Sami Williams, Iowa State’s all-time home run leader, announced last week that she will be returning for the 2021 season after the COVID-19 pandemic cut the 2020 season originally meant to be her senior year short.
Williams will be joined by teammate Logan Schaben, who also made the same announcement last week.
Williams’ desire to return was never really in question. It was the more than two weeks of not knowing whether she would have the opportunity to claim a final year of eligibility that proved to be the bigger challenge.
This period of uncertainty began for Williams on March 12, 2020. That morning, the Cyclone softball team was scheduled to leave for California, Williams’ home state, for a tournament hosted by Loyola Marymount. Williams woke up to a message from head coach Jamie Pinkerton that the tournament was canceled.
By the end of the day, the NCAA announced its decision to cancel the Division I men’s and women’s 2020 basketball tournaments, as well as all remaining winter and spring NCAA championships.
Just like that, Williams’ season was over.
“It was really sudden,” Williams said. “I was in denial for a lot of it. I wasn’t really processing. I thought there was no way this was going to be the end of my career at Iowa State.”
Williams and the team learned about the season’s cancellation during a meeting with Coach Pinkerton.
“I’d say the mood was heavy. It was definitely disappointing to go from ‘okay, I’m waking up this morning to go play in a tournament in California’ to ‘our season is canceled.’ That was hard on everyone. You prepare all fall to be able to play in the spring, and I think we were hoping to end on a higher note.”
Though Williams was hopeful she would have an opportunity to come back for an additional season based on her conversations with Iowa State Athletic Director Jamie Pollard and Coach Pinkerton, she had to wait in limbo until March 30 when the NCAA officially announced it would allow schools to provide spring-sport student-athletes an additional season of competition. Days later, Pollard announced Iowa State would take advantage of the NCAA’s decision and allow all of its 27 spring-sport athletes who were implicated by shortened seasons the choice to return.
“Everyone who knows me knows I’m a planner,” Williams said. “I carry around a planner for the entire school year with my assignments, meetings, everything. I’m definitely a person who likes to have things planned out. So that period of not knowing was really hard.”
Williams also had to juggle this uncertainty with potential employers.
“I was in the middle of a bunch of job interviews when the season got canceled because I was planning on graduating in May and then starting a career. I kind of had to shift gears there so that I was still doing the interviews while waiting for more information so I could tell them if I wasn’t going to be available this summer. The hard part was just not knowing.”
Once the opportunity was on the table, Williams’ decision to return was a fairly easy one.
“It was pretty much always ‘yes, I’m going to come back.’”
Her only hesitation was the financial component of her return. Without financial assistance, Williams admitted it would have been more difficult to justify another season as a Cyclone. But with a scholarship for next year, Williams will graduate in May with her undergraduate degree in software engineering and then plans to enroll in a masters’ program through the Ivy College of Business. Her goal is to start the program this summer and finish it in the spring of 2021.
As she looks ahead to next season, Williams is most excited about getting to practice with her team in the fall. She was unable to do so in the fall of 2019 after she underwent surgery to remove bone fragments in her patellar tendon.
“Having the opportunity to come back and train all fall rather than rehabbing is going to put me in a position to perform as my best,” Williams said. “I didn’t practice at shortstop in the fall at all last year, so from a team dynamic and communication perspective it will be really helpful. I think it’ll feel really good to be able to be involved and help those incoming freshmen any way I can.”
In the meantime, Williams, who is still in Ames, has been communicating with her teammates via group text messages, Shapchat, and virtual meetings. She has been able to hit off a tee at her apartment, but without the ability to go to any of the training facilities, her options for workouts are limited.
“Our strength coach has sent us sheets with workouts that he’s modified a lot for at home with minimal equipment,” Williams said. “Some of them are putting canned goods into a bag. He’s had to be flexible and creative, definitely. We’re focusing more on strengthening during this time along with specific movements since we can’t go out and hit off a pitcher or take ground balls.”
Beyond her workouts, Williams has been keeping busy with her schoolwork and online learning. Like the rest of the world, though, she admitted she has found extra time for binging her favorite shows.
“Absolutely, I’ve watched so much NCIS. I’m a sucker for the crime shows.”