Shabby: Abby Settlemyre and Shayla Thompson’s softball journey comes full circle

Marcus Smith
Sports Editor

Most student-athletes will never get a shot on the biggest stages for the biggest collegiate programs. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it just isn’t always meant to be.

As in almost anything in life, one dives into sports simply because of the enjoyment first and the camaraderie of building friendships as kids. Later, comes the idea of ‘hey, maybe I can take this to the next level and run with it?’ Once an individual finds out that talent is inside them waiting to burst to the scene, a sort of drive and passion ensues because he or she wants to prove something to themselves or perhaps it’s the competitive nature.

Either way, once an athlete is on the path there’s no stopping it. This was a similar case for former Fred T. Foard softball standout, Abby Settlemyre and Maiden softball star, Shayla Thompson.

Talent was in them from the time they picked up a bat and put on a glove, it just had to be harnessed. The more time they put in and the passion they had for the game, the better they were able to get. When it came to the high school level, Settlemyre and Thompson both excelled at the highest level.

Settlemyre and Thompson both reached the pinnacle of accolades on the Lady Tigers and Lady Blue Devils, respectively.

Thompson was a three-time South Fork 2A All-Conference and 2A All-State outfielder at Maiden. In 76 at bats her freshman year, she had a .513 batting average, 39 hits, 15 RBIs, 33 stolen bases and 32 runs scored. With the exception of her sophomore season with the Lady Blue Devils, in which she only played in 12 games due to a season-ending knee injury, Thompson’s star only rose from that point. Her best season came in her senior year as she garnered a .527 batting average in 91 at bats while collecting 48 hits, 17 RBIs, 17 stolen bases and 36 runs scored.

Thompson earned All-State and All-Conference as per usual, but that season she would also become the South Fork 2A conference Offensive Player of the Year for the first time. As for Settlemyre’s career with Foard, she countered with much success in the Northwestern Foothills 2A conference.

Settlemyre dominated her way to the top at the shortstop position, especially in her junior and senior years in 2017 and 2018. She finished her junior season without a single strikeout against her. In 86 at bats her senior season - she recorded 60 hits, 15 RBIs, 41 runs, eight doubles and eight triples, while having an outstanding performance in the batter’s box with a .698 batting average.

These impressive campaigns would allow Settlemyre to accumulate some of the biggest honors. In addition to being a three-time All-State, All-Conference and All-District player, she would rack up the Northwestern Foothills 3A/4A conference Player of the Year in 2017, as well as the Northwestern Foothills 2A conference Player of the Year in 2018. She would also become a two-time District 7 Player of the Year, but an accolade much bigger would come her way in 2018 as she was named the North Carolina Gatorade Player of the Year.

After achieving so much in high school, what could be next for Settlemyre and Thompson? Having battled at that level, the two would join forces as both would sign letters of intent to join UNC-Chapel Hill. The two have just come off of their freshman seasons with the Tar Heels’ program, but it actually wasn’t the first time these two played on the same team.

“Only a few people know this, but Shayla and I used to play together when we were around 10-years old on a travel ball team that was coached by my dad,” said Settlemyre. “We grew up around the sport together and it was bittersweet when we competed against each other in high school. So, when I found out she committed to UNC a few summers ago, I was beyond ecstatic because I knew that I wouldn’t be transitioning into college alone. We instantly drew closer within the first few weeks of school, and have been inseparable ever since.”

Settlemyre said that their teammates in Chapel Hill gave them the nickname, “Shabby,” because they were essentially two peas in a pod outside of softball as much as on the field.

“I am so thankful that I am able to adventure through college with Shayla, because I honestly don’t know what I would have done without her during my first year,” she said.

Thompson shared similar sentiments toward Settlemyre:

“Abby Settlemyre is the best shortstop in the ACC in my opinion,” she said. “I can honestly say she is one of my best friends and we spend the majority of our time together...When we return to school in August, we will be roommates along with senior Brittany Pickett. I can’t think of a better person to share my Carolina experience with than Abby Settlemyre.”

As far as on the field, Settlemyre was a starter at shortstop right away for the Tar Heels, while Thompson had limited play time because there were players on the squad higher on the lineup at her position.

Settlemyre started all 58 games for the Tar Heels, who had a record year going to the NCAA Regional Final for the first-time in program history in a 38-20 season, 17-7 in ACC play. In 124 at bats, she earned 38 hits, 14 RBIs 25 runs (including a home run against a top-25 Michigan team), as well as a double and three triples to cap off her season.

