Shultz swinging through ailment

Photo by Hunter Tickel/Special To The Herald
Senior Justin Shultz, of No. 9 Jasper, locks onto an approaching ball before firing back an overhand return during practice Thursday. He has battled through an inflamed shoulder to post an undefeated record.

Special To The Herald

JASPER — Most spend their Fourth of July grilling out, spending quality time with family and taking in fireworks.

Justin Shultz was on the tennis court prepping for his senior year at Jasper.

That's when his shoulder popped. It was an injury that ended up being much less severe than he initially suspected.

"As soon as it happened, I thought it could have been a rotator cuff tear," Shultz said. "I thought it was something even worse. The injury was pretty severe itself, but it could have been a lot worse, where I didn't know if I would be able to play this season."

After an MRI revealed nothing was ripped, an inflamed shoulder saddled him to the bench.

Shultz didn't pick up a racket for a month. Around the time of the season opener, he started hitting balls, but no overhand serves.

Wildcats coach Scott Yarbrough likened it to a knuckle popping, only this one painful movement was located in his shoulder where the ball and socket meet.

Yarbrough said it likely was a byproduct of powerful backhand and forehand hits plus ample weight lifting, in particular last year.

Senior teammate Max Sternberg, who has verbally committed to Marian University, said Shultz desperately wanted to return to the action. Sternberg, Jasper's one-singles, said Shultz felt like he let the team down, despite it being an injury that was out of his control.

"It's been harder mentally more than physically almost because you really have a lot go through your mind when something like this happens," Shultz said. "'Why did this happen to me?' Things like that."

The rehab process for Shultz filled his shoulder with more discomfort than throbbing.

"When he first came back trying to hit, I don't know how painful it was," Yarbrough said. "It was more stiff and uncomfortable. From there, we've worked through it between icing, stretching and what I call a (TENS) machine. It shoots the electricity into your arm a little bit. "

Last year's all-state player worked his way back from rehab to post an unblemished mark as the two-singles. In the process, the No. 9 Wildcats have remain spotless with a Jasper Invite title and fourth at the Jeffersonville tourney.

"Max (Sternberg) and Justin, the two guys at the top of our ladder, are probably a good distance ahead of the next group that comes through," Yarbrough said. "Those are two guys that put a lot of time in. They are also older, from a singles standpoint, they have aspirations of playing college tennis."

Shultz is getting looks from five schools - including the University of Southern Indiana. Sternberg said when he wasn't working his forehand due to the ailment, he beefed up his backhand.

"It means a lot to us because (anyone) could have given up when they got hurt like that," Sternberg said. 

Shultz is currently progressing on the court based on his comfort level — doctors' orders — as he makes strides that he thought were unattainable this quickly.

"Going into this, I'd be thankful if I even got the overhand serve back at all," Shultz said. "Right now, it's looking like I'm going to get it back but not to the 100% standpoint. I'm pretty happy with where I'm at."

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