Something said to Jess Schlautman a few years ago provided the inspiration.
The Omaha Skutt three-sport standout did the rest.
Schlautman is The World-Herald’s Nebraska high school girls athlete of the year. She was the libero on an undefeated, nationally ranked volleyball team, the point guard on a winning basketball team and the leading scorer on the Class B state championship soccer team.
Her drive to compete was bolstered by a heavy dose of confidence provided by SkyHawks volleyball coach Renee Saunders. She told Schlautman during her sophomore season that the annual World-Herald award was within her grasp if she kept working hard.
“Coach Saunders has a lot to do with me getting this honor,” Schlautman said. “She’s the one who told me I could win it, and that’s something that really inspired me.”
Saunders said she was confident that Schlautman had it in her.
“Jess is one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever been around,” the coach said. “I planted the seed, but she did the rest to make it happen.”
Schlautman becomes the first Skutt athlete — male or female — to win the award.
Other finalists were MacKenzie Brandl of Stanton, Dariauna Lewis of Omaha North, Anna Squiers of Kearney Catholic, Olivia Calegan of Lincoln Southwest and Taylor Somers of Millard South.
Schlautman, a Rockhurst soccer signee, said she has loved sports since she was little.
“I was about 3 when my parents were coaching my siblings,” she said. “It just seemed like we were always at the gym or going to a game.”
Jess is the youngest in the Schlautman family. Parents Kyle and Deanne also have two sons and another daughter.
After playing several sports while growing up, Jess earned 10 varsity letters at Skutt. Heading into her senior year, she had lettered three times in soccer and twice each in volleyball and basketball.
Schlautman worked hard last summer preparing for her final volleyball season. The SkyHawks were coming off their best year — a 40-2 record and the school’s first state volleyball title — and Schlautman knew the team had a chance to be even better.
“We had high expectations,” she said. “We set really high goals for the team, and then we went after them.”
Schlautman stepped up as the starting libero, taking over for the graduated Brooke Swain. Saunders said the back-row position is critical to the success of any team and a subpar performance can derail even the most talented squad.
“We had a couple of kids who I thought had it in them to play that spot,” she said. “But Jess had a knack of getting to every ball, and she just exploded through it.”
Schlautman admitted to having some early-season nerves but worked through them.
“Brooke was always so amazing as the libero,” she said. “More than anything, I just didn’t want to let our team down.”
Schlautman proved she was up to the challenge, and the SkyHawks’ potent offense — led by first-team All-Nebraska selections Brooke Heyne and Alli Schomers — did the rest. The SkyHawks finished 44-0, capturing their second straight Class B title while ending the year ranked second and third nationally.
The 5-foot-6 libero, one of seven seniors on the team, had 486 digs as Skutt dropped just six sets all season.
“We had great team chemistry, and we were all working together,” Schlautman said. “We knew we could rely on each other, and that helped us play every match with a lot of confidence.”
Saunders said Schlautman’s work ethic is infectious, no matter which sport she plays.
“She never misses a workout and she pushes herself every time she steps into the gym,” the coach said. “Other players pick up on that, and it drives them, too.”
A challenge awaited during basketball season as the SkyHawks looked to rebuild after graduating four starters. The only returning starter was Schlautman, who ran the offense while dealing with a young squad.
“We played five sophomores a lot,” girls basketball coach Marty Plum said. “Jess’ teammates loved her to death because she was patient and always willing to help.”
Like Saunders, Plum lauded Schlautman for her inner drive.
“In my 23 years of coaching, she’s the most competitive player I’ve ever coached,” he said. “She absolutely hates to lose.”
Schlautman tried to set the tone for the young SkyHawks in their season opener against Gretna. The Dragons had ended Skutt’s season in districts the previous season. This time, Schlautman helped the SkyHawks post an 11-point win.
“I could just tell how fired up she was for that game,” Plum said. “It was payback time, and Jess knew it.”
Though the SkyHawks’ season once again ended in districts, Schlautman said a 16-win season was a positive.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t reach state, but we worked hard all season,” she said. “I felt like we got better with each game, and that experience should help the team next year.”
Schlautman averaged seven points on a defensive-minded squad that set a school record by giving up 38 points per game.
That set the stage for soccer, a sport the SkyHawks have dominated under coach John Carlson. Skutt had won six state titles since 2006 and entered the season — like volleyball — as the defending champion.
“We were expecting really good things,” Schlautman said. “We only lost a few players, so there was lot of optimism.”
Those good feelings were tempered in the season opener, which the SkyHawks dropped 1-0 against Bellevue West.
“That was a reality check for all of us,” Schlautman said. “It brought us back down to earth, and that was a good thing.”
Skutt rattled off nine wins in a row and eventually found itself in a familiar position, back at the state tournament. Led by Schlautman — who scored a team-high 23 goals — the SkyHawks once again captured the title.
Schlautman capped her varsity career with a pair of goals in a 3-0 victory over Columbus Scotus in the final.
“She scored one goal on a header by skying above everybody and the other by outworking two defenders,” Carlson said. “Jess always did whatever it took to get the job done.”
Carlson added that Schlautman can be summed up in just a few words.
“She’s a winner,” he said. “That goes for athletics and life.”
Schlautman found time to take part in other activities at Skutt — National Honor Society, the Ministry Council and March for Life and clubs that dealt with helping the hungry and drug prevention.
Looking back, Schlautman said she’s grateful to her coaches.
“They have all been amazing,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.”
That includes Saunders, who gave Schlautman the inspiring pep talk in 2014.
“In a world where more and more kids are specializing in one sport, Jess is an exception,” the coach said. “She tried to be the best at everything, and I’m so proud of her for winning this award.”