Sam Gwiazda’s journey to becoming an NCAA Division I softball player was unlike most high school softball player experiences. And it was due to all of the constant changes she had to deal with throughout her four-year career.
Between 2015-2019, the shortstop dealt with having a new head coach each season playing at Peotone High School. It was something most high school student-athletes would never have to experience and yet somehow, Gwiazda still managed to make things work.
“You have to have mental toughness no matter what when you’re going to play Division I softball because there’s different characters coming from different places and different coaching techniques,” Peotone’s first-year head softball coach Alexis Bryant said. “…So for her to play through a different coach each season really shows her character and mental toughness because she had to adapt to every single one of them.”
Playing for the Blue Devils, the athletic shortstop led her team in nearly every offensive and defensive category last season, including the area’s second-best batting average (.614). Additionally, she posted a .957 slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.597, which helped her go on to earn Illinois Central Eight All-Conference and Daily Journal All-Area honors. Not to mention, she recorded a head-turning .973 fielding percentage.
Gwiazda’s play with Peotone and the summer circuits dramatically helped her recruiting process and eventually led her to committing to Nicholls State University, a Division I softball program located in Thibodaux, La., during the middle of her junior year, a new challenge she’s accepting with open arms.
“I am mostly looking forward to getting a fresh start and starting a new chapter of my life at Nicholls State,” Gwiazda said. “The talent is going to be good out there so it’s really to just push myself to limits I’ve really haven’t had to do yet.”
Although Bryant didn’t get much time to spend with Gwiazda this season being this was her first season as head coach, she still noticed how determined Gwiazda is when it came to always striving to get better.
“Her drive and determination every single day, her heart and her passion for the game makes her capable of excelling at the next level,” Bryant said. “She showed up to every single winter workout whether she was hurt or not feeling well. She was determined to play with her best ability this year knowing it was her last here at Peotone.”
Her will power to keep improving hasn’t slowed either just because she is already committed. In fact, it’s only gotten stronger as she has been continuing to prepare for next season during quarantine.
“I’ve been running a lot when gyms were closed because we have our fitness test at college,” Gwiazda said. “So I’ve been practicing for that and now since gyms are open I’m trying to lift every day.”
Along with preparing off the field from home, Gwiazda has also been getting work done on the field as well. Over the course of this summer she has been playing ball with the 18u New Lenox Lightning-Gold travel softball team in hopes to better prepare herself for next fall since her high school season was canceled due to COVID-19 in mid-March.
“Not having a season this year was extremely heartbreaking,” Gwiazda said. “I know we had a really good shot at getting far, the team worked so great so when we got the news it was hard to take, but I’m moving on now.”
Surely Gwiazda has cemented her legacy at Peotone as one of the best to ever put on a Blue Devil uniform. However, it’s not the stats or awards that Gwiazda will remember, but rather the people and the community that gave her strong support over the last four years.
“I will always remember all the friends and fun I had at Peotone,” Gwiazda said. “Everyone around me supported me so it was just great time and overall great community.”