WATERVILLE — For the first part of this past outdoor track season, Sarah Shoulta was not herself.

About one week after the indoor season ended, the Waterville senior suffered a concussion while playing intramural volleyball. She had dealt with injuries in the past — most notably a left hip issue that slowed her last spring — but this was different.

“I didn’t watch TV for a month, my mom took my phone, I stopped doing school work and I started going half days for three weeks,” Shoulta said. “I fell really far behind in my schoolwork and I was waiting to hear back from colleges. It was probably worst time for it to happen. It was a week before midterms.”

Shoulta missed about three weeks of training and her team’s first two meets of the season. It took her some time to return to form, but when the Purple Panthers needed her most, Shoulta came through. She repeated as Class B champ in the pole vault, 100- and 300-meter hurdles, and also notched a second place performance as a member of the Purple Panthers’ 4×400 relay team. Her points were key in helping Waterville win its ninth straight Class B title.

For her efforts, Shoulta has been named the 2015 Morning Sentinel Girls Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year. Lawrence senior Abby Weigang was also strongly considered for the honor.

“I don’t know if she ever made it back to where she wanted to be, but she was able to put in a tremendous amount of work in a short period of time to get herself back to performing the way she did,” Waterville coach Rob Stanton said. “Part of what makes her so good is that she wants it badly all the time. That doesn’t ever go away.

“She has a great work ethic, but she seems to have an ability just to rise to the occasion. She has the ability to focus in those most intense, competitive situations that very few kids do. I think that’s probably what separates her.”

That desire to win made her return in the early part of the season difficult, Shoulta said, as it took her some time to work her way back into competition shape.

“I just had my coach (Jill Boynton), she kept reminding, ‘you’re not where you are usually. It’s OK, you’re going to build it. It’s who competes best on the last day,'” Shoulta said. “It was hard to put my faith in her. I was torn. I wanted to keep winning.”

Eventually, though, the winning did return for Shoulta.

“The meet at Belfast I was able to three-step all the 100-meter hurdles, which was something I couldn’t do. I was able to run my 300 hurdle race and I won that,” she said. “That was the turning point in the season where I was like, ‘I’m back and I can do this.'”

In doing so, she assured to keep her record perfect in championship meets as she finished a combined 8-for-8 in indoor and outdoor Class B championships. According to Shoulta, the last one will be the most memorable, though.

“It will always hold a special place because it was a last time with my team and the last time I was on the podium in high school,” she said. “It closed out a great four years.”

Now, Shoulta will be hoping for four more great ones as she intends to compete in indoor and outdoor track and field at Bates College.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Evan_Crawley