymore,” Schaffer said of coaching. “It makes me feel involved in some way. Every once in a while, I pop in on some of the (scrimmages) they play.”

Bahre said Schaffer does a little more than “pop in.”

“We’ll play games during practice and she is the most competitive person out there,” Bahre said. “Her and (junior pitcher) Ashley (Meagher), they really get into it. It’s awesome.”

Schaffer’s playing days date back to when she was 5 years old. Schaffer’s mother likes to remind her that back then, she only cared about picking flowers and making bracelets on the field.

That’s a far cry from the person who is now an assistant coach for her old team because she can’t stand to be away from the game she loves.

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