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Former Tiger outfielder Janae Schlabs-Shirley has made quite an impact as head coach of her alma mater's softball program in just four seasons.
Consider this: when Shirley became the fourth head coach in the program's history immediately following the 2007 season, after two years as an assistant coach, ETBU was no longer considered a perennial title contender in the American Southwest Conference. The Tigers were still finding a way to qualify for the annual conference tournament, something that has never eluded an ETBU team in any year of eligibility, but beyond that other programs in the league had taken up the ASC softball banner on a national level.
But Shirley -- the team's starting leftfielder in 2004 and 2005 -- remembered a time when the Tigers were the beasts of the conference. During its run of five straight conference championships from 2000-04, ETBU was the only team to make an NCAA regional tournament appearance (three, from 2002-04). The Tigers had more All-Americans during this span than any other ASC schools combined.
It was those memories -- and simple pride in the program as a former player -- that has driven Shirley as coach of the Tigers. From the get-go, she has focused on recruiting good fits for the program and upgrading the team's overall talent level. And, with lightning speed -- again, in just four years -- Shirley has led another elevation of the Tiger softball program to national recognition.
Things started a bit slowly, in 2008, her first season. The Tigers won their first nine games that year and returned to the NFCA national rankings for the first time since the opening of the 2005 season. But by the end of the year ETBU had once again qualified for the ASC Tournament as the No. 3 seed from the East Division, but the Tigers were bounced from the championship tournament in three games.
Entering 2009, the Tigers were armed with Shirley's first full recruiting class as head coach. The results were almost instant -- ETBU shocked the conference as an upset winner of the ASC East Division in the regular season, ascending to as high as No. 1 in the national rankings for the first time since 2004. The Tigers were again knocked out of the conference tournament prematurely but had impressed enough to earn the right to host the 2009 West Regional for the first time. ETBU then finished third at the regional, suffering a dramatic 2-1, walkoff loss to Linfield in the final game of the season.
ETBU began the 2010 season as the No. 2 team in the nation but the Tigers struggled at times. Entering the final day of the regular season, ETBU needed a win over rival Louisiana College and some help elsewhere around the conference to clinch a conference tournament berth. The Tigers got in, but just barely, and were again denied a shot at the conference title by going just 2-2 at the postseason tournament. There were no guarantees for a return trip to the NCAAs, and the Tigers anxiously waited for two weeks before being awarded an at-large bid to the regional in Pineville, La., where ETBU hadn't won a game since the 2004 season -- a streak of 12 straight losses.
The Tigers squeaked by Mississippi College in the regional opener and then were upset by second-year program Southwestern, making its first NCAA appearance, in the second round. ETBU then had to hold off rival UT Tyler in a late elimination game on day two of the tournament, winning in walk-off fashion after a late Tyler rally had tied the game in regulation.
That win sparked a magical run, however, by the Tigers. ETBU put together four straight wins -- including two over Louisiana College, snapping that 12-game losing streak -- to win its first ever regional championship and berth in the World Series in Eau Claire, Wisc. At the nationals, the Tigers then went 4-0 -- including three wins after trailing in the fifth inning -- and won the program's first national championship with a walk-off infield single in the bottom of the seventh that capped a two-run rally.
That capped Shirley's first three years -- not a bad rebuilding job. In 2011, with the pressure of playing as defending national champions, a young ETBU team with just one senior in its starting lineup, three regular freshmen starters and a revamped pitching staff, managed to once again win the ASC East Division for the second time in three years. The Tigers then overcame an early loss in the ASC Tournament with three straight wins on the final day to earn the program's first ASC title title in seven years, and sixth overall. As far as championship banners go, it was the final skin on the wall for Shirley's Tigers, who have now won a national championship, a conference championship, two ASC East titles, and made three straight NCAA playoff appearances in just four seasons.
Coach Shirley and her staff were named the NFCA National Coaching Staff of the Year following the national title run in 2010. This past season, the staff was also voted the ASC East Coaching Staff of the Year for the second time in three seasons.
Through four seasons as head coach, Shirley has posted a 141-45 record, a winning percentage of .758. Her 100th coaching victory came in the first elimination game of the 2010 regional at Pineville, La., when the Tigers rallied from a 2-0 deficit to steal a 3-2 victory over rival Louisiana College and send ETBU to its first regional championship game.
Over the last three seasons, however, Shirley's teams have gone 115-30, a winning percentage of a whopping .793.
During her playing career, the Tigers made two straight trips to the NCAA Tournament from 2003-04. The program also won the final two of its five straight ASC championships. Shirley earned All-ASC East honors as a senior in 2005, her second year as a starter. She endured an injury-filled first season at ETBU after transferring from Midland College but returned in 2004 to take over the starting job in left field, hitting .290 in 39 games. She also committed just one error.
Her senior season in '05 saw her post a perfect record defensively, with no errors in 42 chances.
A native of Hereford, Texas, Janae is the daughter of Ray and Charla Schlabs. She received a B.S.E. in Biology from ETBU in May of 2005 after received an associate's degree from Midland College in 2002. Janae played volleyball, basketball, softball and also ran track at Hereford High School, where she graduated in 2000. At Midland College, she played on a squad that finished fourth at the NJCAA national tournament.
Janae and her husband, Guy, were married in the summer of 2007. Guy is a former ETBU baseball player who also works on staff as assistant softball coach. Janae and Guy welcomed their first child, son Carter, in October of 2009.