Photo courtesy of Cyclones.com.
When listening to Iowa State softball coach Jamie Pinkerton talk about his team’s stars, super-seniors Sami Williams and Logan Schaben, you’ll hear him invoke one of Matt Campbell’s favorite phrases.
The culture that inhabits the Iowa State softball program is much different than the one Williams and Schaben were recruited to join five years ago as members of the 2016 class of freshmen.
That group was recruited by Stacy Gemeinhardt-Cesler then played their freshmen season for Jamie Trachsel before Pinkerton was hired to lead the program in 2018.
Three coaches in three seasons make it hard to instill any culture, let alone one that fosters any level of success. Maybe, we need a new term for Williams and Schaben, who on Sunday found out their Iowa State careers will feature a trip to the NCAA Regionals, the school’s first such berth since 1988.
Sami Williams and Logan Schaben are not culture changers. They’re culture builders.
“It’s changed a lot,” Williams told the media on Monday when asked how different the program is from when she arrived five years ago. “It’s tough. In my freshman year, the classes above me had been through their first coaching change. Then the following year, we had another coaching change so it’s tough to, I think, have that kind of solid environment and culture, when there are so many changes going on because every coaching staff’s different. You want to buy into each coaching staff. I think just having the solid staff we’ve had the past few years has really helped kind of solidified our culture. It’s very clear what our goals are and what the standards are here.”
To call Williams the new standard for on-field performance might be a little unfair to every Cyclone who will come after her when you consider she collected the 329th base-hit of her career, a new Big 12 record, on Saturday in a 3-1 win over Baylor.
The senior from Laguna Niguel, Calif. is Iowa State’s all-time leader in career hits, doubles, home runs, runs batted in, runs scored, at-bats and games played. She’s in the program’s top-five for career stolen bases, walks and batting average.
So, yeah, that would be a pretty unattainable standard for most individuals.
But, there is little doubt Williams has played a large role in setting a standard off the field and in the locker room, helping to elevate Iowa State softball and everyone around her to new heights by being the kind of person who sets themselves and everyone around her up for success.
“I’ve been doing this for 27 years in various programs,” Pinkerton said. “In the ACC, the SEC, the Big 12 and a couple of other conferences, and I’ve never had a player that’s the total package, the epitome of being a student-athlete (like Sami Williams)… I know this puts probably undue pressure on Sami, but I feel like she’s a generational talent.”
“I’ve had three or four players similar to her. One was an All-American and a great player, not a good teammate. I had another one that was an All-American and was a great player, but not a very good student. And then you get to Sami, she has a degree in software engineering, with the COVID year, she’s already going to have a Master’s in informational systems. She checks that box on the student-athlete. As an athlete here, she’s been a program changer. This program has changed because of her leadership.”
The reward for that change is a spot in the NCAA Tournament, where the Cyclones will be the No. 2 seed in the Columbia Regional. That means a date with No. 3 seed Northern Iowa on Friday in a 1 p.m. tilt that will be broadcasted on ESPN3.
The Cyclones and Panthers split their two matchups this season, with Iowa State taking the first, all the way back on Feb. 12, by the score of 12-2, before Northern Iowa took the second game 10-2 on April 14.
Two games, two months apart, with a rubber match set to come on one of the sport’s biggest stages.
The winner of that game will earn a likely date with host-school Missouri, which enters the field as the No. 8 overall seed nationally. The Cyclones split with the Tigers, too, taking the first game 9-8 on Feb. 20 in Boca Raton, Fla. before falling 3-2 on March 13 in Columbia.
“We’re gonna have our hands full, but I think (we have) the advantage of having familiarity,” Pinkerton said.”We played two games against Mizzou, we played once down in Boca Raton, and then once in Columbia. Then to have played UNI two different times in Cedar Falls, we have scouts and film and plans that we have, but I think that’s an advantage that a lot of other schools and regionals don’t have, so we’ll focus on those two. We’ll have to get up to speed on (No. 4 seed University of Illinois-Chicago). So it cuts down on work, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
This work will be nothing compared to what has come in the four previous years for Williams and this program. That work required more or less building a successful program from scratch and emerging from the ashes of having three different coaching staffs at the helm in three years.
Williams has elevated the standard at Iowa State on an individual level to a point where it would be nearly impossible to surpass again.
Now, the goal is to continue elevating the program-wide standard of on-field performance to somewhere it has never been — an NCAA Super Regional and a trip to the WCWS in Oklahoma City.
With a talent and leader like Sami Williams at the forefront, anything is possible.
“It’s always your dream to get to regionals and get to Oklahoma City,” Pinkerton said. “Now, you’re only five wins away, and we just got to check those boxes and get those five wins with three this weekend and then two out of three at the Supers. But, the thing is, we’re in the tournament, and as you have seen in basketball, or baseball, or volleyball, or any of the other tournaments, if you play well and things fall your way, we have just as good a chance as anybody to make it Oklahoma City.”