From the record books, to walk-on, and back to the record books, Shay Birath's volleyball career has been full of highlights.
The Marshall native holds the Tiger record for career digs (1,568) and this past Sunday, added her name to the record books at the next level by becoming the career digs leader at South Dakota State University.
But for Birath, it's never been about the records. It's about playing one more game.
Photo courtesy of the SDSU Athletic Department
South Dakota State senior libero Shay Birath, a Marshall graduate, recorded 24 digs last Sunday against Missouri-Kansas City to reach 1,941 career digs, surpassing the previous school record of 1,929. Birath and the Jackrabbits wrap up their regular season today against North Dakota State in Fargo, N.D.
"I guess my main concern all season has been to make it to the Summit League tournament and extend my senior season as far as it can go," Birath said. "Volleyball has been my life and I'm not ready to see that come to an end."
The Jackrabbit senior went into Sunday's match against the University of Missouri Kansas City needing 13 digs to set the mark. By the end of the match she had 24 digs and set the new bar with 1,941 career digs.
"She's a very hard worker, both on the court and off the court," said SDSU head coach Phil McDaniel. "She takes great pride in being a strong player and being a team leader. She works hard every day to make sure her teammates are working hard. She gives energy to our gym."
McDaniel, who is in his second year as head coach of the Jackrabbits, knew what he was getting with the Marshall product because he stayed in touch with local coaches.
"It was easy to make those reconnections, including Coach (Dan) Westby at Marshall," McDaniel said. "He's an easy-going guy, one that I met here when I was an assistant and made sure I kept in touch with him. I knew he puts out great volleyball players and there are great athletes in the Marshall area."
Birath also credits Westby and other Marshall coaches with helping her prepare for Division 1 volleyball.
"The game is different once you get to the Division I level, but I felt it was easier because I had great coaches beforehand who expected a lot from me," Birath said. "And that expectation didn't change from high school to college. I was prepared because I was a Marshall Tiger and the tradition I came from in that program."
With McDaniel coming in between her sohopomore and junior seasons, Birath experienced something she never had before - a coaching change.
"Having a coaching switch wasn't something I was familiar with in the Marshall program," Birath said. "Coach Phil has done such a great job. He cares about our program."
One change that McDaniel brought to the court was the positioning of his libero. After having played libero in the middle-back position, he moved Birath to left-back, something the senior took in stride.
"I think the biggest thing, I'm pretty sure, is they played their libero at middle-back before I got here and I moved her to left-back," McDaniel said. "The way I like to do it, I like to funnel all the attacks to left-back if I can, and I give her free reign back there to dig that ball. That was probably a little change for her, moving from middle-back to left-back, but she's done a great with it."
Birath added, "It was different. It is a different perspective of the game, a different side of the court. You have to read outside of the block instead of through it.
"I think it went well. I love playing left-back now. I'm definitely used to it."
That change allowed Birath, who is a third-generation SDSU student, go from 556 digs as a sophomore to 641 as a junior. With one regular season match remaining, Birath is sitting with 588 digs on the season. The Jackrabbits need to defeat North Dakota State University tonight and have Oakland fall to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis to guarantee a spot in the tournament.
"My main focus has always been do what I can do for my team to put us in a good position to make it to the Summit League tournament so I can play with these girls as long as I can," Birath.
A run in the Summit League tournament could help her go even higher and let her keep doing what she loves doing.
"It's been amazing. I've been so fortunate to play with some really awesome girls. We have such a close-knit team, it's like family," Birath said. "The Brookings community is so supportive of SDSU athletics and SDSU. I owe all of my success to the town and my team. Just the whole experience wouldn't be anything without them."