Sammi Noland grew up wanting to be an Arizona Wildcat. She became a Nebraska Cornhusker instead, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Growing up, I think I really looked up to the whole Arizona softball team. I only dreamed of being on a team like that,” Noland said. “Luckily, Nebraska is everything and more.”
It’s understandable that Noland wanted to play for Arizona when she was younger. She grew up in Tucson, Ariz., home of a Wildcat program that has won eight national championships in its 22 appearances in the Women’s College World Series.
As rich as Arizona’s softball tradition is, Noland says there is no place like Nebraska.
“Right when the coaches started talking to me, I was in all the way,” she said. “There’s no way you can pass up a place like Nebraska. Everyone is willing to help you out with everything and anything. It’s the greatest place for any athlete to go to school.”
After growing up and watching Arizona compete at the Women’s College World Series seemingly every year, Noland got to experience college softball’s showcase event firsthand as a freshman in 2013, when it was Nebraska - not Arizona - who made it to Oklahoma City. She considers the Huskers’ postseason run her greatest achievement.
“Making it to the World Series, that’s every softball player’s dream,” Noland said. “It was even better doing it with that team. Making a showing at the World Series, I think that’s something that whole team will never forget.”
Noland played an integral role in the Huskers making it to Oklahoma City, despite limited playing time. Noland appeared in 14 games as a freshman, earning just six at bats. Although she saw limited game action playing behind Taylor Edwards, the only All-America catcher in school history, Noland had a tremendous impact on the 2013 Huskers.
Her work started in the bullpen, when she spent countless hours working with a 2013 Husker pitching staff that featured two freshmen and a junior with relatively limited innings at the Division I level. Nebraska switched to individualized bullpen sessions last season, making Noland’s role all the more important. Noland’s hard work paved the way for Tatum Edwards to earn second-team All-America honors and Emily Lockman to become a first-team all-region pitcher as a freshman. As a staff, the Huskers ranked 12th nationally in victories and 15th in ERA.
The Husker coaching staff is quick to point out that Noland deserves a lot of the credit for the pitching staff’s success last season. But the coaches also believe Noland’s attitude and upbeat personality benefitted every player on the 2013 Nebraska roster.
Noland’s Personality Brings Out the Best in Her Teammates
Ask any of Noland’s teammates – or anyone who knows her for that matter – and they are bound to have great things to say about Noland’s attitude and personality. When asked to describe Noland’s personality, some adjectives her teammates threw out were “bright”, “sunny”, “positive”, “cheerful” and “smiley.” Noland’s ability to approach anything with a smile and an upbeat, positive outlook has set a standard for how to view any situation, her teammates said.
Nebraska Head Coach Rhonda Revelle agreed with that sentiment, and she believes that attitude has not only benefitted the team, but it will serve Noland well in her final three seasons at Nebraska.
“Sammi brings a spirit to our team that is unique to Sammi,” Revelle said. “She is a great receiver behind the plate, and she has a strong arm. We expect Sammi to continue to grow as a leader of the pitchers and infielders as she works to fill in for Taylor (Edwards) and competes to take over the reins upon Taylor’s graduation.”
Although Noland had limited chances to show off her abilities as a freshman, make no mistake that she is more than capable of being a Division I starter. Noland was a three-time state champion at Canyon del Oro High School, and she was also an ASA Gold national champion with the AZ Desert Thunder.
Noland hit a tiebreaking grand slam in her final high school game, a state-championship victory. She was a first-team All-Southern Arizona pick as a senior and a Division II first-team selection. As a junior, Noland batted .422 with 14 doubles, two home runs and 28 RBIs. One of her two home runs again came in the state championship game.
While starring at Canyon del Oro High School and with the AZ Desert Thunder, Noland became well acquainted with the Fowlers, a family that was instrumental in Noland ultimately becoming a Husker.
Fowlers Joined Noland on Her Journey to Becoming a Husker
One of Noland’s best friends is her Husker teammate and roommate Mattie Fowler, a junior at Nebraska. Despite a one-year age difference, Noland and Fowler have been a part of each other’s softball careers. The two were teammates for three seasons at Canyon del Oro High School, where they won a pair of state championships together while coached by Kelly Fowler, Mattie’s mother. Sammi and Mattie also teamed up in the summer, playing for the AZ Desert Thunder, which were coached by Kelly and Lance Fowler.
It was while watching Mattie and the Desert Thunder that Revelle first noticed Noland.
“As it happens often, we begin recruiting one player on the team and notice other players on the team. This is what happened in the case of Sammi,” Revelle said. “As we watched the Desert Thunder play, we saw Sammi’s talent as well.”
Revelle saw Noland’s talent, but what Noland noticed was a caring coaching staff that had an unmatched personal relationship with Mattie.
“I remember my first showcase, seeing a million coaches in the crowd,” Noland said. “But after a game, I saw Coach Revelle and Coach (Diane) Miller talking to Mattie. They were all smiles and hugging like crazy. Right then, I was just hoping that Nebraska would want me to be a part of their team.
“Thank God they came to watch Mattie Fowler, and I got in their way somehow.”
Noland is being modest of course, another one of her redeeming qualities. She got noticed on her own talent and skills, thanks in part to some athletic family genes. Her father, Steve, was a football and baseball player at Willmar Community College in Massachusetts, and her brother, Seth, played baseball at Minnesota-Duluth. Her entire family, which also includes her mother, Mia, and her younger sister, Emily, have been by her side every step of the way, Noland said.
Noland feels like she now has a second family in Lincoln in her teammates and coaches. The girl who grew up dreaming of being on one of those great Arizona teams is living that dream at Nebraska.
“Being on a team where everyone has the same vision and is willing to do whatever it takes to get there is the best part about playing softball in college,” Noland said. “Creating bonds for life is the best feeling ever.”
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Sammi
1) She has a fingernail fetish.
2) She could eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for every meal for the rest of her life.
3) She has really bad hammer toes that gross her out.