By DJ Ramirez | Sports Editor
After five years at Baylor, Shelly Stafford is one step closer to achieving her dreams.
The All-American middle blocker signed her first professional contract Thursday to play for the Puerto Rican professional women’s volleyball league.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to play professionally,” Stafford said in a phone interview with the Lariat, on Friday before her departure. “Obviously it’s a huge dream of mine to play in the Olympics. This is a stepping stone for me and I’m super excited.”
Stafford is joining the Indias de Mayagüez, who were league champions in 2013. The Cypress native said that she had a few options for teams to sign with, but she ultimately chose Puerto Rico because of its nearness to her home and family.
“It is going to be challenging to be away from family,” Stafford said. “I just got married and I’m obviously super family oriented. […] It’s only, like, a four-hour flight, I think, so it’s close enough to where they can still fly and come see me and I’m thankful that my dad’s health is in good condition now to where he is able to travel. So that’s exciting — it’s not a 14-hour flight to Switzerland or Germany or other places, which I’m still considering maybe next season going there.”
Formerly known as Shelly Fanning, the All-American married Samuel Stafford in May 2019.
A two-time All-American and 2018 Scholar Athlete of the Year, Stafford aided in leading the Bears to the national semifinal in 2019 for the first time in program history. As a freshman, Stafford played in every match of the 2015 season and notched a .244 hitting percentage, which was best among Baylor hitters with 400 or more attacks. She then went on to play for the Collegiate National Team in the summers of 2015 and 2016.
Stafford had to sit out her sophomore season with a medical redshirt due to a stress injury in her shin. She returned as a redshirt sophomore in 2017 to compile the best single-season hitting percentage in program history at .376 and proceeded to break her own record during the 2018 season with a .397 hitting percentage.
After a historic 2019 season, Stafford finished her Baylor career with a .347 hitting percentage, 1,241 kills, 329 digs, 415 total blocks and 65 service aces. Stafford earned her bachelor’s degree early and went on to work on her master’s degree in sports management.
Stafford said her time in Waco prepared her for her future life and career.
“I feel like Baylor has overall equipped me athletically, physically for a professional career but also spiritually,” Stafford said.
Indias of Mayagüez manager Javier Gaspar said in a press release posted on the Puerto Rican Volleyball federation website that he had seen videos of Stafford and was impressed with her performance.
“She’s the type of player that has a good sense of volleyball,” Gaspar said. “On top of that, I saw great character and a lot of energy from her, which I think are very important to have to play in our league.”
The Puerto Rican women’s volleyball league kicks off its season on Feb. 12.