BANGOR, Maine — Relentless. That is how Husson University women’s basketball coach Kissy Walker describes Shelby Bradford.
The senior co-captain, who stands less than 5-foot-8, has dominated North Atlantic Conference basketball for the last four seasons.
Tonight, the Lee native leads No. 1 Husson (17-8) into a NAC semifinal against No. 4 UMaine-Farmington (12-12) at Newman Gym at 6.
“She is just relentless. She fights and fights and fights,” Walker said. “She just continues to work when she’s in there.”
The former Shelby Pickering is among the most versatile and impactful Division III student-athletes Maine has produced. She wants to go out with a NAC title.
“It’s not really a stressful thing for me. I don’t get nervous,” Bradford said. “I just go out and play and play my best every night.”
This winter, she has averaged 17.4 points, 11.9 rebounds and a league-best 3.4 steals, leading Husson to a 14-0 NAC mark.
“I think there’s one thing that makes Shelby special and that’s just her determination,” said Maine Maritime Academy coach Craig Dagan. “Nobody works harder than her. She gets a ton of offensive rebounds because, in my opinion, she just wants it more than anyone else.”
Those intangibles, combined with Bradford’s quickness and crafty post moves, have enabled her to excel despite often giving up several inches to opponents.
Bradford on Thursday earned her second straight NAC Player of the Year award and her third All-NAC first-team honor.
She ranks second on Husson’s career scoring list with 1,505 points and has grabbed 926 career rebounds. She is averaging 16.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 3.0 steals in 93 games, during which she has shot 52 percent from the field and 75 percent from the foul line.
“She’s a winner and that’s something that you can’t teach,” Dagan said.
“The only way that anybody’s going to stop her is if they’re ready to play at a level that they’re not used to playing at and play harder than they’ve ever played before,” he added.
Bradford credits her basketball knowledge to her father, Tom Pickering. He coached her through middle school and at Lee Academy, where the Pandas won three basketball regional titles and the 2005 Class D state crown.
Bradford is the state’s all-time leading soccer goal scorer with 178 and tallied more than 1,700 points in basketball, where she was a two-time BDN All-Maine choice.
“I think just not giving up on the ball, always going after it no matter what [is the key],” Bradford said. “I’m not as skilled as the other players, but I’m always hustling after the ball.”
Bradford’s work ethic is complemented by a poised, low-key personality that seems to have rubbed off on her teammates this season.
“We’ve been in a number of games where we’ve been down 10 points, 15 points and we come back,” Walker said. “It’s almost like they all have developed that same demeanor that Shelby has where it’s just ‘OK, we know that we’ve got to keep working here and keep plugging away.’”
Bradford’s college career began at the University of Maine, where as Lee’s salutatorian she earned a full academic scholarship.
In 2005, she played soccer for coach Scott Atherley, posting a goal and an assist in 16 games. Bradford later walked on with the women’s basketball team.
If not for some luck, that experience might have proved costly.
With UMaine trailing badly during a late-season game, coach Ann McInerney called for Bradford.
“I got to the [scorers’] table and the clock ran out before I got in,” said Bradford who, at the time, welcomed the opportunity. “I would have played eight seconds.”
And it would have cost her a season of eligibility. Instead, she has a chance to help Husson earn its first-ever NCAA berth.
Bradford transferred to Husson in 2006 for its occupational therapy program. She was influenced by her mother Cindy’s work as a speech therapist.
“I went with her and saw the occupational therapist and said, that is like the perfect job, I get to play games all day,” Bradford said.
She carries a 3.83 grade point average and will graduate in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
This year she was named to the ESPN The Magazine Academic All-America second team after gaining all-district honors in 2009. She is doing her clinical work in the Bucksport school system.
“I had to take a lot of extra credits but it was worth it. It worked out really well,” Bradford said.
Bradford, who balances academics and three sports — she also plays soccer and lacrosse — has been married to Husson basketball standout Brock Bradford for 2½ years.
The two met in high school at a summer youth camp, through Calvary Chapel in Orrington. They have supported each other in all aspects, but you won’t find them playing one-on-one.
“We don’t even play card games any more because it never ends up good,” Bradford said with a smile. “We’re on the same team if we’re doing anything competitive.”
In soccer, Bradford was the 2006 NAC Player of the Year and a three-time, first-team pick. She registered 63 goals and 37 assists in 63 games.
Last spring, Bradford took up lacrosse. Despite never having seen the game, she posted 45 goals and 12 assists in 12 games and was a first-team all-star. She led the nation with 6.8 ground balls per game.
“I’ve enjoyed it,” she said. “There’s no pressure, nobody expects anything, so it’s a different feeling than I’m used to.”
In spite of her lofty athletic status and busy schedule, Bradford shares her talents in other ways. She volunteers with campus organizations and works with special-needs children.
“She’s amazing,” Walker said. “Any employer out in the OT field that hires her, in my opinion, is going to get a gem.”