Looking Beyond the Ball

RED OAK, TX —  Just keeping her eye on the ball isn’t enough for Samantha Gilmore. This focused high school senior looks at the big picture.

She is a star athlete in golf and softball, as well as maintaining an academic record that put her in the top 10 percent of her class at Red Oak High School. “Grades are very important,” Samantha stated. “With my personality, I want to be in the top 10, and I want my grades to be high.”

Athletics and academics have gone hand-in-hand as long as Samantha can remember. She got her first set of golf clubs and hit the links with her family at the age of 5. Samantha is glad that golf is a cross-generational passion in the Gilmore family. “It’s a huge family thing. It started with my grandpa, and he passed it down,” she explained. “He’s definitely proud of me and loves to come out and play golf with me.” Her mother and father are avid golfers, as well.

Softball entered the picture when Samantha was 6, followed by gymnastics, basketball, volleyball, and later, even Powder Puff football. Softball became a serious area of interest when she was 10 and started playing on select teams and going to tournaments. “That’s when it started taking up weekends … and my life,” Samantha grinned.

Always a first-rate student, Samantha’s determination to excel at sports has brought some remarkable results. As a freshman, the golf coach and the softball coach chose Samantha for their varsity teams where she earned a letter in both sports. Realizing this level of success as a ninth-grader is especially demanding. “You have to be dedicated to your sport and a good student for coaches to rely on you and trust you on their team as a freshman,” she said. Samantha played basketball and volleyball in junior high, but she always knew it would be softball and golf in high school. “For about 10 years, I just worked really hard to get there. To achieve a letter as a freshman was an awesome feeling,” she admitted.

For the last year and a half, Samantha has chosen to concentrate on softball rather than golf, preferring the camaraderie of a team sport. She likes the closeness that develops between teammates, saying, “It’s a family. You have so many teammates to pick you up, to tell you that you can do better or to have your back when you miss a ball.” Samantha particularly likes the way teammates hold each other accountable and encourage each other to raise the level of their play. She also favors the faster pace of softball and the intense pressure of team  competition.

In addition to the ROHS Lady Hawks, Samantha plays softball for  The Fastpitch School Texas, a select team. Their coaching methods are a good fit for her personality and playing style. “My coach now, Monti VanBrunt, was a consultant [for nine months in 2006] to the head coach for the Chinese National Softball Team that competed at the Olympics,” she said. “He understands the game and how I view the game, and he just helped me see how far this could take me.”

How far can Samantha go? Her post- high school career will begin with both academic and athletic scholarships to St. Edward’s University in Austin, where she will study sports psychology. Samantha chose St. Edward’s over other college offers based on its location, atmosphere and size. She wants to be close to home, able to walk from class to class and enjoy a friendly environment where most students know each other. St. Edward’s was an instant hit in all three areas. When Samantha toured the campus, the softball team members assured her of the balance between sports, academics and social life. They also sold her on the coaching staff.

When asked about her interest in sports psychology, Samantha replied, “I love the mental side of the game. When I learned that it’s 90-percent mental and 10-percent athletic ability, I just became a different player. Once I figured that out, I just wanted to help other people realize it.” Another big plus for St. Edward’s are its coaches — head coach, Lindsay Gardner, and assistant coach, Cat Osterman, who come to the field with a great deal of experience.

Samantha’s plan doesn’t end with her four years at St. Edward’s. She expects to go on to school for a master’s degree and then a doctorate. Her goal is to stay at St. Edward’s as a graduate assistant,

helping coach the women’s softball team while pursuing her higher degrees. After achieving her doctorate, Samantha’s dream job would be working as a sports psychologist for either a pro team or golfer.

While academics and sports are priorities, family and friends are also extremely important to Samantha. “The one weekend a month that I do have off, I definitely like to catch up with friends and hang out with everyone, but I’m a big family person and going out is not a big priority. I love staying home.”

Her mom, Sharon, smiled as she recalled times that Samantha’s social needs were a little more strongly stated. “Samantha would say ‘I just want to be with my friends. I don’t want to think about softball or golf. I just want to be with my friends.’ We try to help her with that.”It’s a good thing, too. Samantha’s schedule would give even the most organized adult a twinge of anxiety. Right now, in the off-season, Samantha has strength and agility training on Monday and Friday, hitting lessons with her coach every other Tuesday and either indoor

or outdoor team practice on Sunday. On her nights off, Samantha practices at the indoor hitting facility her dad built in their garage. Add extra practice and weekend tournaments when softball season opens this month for an even tougher test of time-management skills.

In addition, Samantha is especially pleased when she has the opportunity to participate in community service through her membership in the National Honor Society and Renaissance. She described herself as an “animal person” and enjoys spending time helping out at the Ellis County SPCA. She also acts as a mentor in the TFS (Team Fastpitch School) Big Sister~Little Sister program. Her advice to girls interested in excelling at any sport is to find good teams and good coaches, play on a select team and attend college sports camps.

Perseverance backed by hard work is the strategy that has taken Samantha from her first set of junior golf clubs to athletic and academic success. What motivates her quest for excellence? “I want to be someone and go somewhere,” she explained. “I know you have to work to get that. Anyone can excel in life, they just have to be willing to work and drive hard for it.”

Written by Katie Almond.