Liz Shimek: From small town to Big Ten

By Chase Edwards
Sun staff writer
This summer Liz Shimek is living in a dorm at Michigan State University, taking summer school classes and preparing herself for her first season of Big Ten basketball. She misses her mother’s home cooking, her high school friends and scrimmaging on the cement slab, down near the silo on her family’s farm with her dad and her big brother, TJ.

But she wouldn’t change one second of her summer — or everything that led up to it. Ever since Shimek stepped onto the basketball court at Glen Lake Schools as a freshman in the fall of 1997, she’s been basking in her own glory. Playing varsity basketball as a freshman must have been a little intimidating, but Liz always had the support of her friends and classmates. “My first game, freshmen year, I was the first person off the bench, and when I went in all my friends stood up for me and started clapping,” says Liz. “That will always be in the back of my mind. That meant a lot to me, that they were there to support me.”
Shimek has achieved a lot since those early days of varsity basketball. By last summer, college coaches around the country were courting her. When she signed on with Michigan State University and the program run by head coach Joanne McCallie, it was with a full-ride scholarship. No coincidence, Shimek was also named Miss Michigan Basketball this year. And things only got better. Shimek was written up in Sport’s Illustrated Faces in the Crowd section. When she saw her picture in the national sports magazine, Shimek was as surprised as anyone. “I didn’t really know about it. I think my parents were trying to keep it a surprise,” said Liz. “They did say something about it, but I just thought maybe they’d just mention my name.” Instead, Liz opened the magazine to see her picture, along with other outstanding athletes.
Shimek credits her family – her parents, Tom and Linda, her big sister Amy, and TJ — with more than keeping a whopping secret. “My family has been a big influence on me. They have taught me to give my all in everything that I do, and to always do my best and never settle for anything less,” said Liz. “They’ve taught me to give 110 percent, and they have given me so much support over the years.” That family ethic breeds a healthy rivalry that has only made Liz better — and brought her closer to her big brother. TJ still beats her in one-on-one basketball though. “He’s a lot bigger than me,” she explained, “It’s usually a close game now, but he always ends up winning.”
Shimek took the values her family instilled in her and ran with it in every area of her life. She has won many awards in both track and volleyball. She led this year’s Glen Lake girl’s track team to a State Championship title. And Liz was also co-valedictorian of her graduating class.
But people who know Shimek realizes it’s not about accolades for her. She’s humble. Her closest friends still recall the elementary school chapter of her life when she was shy and wore green pants to school every day. (“I just liked them,” she says with a smile when people tease her about it.) And they also see the pats on the back, encouragement, and congratulations she never fails to give her teammates — be it in the gym, on the track or in the classroom.
Perhaps Liz’s work ethic was learned on the farm. I have run track with Liz, and she leads the girl’s track team in warm-ups and exercises in every practice –never failing to do every exercise, despite the moans of her teammates. I remember her goal by the end of the spring was to do a minimum of 25 perfect-form push-ups in a row, touching her chin to the floor each time. She knew this would be required of her while training at Michigan State, and after most of the girls had left I’d see Liz on the floor in the hall doing her “perfect” push-ups with a grin and usually a laugh as I walked by. But even with Liz’s hard work and preparation, one can only imagine the actual intensity of playing college basketball and the huge difference from playing a high school sport. When Liz goes to the weight room with her coach now, she lifts until she can’t do anymore — and then is often expected to do push-ups. “I’ve never been pushed so hard in my life,” she said with a chuckle. “A lot of it is mental,” Liz added, “It’s all about not psyching yourself out.”
Liz took a break from training and summer school at MSU to have her graduation open house. Relatives and friends from the community flocked to the party to give her their final words of congratulations. “It was wonderful to see all the support at my open house,” Shimek said, “It was really touching to hear how many people actually read the newspaper and came to the games.”
Well Liz, it’s been fun for all of us in this tight-knit community to follow your success. Your constant enthusiasm and encouragement to everyone else will be missed. And you’ve been our best source of entertainment at Glen Lake for four years. Mind if we come and watch you play?