“At the beginning of our regular season, we hosted the Big 10/ACC Challenge that consisted of Michigan, Northwestern and Louisville. In my first at-bat against Michigan, the coaching staff made the decision to pinch hit for me due to the current situation,” she recalled about one of her biggest moments of her first year. “As the time came around for me to hit again, there was a runner on first base and we were losing by one. As the at-bat continued, I squared up an inside pitch and hit my first collegiate home run over the right field wall...I will always remember the feeling of running around the bases to meet my team at home plate for the first time in a Carolina uniform. To top it all off, we ended up winning the game with our first of many top-25 wins of the season.”

Although Thompson didn't have the same opportunities on the field as Settlemyre, she made the most of every chance she got. Thompson appeared in 21 games for the Tar Heels as mostly a pinch runner offensively. She finished her freshman year with seven stolen bases and 11 runs scored.

Thompson talked about her role with the team as she transitioned from the Lady Blue Devils to the Tar Heels and the mentorship she had from some of her teammates:

“When you get to college, you realize that everyone is just as good as you are, if not better,” she said. “Going into my freshman year, I knew I wouldn't get much playing time because I was behind three senior slappers who also played outfield. I didn't let that stop me from working hard and pushing them to do better, but I knew they had a lot they could teach me. This year I was a pinch runner and I took pride in being the speed on bases that my team needed.

“I couldn't have asked for better upperclassmen than the ones I had (mentoring). Berlynne (Delamora), Destiny (DeBerry), Kiani (Ramsey) and Leah (Murray) were always quick to offer words of encouragement or advice. Destiny, Kiani and Leah were my senior slappers...They always told me stories of their freshman year and kept my spirits uplifted on the hard days.”

Near the end of the season is when Thompson got her chance to shine just a little bit. In its first 2019 Knoxville Regional Final elimination game against Longwood on May 18, up 2-1 at the time, she sparked Carolina's offense by putting down a bunt and capitalized on a Longwood miscue to reach second. This would set up a Settlemyre base hit and a Lexi Godwin sacrifice fly out to put them up 3-1 in the win.

“I don't go by, 'if you're a freshman, you don't play.' Our hitters were struggling a bit (toward the end of the season),” said Tar Heels head coach, Donna Papa. “(Shayla got the opportunity) and she did some good things in (Regionals).”

Papa talked about her thoughts on the way Thompson and Settlemyre played in their first season and their potential.

“(Settlemyre's) just a great worker,” she said. “We had a big hole to fill. She established herself at shortstop. She made tough plays look easy (this year). She's offensively multi-talented and she fit in really seamlessly.”

Papa said that the coaching staff had to work with her on her tags, but that she made adjustments quickly. She said that she believes that Settlemyre has the ability to be All-Region and even an All-American player one day.

“(As far as Shayla), she's extremely coachable,” said Papa. “She was a great learner this year. She had a great attitude with her role. She worked well in practice with our outfielders. We've been working on her hands and working on her angles because she's got good speed and good touch on the slap.”

Settlemyre said that there is an important piece of advice that the team got toward the end of the regular season from Papa that she will keep with her when the team had been struggling at the plate. Papa told her team to, 'just swing it sister,' and that simple statement stuck with Settlemyre for the rest of her offensive season. It gave her the mentality to just swing and be herself.

When it came to mentorship, Settlemyre said that she was the only underclassman on the infield, so everyone was a veteran. Nevertheless, a specific teammate came to mind: Berylynne Delamora.

“Berlynne Delamora, who was the senior third baseman, was very impactful on my first season at UNC,” she said. “As a new addition to the infield, I had to learn the rhythms and moves, the expectations and the routines of being an infielder...She would constantly keep the game simple and not make it bigger than it was. If the situation was intense or stressful, she always made sure that I was calm and relaxed by cracking a joke or asking a random question."

As far as Year 2 with UNC-Chapel Hill, both Settlemyre and Thompson are excited for the team's continued growth after coming close to surpassing the NCAA Regional Final.

“I think that we surprised people this year with our success, so I am looking forward to showing others the talent we have on our team,” said Settlemyre.

As for Thompson, she believes that each individual in her freshman class has something valuable to bring to the team, including Settlemyre, and that she will also personally continue to learn and develop as a player with hopes for a starting position next season.