Talk to anyone about Simia Spahiev's softball career, and it won't be long before the catch comes up.
Spahiev and her Leo Lions were playing Center Grove in the Class 4A state title game at Purdue last June when Spahiev, then a sophomore, made a diving, over-the-shoulder catch in left field for the second out to keep the Trojans from improving on their lead, though Center Grove did eventually win 1-0.
“I just remember running, running, running, and then at the last second reaching out for it. And then I looked down and it was in my glove, and my teammate Aaliyah (Andrews) came over and we were just like, 'Oh my gosh, I caught it!'” Spahiev recalled. “And then I was running back into the dugout after the three outs were made, and my coaches were like, we didn't even look, we thought you would drop it.
“And I was like, 'Wow, thanks for the confidence!'”
Leo coach Ben Shappell admits he didn't think she was going to be able to get to the ball before it fell.
“Sure enough, she laid out for it. It was absolutely amazing,” Shappell said. “She's not the quickest kid, but she gets an excellent read the ball in left field. ... That's just the kid she is. She's going to make every effort that she has to help the team. In that case it was diving for a ball, and she caught it.”
The cancellation of the season was bad news for all spring athletes, but perhaps especially for the Lions, who returned many of the players who reached the state finals last season. And it means that Spahiev can't show off the swing she had been working to improve. She hit .452 as a freshman and .447 with four home runs as a sophomore, but her new hitting coach, John Kotzelnick, said her swing now resembles those of some of the best players in the state.
“When she came to me, her swing was more flat, into a line drive type of swing, and she would get on the plane of the ball late,” said Kotzelnick, who has been working with Spahiev for about five months. “Now, her swing pattern is more north-south to elevate the ball into the air, drive it into the gaps in the outfield and bust them out of the park if the timing's correct.”
The canceled season presents a problem for juniors such as Spahiev who hope to play a spring sport in college.
“It's kind of a stressful time, because with the high school season and our summer season, it's our now-or-never time to make our last impressions in front of coaches and go to camps and everything. And it's just, it's a little stressful,” Spahiev said. “But at the same time, now is a good time to have phone calls with coaches and post videos. I've posted videos on Twitter and tagged all the coaches I'm interested in, that way they can still see that I'm working hard.”
Spahiev, who has one of the top GPAs in her class, said she's looking into programs that will allow her to play softball while pursuing a pre-med degree.
“At the end of the day, it's 4 for 40 – four years of softball for 40 years of work, and that's what I'm looking forward to,” Spahiev said. “I've always been interested in helping people – especially with me being an athlete, I've had injuries. Like when I fractured my ankle, I was fortunate to have good doctors who helped me get healed and ready for the season, and that's something I want to be able to do.”