(Photo courtesy of Iowa State athletics communications)
Sami Williams started playing softball before she was in kindergarten. But by 4th grade, the Iowa State senior standout was fed up.
“All of the girls on my team were crying all the time,” Williams said. “So I realized I wanted to play baseball for my dad.”
That’s exactly what she did.
For the next two years, Williams played little league baseball with her dad as her coach. One summer, Williams — the only girl in a family of four children — was on the same team as her older brother Luke. They both excelled.
Luke was eventually drafted by the Philadelphia Phillies in 2015 and continues to play in the minor leagues. And even before the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the 2020 softball season, Williams was statistically one of the best players in Iowa State history.
Williams’ success at Iowa State began with an impressive freshman season in 2017, where she started all 58 games at second base and led the team in nearly every offensive statistical category. She was ultimately named First Team All-Big 12 and finished as a finalist for the NFCA National Freshman of the Year.
“I tried to lead by example as a freshman because there were three classes of girls above me,” Williams said, “and I didn’t really find my voice until the coming years when I felt more comfortable with myself and with my team.”
During her sophomore season, Williams made the transition to shortstop and again led the Cyclones in almost every statistical category at the plate. But some offseason adjustments before her junior year propelled Williams into one of the best seasons in Iowa State history.
“I worked a lot with Coach Martinez to work through some of the mental games and challenges that I felt were making me stuck in sophomore year,” Williams said. “On defense, especially I started to feel more comfortable. Transitioning from second to short was hard, but it was the personal interpretation of my feelings out there that made it worse. I was trying to force myself to calm down in my sophomore year. But I figured out how to use those emotions to go from upsetting me to easing me.”
She also made some technical adjustments to her batting stance.
“I worked on opening my stance and my tilt to hit low pitches,” Williams said. “I also learned the zone better and watched a lot of film to look for pitchers’ tendencies.”
Williams became so comfortable with her swing that she knew exactly what to fix when she took a cut that didn’t feel right in practice.
The adjustments paid off. During the 2019 season, Williams broke Iowa State’s single-season records for base hits (82), runs (59), doubles (25) and home runs (17), and she led the team in slugging percentage (.786) and stolen bases (10). She was again named First Team All-Big 12 and earned Honorable Mention All-American honors from Softball America.
Williams’ success at the plate in 2019 carried over into what was played of the partial 2020 season. In February, Williams broke Iowa State’s career home run record at the Gamecock Invitational in South Carolina. Williams tied the record with her 42nd career homerun in a win against No. 8 Michigan, but had no idea until after the game.
“I get in my head about stats so I try not to look at them during the season,” Williams said.
When she broke the record with her 43rd career homerun in the following game against South Carolina, it didn’t register until one of the coaches came running into the dugout with the ball.
But home runs are a fairly new accomplishment for Iowa State’s all-time leader.
“I was not a home run hitter in high school—at all,” Williams said. “But I didn’t really lift weights then. The weights have really helped me learn how to feel my weight transfer.”
After breaking the record in February, Williams hit three more homeruns, making her career tally 46 before the NCAA cancelled the remainder of the season.
Last week, the NCAA granted another year of eligibility for all Division I student-athletes who participated in spring sports, including softball. Neither Iowa State nor Williams has commented on Williams’ plans.
But even before the unexpected cancellation of the season, Williams was aware of the type of legacy she hopes to leave at Iowa State.
“I definitely think my teammates know I’m a little particular about things, but I hope they know this has been a long process and I’ve worked really hard for it,” Williams said. “I hope they would say I was a good teammate who had the best intentions that came from the heart. I’ve always wanted us to be a great team and set a certain standard for ourselves. And I hope they think I upheld the standards I placed on everyone else.”
If the record books are any indication, Williams has nothing to worry about, regardless of whether she returns for another season as a Cyclone.