After starting only 11 games on the mound for the Lady Cardinals last season because of an eye injury, Jade Fulton wanted to have a big comeback in 2011.
“Coming back from an injury last year, I just wanted to work as hard as I could to get back to where I was and see how far I could take it,” she said.
As it turns out, she was able to take it pretty far.
Fulton finished the season with 31 wins and an SVSU individual season record of 426 strikeouts as she led the Lady Cardinals to the national semifinals at the Division 2 World Series – the farthest the Cardinals have ever advanced in softball at the national level.
“Every year we put down our list of goals, and a national championship is always the first thing that’s called out,” Fulton said. “We’ve always strived for it.”
Although the Lady Cardinals just fell short of that goal by losing to UCSD 2-1 on May 29, their performance on the national stage topped off an impressive spring for SVSU athletics.
Fulton was one of three athletes from the spring season to garner top conference honors by being named the 2011 GLIAC “Pitcher of the Year.” She was joined by senior golfer Nate Kelly, who was named the 2011 GLIAC Men’s Golf “Athlete of the Year,” and sophomore multi-event track athlete Tyler Grob, who was named the “Co-Field Athlete of the Year” at the 2011 Outdoor GLIAC Championships.
Fulton and Grob also achieved All-American honors, while Kelly finished the season with a 56th place finish at the NCAA Midwest/South Central Super Regional. All three were named the 2011 “Ryder Athlete of the Year” by the SVSU athletic department.
Fulton pitched in the last 16 games of the season for the Lady Cardinals and started every game during their post-season run, finishing the year with 282 innings pitched, roughly 30 more than MLB pitcher Roy Halladay, who led the major leagues in that category during the 2010 season.
She finishes her career with SVSU career records in appearances (139), saves (19), strikeouts (907), and individual season records in saves (8) and strikeouts (426), assuring herself a spot among the all-time greats.
“It’s a real honor,” Fulton said of her place in the record books. “I know there have been a lot of great pitchers that came before me, and I learned so much from the best of them.”
A fellow senior, Kelly ended his career with a big season, maintaining a 72.25 stroke average and racking up four top-five finishes at tournaments throughout the season.
Kelly’s biggest competitor might have been the tough Michigan weather as he and the rest of the men’s golf team faced the harsh conditions of a messy spring.
“When you’re playing in bad weather, I believe your attitude becomes significantly more important,” Kelly said. “The entire spring was a grind playing through the wind, rain and cold temperature, but if you can forget about the weather and focus on your own game, it shouldn’t affect you as much as you might think.”
Kelly’s tough-mindedness paid off when he was named the 2011 GLIAC “Athlete of the Year,” an improvement from his All-GLIAC Second Team selection in 2010.
“It’s great to be recognized as one of the top competitors in the GLIAC,” Kelly said, “but at the same time it would have been more rewarding to be recognized for team success.”
The final member of the trio, Grob, was also recognized for individual success: a fourth-place finish in the decathlon at the NCAA Division 2 national meet. Grob’s All-American performance was an improvement on his fifth-place performance in the heptathlon at indoor nationals, where he was SVSU’s lone representative.
Despite competing individually both times, Grob said that having teammates to accompany him to outdoor nationals made all the difference.
“I had a good time at indoor nationals with my family and friends there,” Grob said. “But with three other teammates there competing, that was the most fun trip of my life.”
Grob was accompanied by senior miler Derek Stone, junior half-miler Alycia Wright, and junior pole vaulter Elizabeth Willford. Both Wright and Willford finished in ninth place in their respective events, just one spot out of All-American position.
“I’m happy, obviously, that I did take fourth,” Grob said, “But I’m a little disappointed that I left some things on the track and have to wait 360 someodd days until next year.”
Fulton, Kelly and Grob were all honored with the 2011 “Ryder Athlete of the Year” award, the most prestigious Cardinal athletic award offered at SVSU. Presented to the top male and female Cardinal athlete annually, the honor is one that Fulton feels is the most important of all her accolades in 2011.
“It’s nice to know that the whole department is behind you and sees how much work you put in your four years there,” Fulton said. “I love our whole department; they did so much for me while I was there, so it was really nice to see that award.”
Fulton will begin graduate school at the University of Michigan-Flint for physical therapy in August, and Kelly plans on graduating in May 2012 with a degree in business management. Grob, however, still has some time left in an SVSU uniform.
“I’ll be taking it easy for about two weeks, then it’s back to the grindstone,” Grob said. “I’m already starting to get a little restless.”