Finding a student-athlete who has that extra drive to succeed in all facets is a welcome addition to any campus.
As the first student-athlete in school history to earn two Mid-South Conference Champions of Character Team honors for two different programs and the 2020 Excellence in Mathematics-Generalist Award winner as part of SSU's Evening of Honors program, Shawnee State's Jill Kelly has been a leader on all fronts with her ability to succeed in multiple facets while balancing a rigorous class schedule on top of it all.
The senior, who is all set to graduate as part of Saturday's virtual commencement ceremony, credits Shawnee State for fostering the culture that allowed her to excel both academically and athletically.
"SSU has and will forever hold a special place in my heart," Kelly said. "When I look back at my years here at Shawnee, I think about all of the people I've met and how each and every single one of them have had a lasting impact on my life. I am truly a better person coming out of Shawnee State than I was coming in, and I think that is what it's all about. Attending SSU has helped me grow physically, mentally, and emotionally. I personally feel as if Shawnee State has prepared me to find my dream job right out of college. Not only have I learned a great deal about math and teaching, but I have also learned many life skills, such as time management, prioritizing, and social skills that will help me be more successful in the real world."
At Valley View High School in Germantown, Kelly helped lead Valley View to a solid 32-28-7 overall record, including a 19-14-3 mark over her final two seasons of action, while helping guide the Spartans through the Southwestern Buckeye Conference (SBC) gauntlet. Kelly, who played in the midfield, was named as a Honorable Mention All-SBC selection for Valley View, all while playing alongside future Florida signee and four-year letterwinner Alyssa Howell and current Wright State standout Sydni Callahan.
In addition to playing highly competitive soccer at Valley View, the Spartans' girls soccer program continued to treat Kelly as one of their own -- even after she graduated high school and moved on to play for Shawnee State. However, considering that Kelly balanced soccer successfully while also competing on the track and academic team units at Valley View, all while serving on the school's National Honor Society and Interact Clubs and participating in music with the school, that trust was well warranted.
"My experience at Valley View prepared me in many ways to play at the college level," Kelly said. "Our soccer program is very competitive, and I am thankful for the player that it made me into. The talent that I was fortunate enough to play alongside and star with gives you an idea of the level of play at such a small school. Valley View has such a supportive community, and they have continued to support me to this day even though I've graduated high school for four years now. They allowed me to better my game over the summer and attend practices and conditioning. They were so welcoming to me, which is a reflection of the overall community. I am thankful for this community and how they have helped me move on to the next level. Once a Spartan, always a Spartan."
Upon joining the program at Shawnee State, Kelly was quick to embrace the team-first mindset. During her freshman season, Kelly played every position but goalkeeper due to the fact that SSU had just 14 players on its roster at the time. However, her attitude and knowledge of the game helped Shawnee State accumulate a 6-7-2 overall record despite the limited depth -- a mark that quickly advanced to a 10-6-2 showing the year after due to the leadership of players like Kelly, Ball, Chester, and players such as Jenny Campbell and Maddie Woodard. The 10-win season tied a school record for most wins in a season.
Over the past two years, Kelly has proven to be a steadying force for the women's soccer program, all while playing in 68 contests and starting 64 games for the women's soccer program in the fall. Her efforts, both on and off of the playing field, ultimately led to Kelly earning CoSIDA Academic All-District honors and Second-Team NAIA-CoSIDA Academic All-American accolades. Better yet, Kelly did all of this while balancing math club, Pi Mu Epsilon National Honorary Mathematics Society, and lastly, tennis, which she played for three seasons.
"My teammates and coaches have made soccer and tennis so fun and rewarding," Kelly said. "In soccer, fellow seniors Olivia (Ball), Destiny (Chester), and Clarissa (McKinney) were my rocks since the very beginning. They have been by my side throughout every hill sprint, every 6 a.m. workout, and every horrifying moment where coach tells us to 'get on the line.' It has been such an honor to play on the field with these three very hardworking girls. If I miss anything when I'm gone, it's going to be playing on the field with my seniors. As for tennis, I've absolutely loved it. Soccer is more physically demanding while tennis is much more of a mental game. I played soccer my entire life, but with tennis, it was something that I picked up in college and learned over the process of playing. (Steve) Boone was so supportive and patient with me, and I am so thankful that he was."
Academically, Kelly excelled from the time she got on campus. With a 3.97 GPA heading into her final semester of her academic year, Kelly actually improved on that mark, ultimately pushing the mark up slightly to a 3.98. She'll graduate with over 130 hours of academic credit to her name as a result of her work -- and credits her success in the classroom to Dr. John Whitaker, a widely-respected professor in the mathematical sciences department whom Kelly refers to as "the most caring and gracious person that I've ever had the pleasure of learning from."
While her final semester at SSU as an undergrad may have not gone as planned, Kelly believes it's only made her more appreciative of the time she had physically on campus -- both as a student and as an athlete. In fact, it's time that she certainly wouldn't change for a second.
"Being a two-sport student-athlete and going to school at the same time is a full-time job," Kelly said. "I was constantly managing my time between homework, classes, and practice. It was a lot of work, but at the end of the day, it has been so worth it because of the experiences that I've had throughout my years here at Shawnee State. Being a student-athlete means so much to me because it has made me into the person that I am today."