Dalton Shuffield, Texas State ride fresh mentality into NCAA regional

When Texas State shortstop Dalton Shuffield felt himself slipping into a rut midway through the season, he flipped open his notebook and found the acronym ACE: acting changes everything.

Shuffield has carried the notebook with him through the season, scribbling his primary takeaways each time he listens to the daily podcast from mental performance coach Brian Cain.

Entering last year with expectations of contending for a Sun Belt Conference title and at-large NCAA berth, the Bobcats stumbled early and never recovered. After Texas State finished 21-36 to mark the worst season since the program’s first year in 1984, coach Steven Trout knew he needed to focus on the team’s mental response to adversity, and he hired Cain to provide direction.

Armed with lessons like ACE – a message of inspiring your own courage and confidence through action – the Bobcats flipped their record to post the winningest season in program history.

Qualifying for an NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, Texas State is the second seed in the regional hosted by No. 2 overall seed Stanford. The Bobcats (45-12) open with a matchup against UC Santa Barbara (43-12) at 8 pm Friday.

“When Trout brought it up that we were getting this guy to come in the fall and show us all these things we can do to really reset our minds, I was a little indifferent, at first,” Shuffield said. “I didn’t really think we needed that, but it was a huge factor for me, and our team.”

Shuffield increased his average more than .100 points to a Sun Belt-best .393 and tripled his home run output to 12. The Johnson product became the first Bobcat to win a conference player of the year award since Paul Goldschmidt in 2009, leading the league in runs (74), doubles (20) and triples (five).

Shuffield said the biggest factor in his improvement is how he “switched my mindset around.” One of the lessons he’s pulled from Cain is wearing his batting gloves until he’s ready to move on from an at-bat, analyzing what he could have done differently before shifting his focus to the next stage of the game.

He carried those lessons into the classroom as well, completing a project and posting a short video presentation to YouTube on the benefits of Texas State implementing more mental health services, like those offered by Cain.

“I listen to his podcast every day, and it resets your focus,” Shuffield said. “You get your confidence back. Saying, ‘I’m better than this pitcher, I’m going to hit one off the wall off this guy.’ That’s what I’ve thought all year, and the implementation of Brian Cain and all the mental health coaching has been that difference. “

The mental development has also mirrored the progress he’s made physically, with Trout describing Shuffield as “stronger than he’s ever been before.” Listed at 5-foot-9, Shuffield said he arrived at Texas State around 130 pounds and had bulked up to about 175 last year before settling at a comfortable 165 this season.

He’s benefiting from being fully healthy this year, as he said a nagging hamstring injury sidelined him for 11 games early in the 2021 season and kept him from hitting his stride until late in the year. He also implemented a few mechanical tweaks, closing off his batting stance and raising his hand placement.

Trout praised Shuffield as a player who has “mastered his approach,” cutting down issues with chasing pitches that hampered him early in his career.

“He’s always been one of the best shortstops in the country,” Trout said, “and now he’s made himself into one of the best hitters in the country.”

After the 2021 Bobcats continued to press and never escaped what Trout called a “team funk,” Texas State was picked to finish seventh in this year’s Sun Belt preseason poll and did not place a player on the preseason all-conference list.

Still, Shuffield looked around during the fall camp and felt the Bobcats had some “special players,” and the team began to believe after winning two of three against Arizona in early March. A few days later, Texas State knocked off No. 1 Texas in Austin.

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