BLOOMINGTON — As the reigning Pantagraph Area Female Athlete of the Year for all sports, Ellie Weltha could have hidden within her comfort zone during her senior year at Bloomington High School.
As a three-sport star in 2016-17 in basketball, track and softball, the Illinois State softball recruit didn't need to risk failure by going out for volleyball for the first time. And if that wasn't enough, when her softball team needed her to pitch instead of play catcher, she took that on, too.
By becoming a four-sport athlete with shining results — and sacrificing for her softball team — Weltha is again being honored as the Female Athlete of the Year, becoming the first two-time winner in the award's 16-year history.
When the Purple Raiders' first-string pitcher was unable to play, Weltha took on the responsibility, going 5-15 for a team that finished 9-21.
Weltha wasn't a total neophyte. She'd pitched the "B" games of doubleheaders the previous three years. However, when she learned she'd be the primary pitcher two weeks before this season, she started watching YouTube instructional videos and consulting with fellow hurlers Megan Nonnemacher and Mack Leonard, both former Normal Community stars.
"I had so much help from everybody," Weltha said. "It was awesome.
"I had the best teammates ever. Putting myself out there for them, I have no problem doing that. I love them all. We sacrificed a lot for each other. That's what it takes."
After being a first-team all-Big 12 Conference selection in volleyball and basketball, Weltha found an unfamiliar world of frustration in the pitching circle, but graciously endured it.
“She’s the most selfless player you’ll ever meet,” said BHS softball coach Amber McGee. “(Pitching) is not what she wanted to do, but did it because it was best for our team.”
Weltha credits pitching for making her stronger mentally.
"It was terrible, too,” she said. “The first game, we got destroyed by Washington (22-0). They hit home runs on me. I've never seen balls hit so far.
"You've just got to grow through it. I think that's what I did. I think that's going to benefit me in college softball."
Softball was by no means a total disaster as Weltha batted .562, hit eight home runs and drove in 37 runs to earn first-team all-Big 12 honors. Along the way she broke the school record for career home runs with 41.
McGee will remember Weltha for more than her talent.
“I tell her all the time, ‘if my daughter ends up being half the kid and athlete she is, I’ll be happy because she is just an all-around good person,’” said McGee, who describes Weltha’s personality as that of “a total goofball. Everybody loves her. She’s just so outgoing.”
Weltha went out for track all four years and came back with six state medals. This year, she was second in the Class 3A shot put and improved the school record to 44 feet, 8½ inches to rank fifth in area history. She placed sixth in the state discus, in which her career best of 141-5 ranks sixth in area annals.
“I think she’s been the best girl athlete that Bloomington High School has ever had,” said throws coach Don Anderson. “Ellie is one of the reasons why you love to coach because of the attitude she brings to practice and the competitiveness.”
Because of her softball schedule, most of Weltha’s track workouts were one-on-one with Anderson.
“All credit goes to Coach Anderson and all my other coaches because they were so flexible with me,” she said.
In basketball, Weltha averaged 16.0 points and 10.0 rebounds for a 16-12 team that won the State Farm Holiday Classic consolation title. She finished with a school-record 1,644 points.
Basketball coach Tom Whiting considers her the best athlete, male or female, in school history.
“She’s an unbelievable athlete; a great kid,” he said. “I was really fortunate she played basketball for four years. Even concentrating on softball as she did, I still think she could play Division I basketball.”
Each fall, volleyball coach Joe Sanders asked Weltha to resume a volleyball career she had retired from after junior high. When she finally relented, the 6-foot middle blocker became a unanimous all-Big 12 star.
“Even though she really hadn’t been part of the team up to that time, because she is so well known within our school, she gave the kids somebody to look up to,” Sanders said. “She has such a great personality, she fit right in.”
Now Weltha wishes she’d gone out for volleyball sooner.
“It was a ton of fun,” she said. “It threw me into a sport that I was not comfortable in and it threw me into an atmosphere where I really had to learn. I think that helped me in basketball, softball and track. It’s good to still have adversity even when you are competing at a high level because it makes you mentally sharp.”
Sanders said Weltha could have been a Division I volleyball player.
“I swear,” he said, “she walked in the first day of practice and was literally pounding the ball.”
Weltha has come to terms with the idea she’ll only play one sport for ISU where she will study elementary education. However, she admits “it’s going to be really different adapting to one sport all year around.”
While setting school records in three sports, Weltha thinks she also set one for having the most fun.
“I think I destroyed that record,” she said. “That’s probably the one record no one will ever touch.”